Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Ministry for the Future

 Most people accept that climate change is real, but a significant minority doesn't believe it and others resist any efforts to fix it.  Science fiction can bring out horrible scenes that hopefully will frighten more people into action and also suggest how we might deal with the disaster.  

 Published in 2020 "The Ministry for the Future" does indeed give a reason to be more scared than ever. The initial thrust is something we are dealing with now:  i.e. that despite lots of plans have been made the problem is actually getting worse.   Kim Stanley Robinson is a best selling award winning author who was named "Hero of the Environment" by Time magazine in 2008.

The story starts with a killer heat wave in India.  This marks a breaking point for some.  Words are no longer enough.  A small group believes if someone doesn't live up to their word they should be assassinated.  They don't stop there, but also target high users of carbon, for example airplanes, but not battery powered ones are blown up as an effective way to cut air travel.  The Indian government decides to defy regulations and seed clouds to induce rain and it works.

Some scary scenarios are painted.  Coastal cities are covered with water.  Insurance premiums would be too high and the government too indebted for the economy to survive.  Fires and floods limited food production.  Refugees seek protection from the weather causing more turmoil.

We soon encounter an executive with the Ministry for the Future.  The agency was designed to focus on future generations that are not catered to with the current generation.  One of her focuses is on finances, but she soon finds that bankers are more interested in protecting currencies.  Worsening inequality exacerbates conflicts.  Refugees were rapidly increasing and reaching the size of mid sized countries.

In 1944 at Breton Woods John Maynard Keynes made a proposal to avoid developing countries from becoming too debt ridden and to make for a balance between the rich and poor.  Americans preferred that their currency become the global standard.  Read more about this most under appreciated man:

One bright idea was a carbon coin which could only be earned by proven carbon sequestration or reducing carbon impacts.  At first bankers resisted the idea, but money is worthless if there is not civilization to back it up or products to buy.  Eventually it caught on and some took advantage with the author suggesting Saudi Arabia might agree to cut off oil production in return for a huge amount of carbon coins.  As one of the obstacles was the control of currency this opened up more possibilities.

Forestation was a key tool as were activities at the polar extremes and in the oceans.  The world birth rate had been declining for decades and that helped as well.

The author explores many political situations and scientific effort. including geo engineering.  Predicting political trends is dangerous and since publication there has been the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  But generally he has a good understanding of political dynamics.  It is possible that the climate crisis could lead to more peace and equality as in order to overcome it a great deal of co-operation is required, otherwise a total breakdown is our future.

Science fiction can be a useful tool to project the future.  Even if you are an ardent activist this book will open your mind.  If you are not an activist you will be motivated to do more.  Below are some earlier blogs that dealt with climate change and science fiction.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Into the West

For awhile there was a lot of news about Critical Race Theory without really explaining about its scope other than some whites were quite upset and others frustrated that the truth was being restricted.  I am reminded of the controversy regarding American history.  Too many Americans seem to overlook the role of slavery in their history and many more unaware that before the Europeans came there were already humans living on the land.

 In truth, the America we know to-day is the result of much human conflict with much cultural interchange and genetic mixing.  The makers of "Into the West" (2005) made a reasonable effort to capture the truth and there certainly are a lot of details.  They came up with 9 hours of film boosted with a special features disc that gives further insight into the history and the film process.

 The story starts in the east with a family of skilled workers.  The main skill is as wheelwrights.  Throughout the series we are reminded of the role of the wheel in colonizing.  One son looking for something more for his life takes off toward the west. Soon he joins a group of men headed west.  They keep pushing and encounter indigenous people, eventually he forms a relation with an indigenous woman. 

Over time more family members move west and move through historical events.  We are made aware of the Gold Rush, the building of the railroad, the Civil War, but most of all with conflicts.  The story includes a free black family who encounter prejudice, but make it west.  We also are given a glimpse of Chinese immigrants who also face severe discrimination, but are respected for being "reliable" workers who do intermingle with the indigenous with common interests.

The violence is prolific and spurred by ignorance, fear and hate.  The Europeans feel they are civilized and look down upon the indigenous.  At one time it is pointed out if the natives had intelligence they would have discovered the gold and made their fortune.  Still some Europeans make sexual alliances with natives and there is some respect for each other's culture.  Immigrants flowed from a Europe where their dreams and ambitions were stifled.

The Gold Rush illustrated the drive for an "easy" path to wealth drawing thousands from the east and even Europe.  For some it was easy, but for the vast majority it was doomed.  Others made their fortune off the gold diggers.  The Chinese participated, but were prevented from prospering.  The indigenous commented that the yellow metal made the whites crazy. 

One aspect of the relationship that I did not notice was the role of disease.  There was a brief scene regarding cholera among the whites.  Indians were defeated by superior technology and overwhelming numbers, but a key element was disease that wiped a high percentage of the indigenous.  

The indigenous were quick to adapt some aspects.  As Europeans spread around North America, the Indians learned about horses and with their natural affinity with nature were able to find their own ways to harness the power.  We don't hear about Easterns so much as Westerns have become part of the American culture.  The indigenous had developed agriculture so that we now forget the contributions of corn, potatoes, tomatoes and maple syrup.  

Towards the end of the series the topic of residential schools arose.  The intention of some was to help the natives to adjust to the American culture.  First though, children had to be separated from their parental influence and their language and culture suppressed.  In Canada we now know the residential schools led to sexual abuse and premature deaths.  The film didn't go that far, but it seems likely American indigenous suffered more extremely.  There is more appreciation we are our background.

The wheel is one technology that allowed the Europeans to spread their culture and was almost as critical as the gun.  The series concentrated on the Wheeler family and their ability to contribute wheels for wagons that carted families to seek their fortune out west.  We take the wheel for granted.  One scene shows an indigenous having bartered brought a wheeled cart back to show others who had mixed reactions.

Most battles resulted in the natives losing, but the Europeans became arrogant.  Custer's Last Stand was labeled  a massacre, but for awhile energized the natives.  In the end Sitting Bull was killed and resistance died down, but never quite disappeared.

At the end we see older men explaining to grandchildren what they have been through.  One phrase sums up the series "The only history man knows for certain is the small part he owns for himself."  There are many ways of trying to understand history, but this series made an honest effort.  Other versions do exist, some dishonest.

This was truly a massive project and it would be impossible in a short blog to do justice for all its contributors.  Here are a few of the cast and crew that helped to make it successful.

Starting with Steven Spielberg who has been associated with many winning films.  He is the  executive producer.  He is likely the most famous and richest of Hollywood film makers as a director, producer and writer.  Winner of 3 Oscars plus a multitude of other awards.  His film credits include "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" (1982), "Schindler's List" (1993), "Amistad" (1997), "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), "Munich" (1995), "Lincoln" (2012), "Bridge of Spies" (2015) and "The Post" (2017).  Check

William Mastrosimone writer, co-executive producer.     His last project was as writer and producer for  ""Benedict Arnold:  A Question of Honor" (2003).

Larry Rapaport, the producer has been producing movies since 1987.

Michelle Wong was a  co-producer.  She had formal training at the National Film Board of Canada.  She was the first Chinese Canadian to direct a film in the history of the NFB.

Geoff Zanelli, the composer won a Prime Time Emmy for this effort. 

The series used two cinematographers.  Alan Caso,  whose credits included  "Six Feet Under" (2001-2003). William Wages has won 3 awards from the American Society of Cinematographers.  The series was filmed mostly near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. 

Huge cast spread over several decades.

Tonantzin Carmelo played Thunder Heart Woman and won a few awards for that role.

Irene Bedard played Margaret Light Shines in four of the six episodes.  She is probably most famous for being the voice of "Pocahantus" (1995).  Other credits include "Smoke Signals" (1998) and "The Tree of Life" (2011)

John Terry in four episodes plays the older Jacob Wheeler and delivered the quote above.

Sheila Tousey played the older Thunder Heart Woman.  Her film credits include "Skinwalkers" (2002), "A Thief of Time" (2003) and "Coyote Waits" (2003).

Russell Means was the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and was heavily involved with the standoff with the U.S. government at Wounded Knee in 1973.  His film credits include "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992).

Keith Carradine played the well intentioned Captain Pratt who helped start residential schools.  Keith comes from a theatrical family and has performed in "Hair" and later as Will Rogers.  He won a song Oscar for "I'm Easy."  His film credits include:  "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (1971), "Nashville" (1975), "Coyote Waits" (2003), "Fargo" tv series (2014-15) and "The Power of the Dog" (2021).

David Paymer played Daniel Royer,  a man who tried to stomp on the Ghost Dance.  Among his film credits are "City Slickers" (1991), "Quiz Show" (1994), "Amistad" (1997), "The Hurricane" (1999) and "The Good Wife" (2009-2016).  Also played supporting roles in dozens of tv. episodes.

Graham Greene played  Conquering Bear.  Born in the Six Nations Reserve, Ontario.  He has been on stage at the Stratford Festival.  His film credits include "Dances with Wolves" (1990), "The Green Mile" (1999), "Skins" (2002), "A Thief of Time" (2002), "Coyote Waits" (2002),  "Wind River" (2017)  and"Molly's Game" (2017).  He has also appeared in dozens of supporting roles in tv. shows.

Wes Studi played Black Kettle.  He spoke only Cherokee language until grade school.  His film credits include "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), "Geronimo:  An American Legend" (1993), "Skinwalkers" (2002), "A Thief of Time" (2003),"Coyote Waits" (2003), "Avatar" and  2009).

As I write this, Russians are justifying their invasion of Ukraine with the idea that really the people are part of Russia.  One culture self righteously trying to take over another that feels distinct.  Man can be very arrogant thinking they are the center of the world, but nobody is and we are all inter-connected.  If we use our intelligence we can all benefit by relating open mindedly with our fellow humans.  "Into the West" does point to a better future if we can learn from the past and some are making the effort.

"The first mention of movies I have seen are bolded.

Monday, August 22, 2022


Some ideas are too good to ignore.  Movies without sex or romance or action are handicapped at the box office, but some of us like to understand the world a little better.  9/11 was a game changer and we are still feeling the effects.  At the time the news was overwhelming and it seems that much was either overlooked or forgotten.

 The strongest reaction seemed to be to seek revenge, but it turns out there were other concerns.  For me "Worth" (2021) pointed out what politicians and their wealthy supporters were very concerned about.  The big concern was that if all the dependents of the dead and injured sued, the economy would crater.  At one point we learned that Congress had passed laws to prevent suing the two airlines involved.  At another point we learned that lawyers representing the big earners who had died, campaigned to raise levels of compensation.  John Ashroft agreed it was best to avoid a Republican in charge of compensation as it would likely attract a lot of criticism not matter what was decided.

We are introduced to Ken Fineberg in a classroom setting where he is pointing out that all lives can be reduced to a number after a death.  Later we learn he has had a lot of experience with major disasters and understood the normal process.

 Fineberg himself recognized the national dilemma and felt obligated to give his expertise for free.   One of his graduated students was in the south tower when it was hit.  He assembles his team and they put together protocols.  He is interrupted to take a call from the President.  First we notice that the call has been set up by a secretary, then George Bush gets on to thank Fineberg and comments that he will receive a lot of garbage and while we are digesting the importance of a presidential call he hangs up.   

We soon meet Charles Wolf, whose wife died.  He seems very reasonable, but makes it known he does not approve the plan.  Fineberg is confident that emotions will die down and the people will recognize the deal is reasonable to help them move on.  

We learn that many victims lived in non normal circumstances.  One man had not yet had a chance to form a civil union with his now deceased partner.  We learn about one widow who didn't know her husband had had two children outside their marriage.  We learn that many injuries from the cleanup people were not revealed until deadlines had expired.  Lots of emotion from a variety of survivors.

Ken Fineberg had talks with Charles Wolf who had much more support and tried to adjust the rules and understand the situation.  Fineberg had been told they needed 80% compliance or nobody would be compensated which meant disaster for the economy.  The response was very slow, under 50% with only a few months to go.  Wolf finally decided that the adjustments justified his support.  In the end 97% did comply. 

How much is a life worth?  There really is no fair way of assessing and Fineberg always claimed he was seeking a just solution, not a fair one.  Underneath it all was the need to protect the overall economy while satisfying basic needs.  As a small sideline we become aware that the Bush administration is getting set to invade Iraq.

The film tries to cover as many aspects of the compensation issues as practical.  They succeeded in bringing compensation into a better understanding.  

Films that do such a good job are the result of quality contributions from numerous people.  Here are only a few.

Sara Colangelo was director.  Her first film, a short documentary "Halal Vivero" was a national finalist at the 2006 Student Academy Awards.  Her film credits include "The Kindergarten Teacher" (2018).  She has also been a writer, producer and some technical skills.

Max Borenstein, wrote the script. He has been writing for films since 2003, but has also been a producer including for this film and a director.

Marc Butan was another producer with such film credits as "The Lost City of Z" (2016), "The Zookeeper's Wife" (2017), "Ad Astra" (2019) and "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020).

Brad Dorros, another producer with such film credits as "Spotlight" (2015) and "Collateral Beauty" (2016).       

Anthony Katagas is a leading producer of independent films.  His credits include  "The Next Three Days" (2010), "The Immigrant" (2013), and "12 Years a Slave" (2013 for which he was awarded the Oscar).      As a sideline he played goalie for he Greek national team at the 2018 National Lacrosse Championship.

Michael Sugar, another producer has film credits for "Rendition" (2007), "Big Miracle" (2012). "The Fifth Estate" (2013),  "Spotlight" (2015 for which he received an Oscar), "Collateral Beauty" (2016) and "The Report" (2019).  Check:

Tony Parker was a co-executive producer.  Better known to me as an all star NBA athlete winning 3 titles and helping France win the European championship, along the way winning more than one MVP title.  His film credits include "Shock and Awe" (2017).  He is the executive producer for an upcoming document, "The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu."  

Nico Muhly composed the music.  His credits include "The Reader" (2008), "Margaret" (2011) and "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (2015).  Two of the characters show a strong interest in opera.

Pepe Avila del Pino was the cinematographer with credits that include  "Ozark" (2017), "The Kindergarten Teacher" (2018)   A surprise to me is that it was filmed in Oregon.

Michael Keaton  who played Ken Finestein was born Michael John Douglas and early in his acting career he changed to Michael Keaton to avoid being confused with a more famous actor.  He had been a stagehand for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" in 1968.  His acting credits include:  "Batman" (1989), "The Paper" (1994), his Oscar nominated "Birdman or(the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014), "Spotlight" (2015) and "The Founder" (2016).

Amy Ryan plays Fineberg's veteran assistant.  Her credits include "Capote" (2005), "Gone Baby Gone" (2007), "Win Win" (2011), "Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014), "Bridge of Spies" (2015) and "Beautiful Boy" (2018).  Check

Stanley Tucci plays Charles Wolf.  His acting credits include "The Pelican Brief" (1993), "Big Night" (1996 also as co-writer), "Road to Perdition" (2002), "The Terminal" (2004), "Shall we Dance?" (2004),  "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), "The Lovely Bones" (2009), "Spotlight" (2015) and "The Children Act" (2017).  Now he is more popular than ever with "StanleyTucci: Searching for' Italy."

Shunori Ramanathan played Fineberg's graduated student.  Her film credits include "The Big Sick" (2017).

After digesting the movie a bit you will be left pondering what is a life worth and the difference between fairness and justice.  A thoughtful move with a little history you might have overlooked or forgotten.

As usual the first mention of a film has been bolded that I have seen.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

"Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (2022) with an autistic lead has impressed me the most of any television series seen this year.  The Autism Spectrum Disorder is becoming a more common theme.  More of us now realize it is in society and we will likely encounter one variation or another.  Increasing our awareness in an entertaining way is challenging, but they pull it off.  If you like stories of overcoming obstacles and some really smart twists you will not be disappointed.

 Those looking for entertainment can find it with odd antics and the soap opera elements.  Those who are looking for something deeper will find more comments and segments that illustrate the feelings of autistics.  Almost as important we watch those who live and work with autistics how they deal with the odd behavior that can be disruptive or frustrating.     

Hans Asperger was an Austrian physician who worked with children who learned of a Russian scientist's work.  He was associated with Nazis and there is some uncertainty about his role.  He identified some autistic youngsters who did useful work as adults.  He helped develop the concept of autism spectrum disorder.   Attorney Woo is on the high end of the spectrum.

Woo is a graduate who topped her law class, but couldn't get a job interview.  After six months an old friend of her father decides to offer her an opportunity.  She does display a number of annoying habits, but with her unbelievable memory is able to uncover some otherwise overlooked legal strategies. Sometimes identifies with clients, even against law firm strategy.  She over reacts to loud noises by covering her ears and shaking.

The series depicts mostly odd cases.  She is disruptive, but the team she is on is mostly (not totally) supportive.  For one case she is summoned because the accused is another autistic.  However this young man is quite different and she doesn't relate any better than the others.  This prompts her to discuss with her father and we get a perspective on his attitude.  The father feels he does not get an appreciation of his efforts.  We appreciate that autistics are diverse, some being highly functional and others far down in functionality.  She does solve the communication problem and we learn it is easy to misunderstand one another.

Autistics are supposed to be unable to lie or detect a lie and for a lawyer that can be fatal.  Woo gets some coaching from a colleague and a close friend.  It is humorous, but also reflective.

Another interesting case, more because it hits close to home is a sexual assault on a mentally disabled woman.  Is she being taken advantage of or does she have the right to find love however it comes? 

Other of society's problems such as pressure on teenagers and younger children receive coverage.

Legal details can become boring after awhile, but the series really focuses on the people.  Another theme was that legal expertise is a commodity that some can afford better than others and thus subvert justice.  We see this element in lots of courtroom films, but this time viewing from the perspective of a relatively naive lawyer. 

Her closest friend is a school mate who beat up some of her tormentors, but at first did not want to be friends.  In some of the episodes she gives critical advice, but with lots of humor. 

Her father is very supportive, but feels a lack of affection from her.  She in reality owes her very life to him.  At one point she embarrasses him with a complaining customer in his restaurant and he disowns her (for the moment).  He is very protective and is unsure if he made all the right decisions.

Almost everyone feels they need a way to contain Woo's enthusiasm.  She is apt to interrupt conversations when she gets a flash of insight, but very often she advances understanding.

Her hiring at first causes some resentment which is gradually overcome.  She has the ability to remember large amounts of information and is able to recall important details that help direct a defense.  Still one colleague is especially upset and uncovers that she was hired through nepotism.  In reality despite having the top ranking from legal education, no one would even interview her until her father's friend, a law firm CEO decided for her own reasons to take a chance .

The plot has some clever twists which I am reluctant to give away.  Just before half we learn that the head of a rival law firm is Woo's mother.  And Woo admits that she admired her before she learns the connection. 

There is a romance and like many series it has very deep psychological barriers.  How does an autistic person who does not like to be touched, or to hold hands develop a relation with a "neuro typical"?   Gradually and requiring a lot of patience on the other side and there will be lots of disapproval and a setback.  A hug is used to reduce stress to Woo when dealing with loud noises.

One heart wrenching scene is when Woo realizes she is too self centered and her partner would end up being lonely--she heard from people who were lonely because their partner was too self absorbed elsewhere.  Two lines I remember but don't want to put in context   "unrequited love for a cat"  and a little later in the same conversation "but cats love their owners."  

Jejeu Island is the location for two episodes which is like a working vacation that also illustrates that although the law firm can be almost ruthless on behalf of their clients they also like to do work that benefits the greater community.   

Something this enjoyable series has a lot of capable people.   Here are a few.

Director Yu In-sik has been involved with tv. series since 2005.

Writer Ji-Won Moon with his first series.  Previously he scripted a feature film that focused on an autistic witness for a crime.

Eun-bin Park plays the lead, a very challenging task.  She could opt to make her a comic figure or perhaps to attract sympathy, but the role is both funny  (at times) and realistic.  It was decided not to model any specific person.  She had appeared in "The King's Affection" (2021) where she was a woman masquerading as a man in order to be the king (and stay alive).  Check:

Tae-on Kang plays the lead male.  He found himself in a delicate position, falling for a woman with odd and sometimes disruptive behavior.  He realized early that he couldn't start an intimate relationship without a long term commitment.  Recently he had a cameo role in "Thirty-nine" (2022).

Jeon Bae-soo plays the father.  At first it seems strange that we learn he has law books at home and graduated from law school, but now runs a restaurant.  He is protective of his daughter who shows him virtually no affection.  His credits include "Masquerade" (2012) and "The Wailing" (2016)

Kang Ki-young  played the supervisor of Woo who mostly appears calm, however he gets to display a wider range of emotions.  He has been in numerous films and tv series since 2014, mostly in supporting roles.

Joo Jong-Hyuk played a male legal colleague who tried to undercut Woo.  This is his third series.

Yoon-kyesong Ha plays Choi Soo Yeon, Woo's colleague who had gone to school with her.  This is her third series.

Jin Kyung plays Tae Soo Mi,  head of a rival major law firm,  You may dislike her, but she is very smooth and is not the most devious.  She has been in films and series since 2014, including "Assassination" (2015).

In one episode, Lee-Bong-Ryu played an opposing lawyer who instead of working for a big firm preferred to work for her own firm where she could represent female causes.  I knew I had seen her elsewhere, but in fact had got her name mixed up with the wrong actress.  She trained to be a photographer and got into a musical and from there into regular theatre where she was discovered by recent Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho who cast her in "Okja" (2017), a joint Korean American film.  She later appeared in "Burning" (2018) and the tv. series "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha" (2021).  She still does musical and regular theatre.  Check 

For me this has been the most engaging series for this year.  It shows a deeper dimension of autism than I have seen elsewhere.  Inevitably there are lots of comedic scenes and the legal cases seem selected to highlight the autistic lead.   Romance plays a role, but again illustrative of autism.  An intricate plot seems to point in a direction, but at the end there is a twist.  There is a theme that large firms represent their clients while other law firms are more apt to be concerned about causes.  In short it is entertaining and thought provoking.

A second season is being negotiated for 2024.  What actors and crew would be retained or what new ones hired?  What story lines to follow up and new ones to be developed?  I have confidence it will be worth the wait.

An excellent book that explains what it is like to be autistic from an inside view check:

An earlier Korean series with with a leading character with autism:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom

"Lunana:  A Yak in the Classroom" (2019) surprised movie goers by making it to the 5 foreign films list for an 2022 Oscar.  It had been nominated the previous year and disqualified for a technicality.  It is difficult for many of us to recognize the name Bhutan where the story takes place.

The story is similar to others you have likely seen.  A city boy is forced against his wishes to work in a backward rural area and eventually comes to appreciate it.  Lunana, is unique in its isolation among mountains and its people who are relatively uninformed of even the rest of the country.   

Ugyen Dorji lives in Thimphu, the capital and largest city in Bhutan, chomping at the bit to get to Australia where he believes he will be able to start a singing career.  He offends a supervisor who decides to teach him a lesson by sending him to teach in a very remote area.  His grandmother shames him into accepting.

A journey that takes over a week of arduous hiking.  When he arrives he is discouraged by a lack of electricity and indoor plumbing among other factors, decides he wants to go back home, but is told the animals need rest.  The next morning he is woken by a young enthusiastic girl and he decides to hang on for the moment.  The facilities are very limited with no blackboard, but he uses what resources he can.  The children respond and the whole village is grateful.  

How does he end up with a yak in his classroom?  In his spare time he likes to sing and play his guitar.  A young female yak herder hears him and in turn sings for him.  She tells him that to get warm the locals burn yak dung, but at first he doesn't know which pieces are best.  Eventually he is gifted a yak for its dung and the only place for him to keep it is his classroom and it becomes a background for his studies.  He learns the difficult song the girl sings.

He is really motivated by the idea of making a living off music and much to the regret of the people he does leave.  Uygen does take some new music with him, namely the yak herder song.  He does make it to Australia and sings in a bar where the yak herder song helps him pick up attention.  That's it.  Except it is well told.

Bhutan is a poor country, but in 1974 their king announced that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product with all new laws supposed to advance this philosophy.  The country has gradually been improving its standard of living.

Pawo Choyning Dorji directed, wrote and produced the film.  He is the nephew of a well regarded Tibetan Buddhist film maker.  He is also the son in law of Stan Lai, a Taiwanese playwright.  

This film was a major challenge.  They required 65 mules and 8 days carrying filming equipment plus solar panels and batteries.  While filming the crew did not bathe because of the temperature.  The vast majority of the cast was their first film.  The villagers were all locals and most had never seen a film and were unacquainted with toothpaste when brushing teeth was one of the scenes.

 Hsiao-Yun Ku has been editing since 1999.  Jigme Tenzing was the cinematographer and had been handling movie cameras since 2008.  The mountainous scenery added to the viewer's enjoyment.  The filming was done with solar power.

 Uygen was played by Sherab Dorji.  As mentioned the villagers were all performed by locals, but they really lucked out with Pem Zam who played the young enthusiastic student and is the smiling girl in the background of the poster.  Another noteworthy one was Kelden Lhamo Gurung who played the singing yak herder.

If you have always lived in a city this film will make you aware that rural folks are not only more relaxed, but they have their own wisdom.  If you enjoy people overcoming difficulties or even if you just like mountain scenery this will be an enjoyable experience.  Available on Netflix in the Dzongkha language with subtitles.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Charlie Chaplin

At one time Charlie Chaplin was the highest paid entertainer in the world.  In his life he certainly stirred up controversy.  Now although his films are seldom seen he warrants a closer look.

 Born in England, Charlie had a mother with mental breakdowns and father with alcohol problems.  He spent time in and out of work houses and other charitable locations.  At age 5 he was pulled on stage to sing a song and by age 8 he was on a regular tour with his family. 

At age 19 he was taken to the United States and for a time roomed with Stan Laurel.  By 1914 he joined up with the Keystone Studios.  He developed the Tramp role and by 1918 had become globally famous and the highest paid entertainer in the world.  In 1919 he co founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.  His first feature under that arrangement was "The Kid"  The subtitle "6 reels of Joy" was because the length of the film was two reels longer than normal.  

Some of his films are below.  Chaplin was a perfectionist which means his films take longer and are more costly to produce.

"The Kid" (1921) Follows a personal tragedy when his son dies after 3 days and later he discovers Jackie Coogan.  The tramp is left with a baby.  He takes care of it, but turns the young boy into an accomplice for a racket where the boy breaks a window and the tramp gets paid to fix it.  A happy ending.  Jackie Coogan became a child star, but went through bankruptcy before re establishing himself.

In the film his second wife, Lita Grey who was 12 years old at time, but identified and elevated to playing an older girl.  During the filming/editing process he was divorced from his first wife, Mildred Harris.

"The Gold Rush" (1925) was considered Chaplin's favorite film.  Originally Lita Grey was to be the leading lady, but she became pregnant, forced Chaplin to marry her.  The actress who replaced her Georgia Hale had an affair with him.  picked up 500 vagrants from camp in Sacamento for long line of men climbing mountain.  

Chaplin was always looking for ways to enhance his films.  This film used special camera techniques, some involving glass.   There is a scene where two men eat their shoes out of desperation, apparently they were made of licorice.

He needed to make money and this film became one of the highest grossers for United Artists.  It was revised in 1940 with musical score composed by Chaplin.  He edited out the final kiss with old flame Georgia Hale.

"City Lights" (1931) was filmed after sound had arrived, but Chaplin insisted on the silent pantomine format he had been so successful with in the past.  The story is about a blind flower woman who thinks the tramp is a rich man while in fact he does have a rich friend who is usually drunk.  The secret explained is rehearsals to get the details exactly right.  

"Modern Times" (1936)  Partly inspired by a conversation he had with Mohandas Gandhi about how machines were taking jobs away and creating misery.     This was intended to be his first talkie, but decided the Tramp would be better suited to a silent format, but a few mechanical voices were heard (from a videophone, a phonograph and a radio).  One theme was that automation forced the worker to unrealistic effort.  Apparently the House of Un American Activities felt this proved Chaplin had Communist sympathies.  Working with his wife Paulette Goddard was stressful as he wanted her presented in shabby clothes and on one occasion she dressed up with makeup and was rewarded with a bucket of water.  The tune for "Smile" was written by Chaplin.

"The Great Dictator" (1940) had Chaplin in a dual role--one as a Tramp like barber and the other as the Great Dictator.  This film was financed by Chaplin alone and became his biggest grosser.  This was his first all talking film.  When the film was announced the British government trying to appease Hitler said they would ban it, but when the film was available Germany had started the war and the ban was lifted.  Chaplin's treatment was testy and they later divorced.  Chaplin was persuaded to add a new cinematographer who in turn convinced Chaplin to use two cameras to have two angles available. 

 What prompted this post were some comments from a senior call in program emphasizing the final speech   Here it is:  Later he was criticized for supporting the Russians against the Nazis.

In 1942, after briefly dating Joan Barry she sued for paternity, but a blood test proved he was not the father.  Nonetheless he was required to pay the child $75 a week until the age of 21.

In 1943 he married Oona O'Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill who opposed the marriage.  This marriage lasted the longest, in fact until his death.  They had 8 children., including actress Geraldine.

"Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) Idea was credited to Orson Welles   A charming man with a wife and child found to keep his family viable he married wealthy women and murder them.  Eventually he got caught and at the end gave some speeches about society that some would claim were communistic.    "It is more important to understand crime than to condemn it"is one relevant quote.

"Limelight" (1952) had Chaplin playing a has been who was humiliated.    Chaplin was listed as a third party for choreography    last film in the U.S.  American Legion declared him a Communist with lots of examples of working with other liberals   Apparently J. Edgar Hoover still bore a grudge and was able to tamp down distribution of this film.  As he left for a European promotional effort was told his U.S. visa would not be renewed and if he returned he would be arrested.

"A Countess from Hong Kong" (1967) was his last film credit.  It starred Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren and his son Sydney Chaplin.  Chaplin was writer, director, composer and uncredited producer with a small acting role.

A quote to close:  "I remain just one thing only and that is a clown.  It places me on a plane far higher than any politician."

Sunday, August 7, 2022


Bias in book selections and even book reviews hits home with this author.  We all identify with those most like us.  Susan Cain lays out much of her personal psyche and it resonates with me.  A previous book, "Quiet" was about introverts and I was pleased to read that I wasn't alone, nor as unimportant as I sometimes felt.

 With "Bitter-sweet" a few references to cellos hit home.  Until my son took violin lessons I had no particular interest in cello music, but a concert changed that.  Not an accident if one believes Susan.  Some of us (more than suspected) actually feel joy in sad music.

I apologize for all the use of "I" in the beginning, but this is really a confession.  Like you, I feel most comfortable with the familiar.  I maintain that it is in my best interest if more people can better understand people like me.  I do believe whatever side of the spectrum you land on, you will find merit in her book.

Of course I am not exactly like Susan Cain, in fact none of us are exactly like anyone else.  Still, we categorize people which can lead to misunderstandings, but sometimes we can understand ourselves better when another human describes the similarities.  If we look hard enough there are similarities with everyone and the search would make for a better world.

The title Bitter-sweet indicates that there is often a connection between sadness and joy.  She recounts the story of "Inside Out" (2015) which was planned as an animated drama of the importance of emotions.  As Peter Docter got into the topic he realized that humans need a balance of emotions after first rejecting sadness , but late in production discovered it was necessary.  The film was actually re scripted to reflect this new insight.  My daughter Heather had recommended this film often enough that we finally succumbed and watched it. 

Our mortality and suffering provide a source for sadness.  It isn't just our mortality and suffering, but that of others that results in much bereavement and regrets.  Everyone and everything has to die, but the author suggests that maybe living forever isn't ideal either using references to "Gilgamesh" and "The Flying Dutchman" to make her point.  Both Hinduism and Buddhism advocate the goal of life is to be free of rebirth.  

Charles Darwin is quoted:  "We are impelled to relieve the suffering of another in order that our own painful feelings may at the same time be relieved."

Susan  believes "...sorrow, longing and even mortality itself a unifying force, a pathway to love and that our greatest and most difficult task is learning how to walk it."

One of the sources of sadness is disappointment.  Alain de Botton points out that none of us are perfect and neither are our partners.  It is easy to focus on the faults of others, but we need to accept them for who they are and fix what is wrong with us and that is a life long project. 

Susan argues that as we all die, we all have something in common and pretending otherwise detracts from our ability to enjoy life.  Marcus Aurelius:  "You could leave life right now.  Let that determine what you do and say and think."

Finding meaning in life is what helps us to deal with suffering.  Dr. William Breitbart works with dying cancer patients to build a sense of meaning.  He quotes Friedrich Nietzsche:  "We who have a why to live can bear almost any how."

For many readers the contrast between sadness and joy is strange while for others it seems very natural.  Susan discusses many contrasting views as presented by philosophers, psychologists and others.  Readers will find views they have shared, but many will find new perspectives.  Well worth the effort.

An earlier blog is about her book on introverts which is worth reading whether you think you are one or not:

Another book reminded of by a Steve Paikin interview.

If you check out her website you can take a Bitter-sweet quiz,  listen to her TED talk and among other things get a playlist of Bitter-sweet music: