Monday, May 29, 2023

Hamilton Reads selection '"Nothing the same, Everyting Haunted"

"Hamilton Reads is program put on by my local library each year to high lite  a book for the whole community often with a local connection.  "Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted" (1921) is a book of black humor.  The hero survives the Nazi era.  There is an tie in to the indigenous who have also been oppressed.  The link is Karl May.

Karl May was a German author who although never traveling to North America wrote a series of popular books about "cowboys and Indians."  Surprisingly these books were popular with Adolf Hitler.  The protagonist is Motl, a Lituanian Jew, like ancestors of the author Gary Barwin.

We are introduced to Motl who had visited Switzerland where on a mountain top he lost his testicles that were frozen and buried in the snow.  We next encounter him years later back in Lithuania when the Nazis are attacking.  Motl had led a lackadaisical life, immersed in reading about the cowboys.  He is really a pretend cowboy, but when he meets up with Esther he takes a different view of life and wants to retrieve his testicles.  As the author explained with all the destruction around him he wanted to create life making the retrieval his quest.  The two encounter all sorts of obstacles and along the way teaming up with an indigenous man. 

Leaving out a lot of details many years later he ends up in Toronto with a side trip to visit indigenous sites and friends.  Many of the details reflect a black humor and the twisted mind of a pretend cowboy.  Obviously the Nazi era was one of mankind's most horrifying and shameful passages of history, but one of the best weapons against such things is humor.

The local branch offered a presentation from Gary that was a little different than expected.  For one thing Gary is a musician and brought along a friend known as  Tiny Bill Cody.  First we heard a Jewish song played on a sort of clarinet/saxophone instrument.  Later Tiny Bill Cody played a song written for the book called "The Ballad of Motl."  He also sang a yodeling song which ties into a Switzerland section.  He sings impressively  "I will Survive" which fits the theme of the book.

To the left Gary Barwin with musician Tiny Bill Cody.

Gary read some passages of the book and explained he had the idea from talking to relatives with a Lithuanian Jewish connection, but as he started researching he changed some details and added others.

In real life one of Gary's heroes used a poem's rhythm to navigate through a mine field and he used the idea for one of the adventures.

Gary has written 25 books that range from poetry, fiction and children's books  He has won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.  Has also had poems and articles published in such magazines as Reader's Digest and The Walrus.  He has also earned a Ph. D in music composition.  He has also taught creative writing at colleges and universities.  He lives in Hamilton Ontario.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Still time

 Although science fiction is often depicted as unrealistic fantasies it sometimes is a vehicle to help us focus on reality.  Time is one of those "things" that we accept like the air.  It is there and so taken for granted that we don't realize how critical such things are.  We prioritize what we think is important which starts off with surviving and then moves to thriving. 

I would like to acknowledge the recommendation by Vijaykumar MK Nair for "Still Time" (2023), only the latest of many great suggestions.  The original Italian title could be interpreted as "it's about time."

One quote from the film attributed to the Dalai Lama "There are only two days in the year on which you can't do anything.  One is yesterday and the other is tomorrow."

We first encounter Dante on his 40th  birthday when he first encounters his future wife through a comic misunderstanding.  Within a short time he skips ahead to his next birthday.  Gradually we catch on the movie is just skipping his life except for his birthdays.  Everything that happened in between his birthdays is forgotten, buried in work, marital problems, a baby, and a new lover, his wife living with a trainer (the one with the Dali Lama quote) and a close friend with a life threatening disease.

Birthdays are a time of reflection. What happens between is his real life, but we are aware of life changing events.  There are a few hints that he is most focuses on his work and justifies it that it allows an acceptable standard of living shared with his wife and daughter.  But his "real" life is falling apart because of his priorities.  Can one change?  It takes some reflection which for many of us doesn't happen in time.  We all need to reflect on what we really want out of life and this film gives us a chance to reflect hopefully before it is too late.

It is always the cast and crew that make a film worth the effort.  Here are some of those responsible.

Alessandra Aronadio directed and wrote the script.  She has over 17 film credits and has won many national awards.  As a second assistant director she worked with Giuseppe Tornatore on "Malena" (2000).  see

Santi Pulvirenti composed the music.  He has 27 film credits.

Roberto Forza was the cinematographer.  He has 65 film credits.

Roberto Di Tanna was the editor.  He has 41 film credits.

Edoardo Leo played Dante the main protagonist.  He has 74 film credits including "To Rome with Love" (2012).. He also  has 12 writing credits and 9  directing credits. An award winner

Barbara Ronchi played Alice,  Dante's wife.  She has 31 film credits.

Mario Sgueglia played a close friend Valerio who undergoes a lot of physical changes.  He has 24 film credits.

Francesca Cavalin plays Francesca, Dante's secretary and later live in lover.  She has 28 credits.

Raz Degan played Omar, a lover for Alice and it was he who delivered the Dailai Lama quote.  He had served in the Israeli army.  After that he went on a traveling spree visiting 100 countries over two decades.  His first film was a cameo role in a Robert Altmann film in 1994.  He became popular in Italy through television commercials.  He had films in United States, Italy, France, India and Germany.  He has 17 film credits.  He also managed an art gallery in Italy.

Many of us need to re-learn to enjoy life.  We spend a lot of effort to make money to buy things including time to enjoy them, but we very often short change ourselves.  Using science fiction, this film reminds us there is more to life than work.  How I got lured back into science fiction and learned to appreciate it as a tool for better understanding.  How I changed my view of science fiction:  Available on Netflix in a dubbed or subtitled formats.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

System Crasher

 "System Crasher" (2019) is a challenge to watch.  There is a lot of screaming and it is very hard to understand how one little girl behaves against her own self interest.  A system crasher is someone who breaks system to control (and protect) them.

For a short time I worked in a home for emotionally disturbed children.  It was too short to understand the problems, but more than enough to see it as nightmarish

We are quickly introduced to Benni, a nine year old who soon starts screaming.  We learn she had a traumatic experience that involves touching her face that among other triggers results in a screaming fit.  There are many episodes triggered by very little conflict. 

She has been sent to foster homes and institutions, but at each one she has worn out her supervisors.  Michi is hired as a school escort and has had success with young troublesome boys.  At first he is treated the same as all other caretakers, but at an isolated camp she becomes attached to him, however he is starting to regret his decision.  The film does not end with resolution, but illustrates the difficulties in trying to protect some children against themselves.

This award winning film, also nominated for an Oscar had an outstanding cast and crew.

Nora Fingscheidt was both director and writer.  German born with 10 film credits including one American film, "The Unforgivable" (2021) starring Sandra Bullock.  Prior to this she had only done documentaries and one of them involved a home for homeless women where she encountered a system crasher, 14 years old.  She spent five years researching and decided to focus on a pre puberty girl, although most system crashers were older and male.

John Gurtler composed the music.  He has 49 film credits.

Yunus Roy Imer was the cinematographer with 20 credits.  At a few occasions a Hand held camera helped to create a dizzying effect.

3 Editors are listed.  Stephan Bechinger has 20 film credits including "The Unforgivable" (2021).  Julia Kovalenko had 15 film credits.  Iman Rohini with a variety of credits including for "About Elly" (2009) as editor, "The Theory of Everything" (2014) for costume design and "The Big Short" (2015) as a musician.

Helena Zengel played Benni which won her many awards.   She had learned to ride a horse at age 4 which was needed for"News of the World" (2020) with Tom Hanks.

Albrecht Schuch plays Michi.  He has 29 film credits including "Berlin Alexanderplatz" (2020) and "All Quiet on the Western Front" (2022) winning German Film Awards for both as well as for "System Crasher".

Matthias Brenner played a staff caretaker.  He has 105 previous film credits including the Oscar winner, "The Lives of Others" (2006). 

This film is available on Netflix.  If you have the stomach an interesting viewing.

Friday, May 19, 2023

True Reconciliation

What do they want?  Spoken with disgust is how many a Canadian has complained.  The "Indians" are a nuisance and the cause of their own misery.  Many of us were shocked as reports of unmarked graves from residential schools became public.

Complacency was normal.  Their plight didn't concern us. For many the only awareness came from history class.  For those in closer contact they could recite drunkenness, parental neglect and laziness.  They certainly weren't like that when the first Europeans forced their presence on them.

Jody Wilson-Rabould has a background with indigenous politics, but also as a cabinet minister for the federal government.  She casts a somewhat skeptical view of our mutual past, but also some hope for the future that will benefit everyone.

When Europeans first came upon indigenous they had a technology advantage and were quick to take advantage and exploit the people and other resources.  Other factors worked to the benefit of the European.  Disease brought from the old world caused as much damage as gunfire.  The indigenous were tribal, allowing a certain amount of divide and conquer.

When reading about our European misreading of cultural differences I found one of mine going back 50 years.  In university I was part of a team effort to write a term paper.  Some of it was to do with the Potlatch.  It certainly seemed strange that people would compete in giving away things and one explanation resulted--that it was a matter of prestige.  One could understand why it was outlawed because the "Indians" were hurting themselves.  Now I realize that it was seen among other things as a way of distributing their wealth so that no one person would get too wealthy.  Also Jody explained that responsibilities were passed down through the Potlatch.  Read about hunter gatherer societies that control leaders:

Jody breaks the task of true reconciliation to three sections:  learn, understand, act.

She recounts a long list of events.  In early stages the Europeans were assured by a Doctrine of Discovery that because the natives were not Christian they could be exploited.  Their culture was easily dismissed.   Treaties were signed, but all too soon ignored.  In 1927 the Indian Act was amended to make it illegal to obtain funds or legal counsel to advance Aboriginal cases.  

In elementary school we had been taught that Louis Riel was mentally ill and his rebellion deserved to be put down.  Reading Pierre Berton about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway we learned that railway allowed military troops to put down the rebellion.

The French were recognized as a distinct society with political efforts to placate them.  The indigenous had to struggle.  The author acknowledges that some efforts were made, but progress was very slow. 

What seems to have gained more national attention is the discovery of unmarked graves of the residental schools.  The idea behind the residential schools was to remove the Indian from the child.  Children were separated from their parents and forbidden to talk their natural language.  Sexual predators and abusive teachers gravitated to schools.

I recall that when Paul Martin finally became Prime Ministers one of his priorities was to restore fairness for the Indigenous, but after a major effort that resulted in the Kelowna Accord, his government fell and his successor Stephen Harper let much of it slide.  However in fairness it was Harper who apologized  publicly for Canada's treatment of the Indigenous.  Read about Paul Martins efforts:

When the United Nations came up with the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People, Canada was one of only four nations to vote against it.  The negative vote was reversed as well as the others; the United States, New Zealand and Australia.  It was fully adopted in 2016.

We would do well to better understand how the indigenous think.  They have no western sense of land ownership and have no equivalent to titles and deeds.  They thought of treaties as away of sharing land not a transfer.  Europeans thought the natives had no system of governance Nunavut

Symbolic actions such as pulling down statues of John A. MacDonald who helped set up residential schools or changing the name of a school named after Egerton Ryerson, an ardent champion of the schools was only of marginal significance. A big fuss has been made over sports team names such as the Edmonton Eskimos to Edmonton Elks.   Acknowledgements of indigenous history on land now occupied by Canadians.

Naomi Klein felt environmentalist would do better to align with indigenous groups.   The indigenous think holistically and environmentalist have come to a similar thinking.  She herself participated in the Standing Rock protests.

Paul Martin, out of office went back to business, but developing programs for educating the indigenous to help them be independent.  Other companies are seeing it beneficial to train natives to work on their projects.

Three Canadian states are governed by indigenous.  Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Nunatsisvut  (an autonomous section in Newfoundland and Labrador), decide by consensus and have no official opposition.  Members are elected as independents.

If we really want to help achieve true reconciliation we should become what she calls an "inbetweener."  Everyone has a past and an uncertain future.  We can link these two.  Help newcomers to Canada appreciate our indigenous past and direct to the future.

True reconciliation is slowly happening.  More Canadians are understanding and respecting the indigenous worldview.  We can all do something to make a better world.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Air Jordan

You would be right to be suspicious of this review.  First off I am a basketball fan, second I am a Michael Jordan fan, but the focus on this story is more on risk taking for marketing.  My favorite line in "Air" (2023) is "everybody knew."  After the decisions were made and the results were overwhelming one character declared he knew all along and the main character replied that "Yeah, everybody knew."  Not true in this story and not true in a lot of stories.

Nike, the company known for running shoes was in trouble, especially in their basketball division.  Their budget for sponsorships had been cut and top basketball players were not interested.  It seemed likely if they don't pull off something unexpected they are going to eliminate the department.  In the early part of the movie, the main characters are in despair.  They argue which of the upcoming draft choices they should target.  Basketball fans will recognize some of the names, but I confess I don't even have a vague memory of some of them.

Michael Jordan had made a last second basket that won the March Madness tournament, but wasn't thought to be the top draft choice and had even dismissed Nike, not even wanting to talk to them.  Sonny Vaccaro, a Nike shoe salesman hired for his basketball expertise has an analytical talent  He studies endless clips of several players.  We see a lot of repetition of Jordan's winning basket and he sees and understand something that others missed.  There was actually a more famous player on the same team and he was bypassed at this critical point of the game.  The coach, Dean Smith had been criticized for coming very close in previous years and was determined to win.  Looking very closely Sonny concluded that this most crucial play was made for the 18 year old freshman, Michael Jordan.  Dean Smith had trust he would not be let down.

Having decided on this new target there was still the problem of how to overcome the Jordan indifference and a limited budget.  First Sonny demanded to be able to use the entire $250,000 budget for one player instead of 3 originally budgeted for.  All of the executives above him thought that because of the Jordan family declaration they did not want to talk to Nike made it not worth while.  Talking to Jordan's agent Sonny was told there could not be any direct talk to the Jordan family.

One of Sonny's colleagues said his success had come from talking to the mothers of top players and sure enough it was clear the Delores Jordan was a tough bargainer.  Risking a sanction against a direct approach Sonny decided to fly from Oregon to North Carolina.  He had a few words with Mrs. Jordan, who was impressed with his audacity and speech.  

He convinced her to to come to Beaverton, Oregon to meet the Nike board.  In the meantime he realized the money and clever words weren't enough.  He conceived the idea of developing a special shoe for Michael.  Working with their design they aimed a very high end shoe that could be adjusted.  They also thought a shoe with more red in it (he had been drafted by the Chicago Bulls) would be worth a fine of $5,000 for each game.  They came up with the idea of Air Jordan, although his agent also claimed credit.  Later they developed a logo based on a silhouette of Michael jumping through the air.  

The Jordans were impressed, but a later phone call (agonizingly delayed) from Mrs Jordan had one revolutionary request that her son get a commission on each shoe sold with his name on it.  Sonny explained this couldn't be done, but with some haggling it was done.  Afterwards (learned as the credits rolled) Sonny helped extend the commission idea to college athletes.

If you know about basketball you will know Nike signing up Michael Jordan was one of the smartest ever marketing decision anywhere.  And some people claimed that everybody knew he would be a superstar.

For basketball fans this is mostly a big tease until the end when they show a few clips of the real Michael Jordan doing what justifies the whole fuss, plus you hear a tribute to his mother.

The story had a guarantee of a good audience, but they were aided by an all star cast of actors and experienced crew.

For Alex Convery this was his first feature movie script.  He had grown up in Illinois and had been a Chicago Bulls fan.  He decided he wanted to be a film script writer.  During the Covid lockdown he watched "The Last Dance" (2020) a biographical series about Jordan.  In there was a 5 minute or so clip about the Nike deal and that provided the inspiration.   He wrote and re-wrote the script several times and sent it out.  It reached the attention of Ben Affleck who liked it and discussions soon resulted in a decision to start filming.

Ben Affleck was director and producer and played the role of Phil Knight, founder of Nike.  He is the one who sat with Michael Jordan to get permission. He is part of a creative team that started in his youth when he befriended Matt Damon, both living close to each other, taking part in Little League baseball and taking drama lessons.  Ben's first acting job was for a Burger King commercial.  They worked together with small roles, writing scrips.  Together they teamed up writing a script for "Good Will Hunting" and taking a role.  The film won an Oscar for the two writers and was a artistic and commercial success. He went on to win other awards including another Oscar.  His film credits include "State of Play" (2009), "The Company Man" (2010),  "The Town" (2010), "Tower Heist" (2011), "Argo" (2012) "Gone Girl" (2014), "The Accountant" (2016), "The Way Back" (2020) and "The Tender Bar" (2022).  He has a very calculating mind and was able to win a $365,000 pot in a Las Vegas poker tournament.       

Matt Damon also was a producer and the main lead.  As part of his teaming with Ben, they were extras in "Field of Dreams" (1989).  Matt Damon had dropped out of Harvard to concentrate on a film career.  His film credits include "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1994), "The Rainmaker" (1997), "Invictus" (2009), "The Informant" (2009), "Inside Job" (2010), "Hereafter" (2020), "We Bought a Zoo" (2010), "The Adjustment Bureau"" (2011), "Contagion" (2011), "Elysium" (2013), "Interstellar" (2014), "The Martian" (2015), "Manchester By the Sea" (2016) and "Ford vs. Ferrari" (2019)  He is best known by many for his 3 films as Jason Bourne.  Along with Ben he was very involved in fine tuning the script.

Peter Guber was another producer.  The films he has been a producer or an executive producer have earned $3 billiion dollars around the world and gained 50 Oscar nominations.  His film credits include "Rain Man" (1988), "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988) and "The Last Dance" (2020).  He was the producer for Grammy winning music and official soundtrack for the 1984 Olympics.  Perhaps more important he has been in charge of Sony Pictures and turned them around and then going on to set up other studios.  He has been on the faculty of UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television and is a full professor.  He has had a 20 year business relationship with Magic Johnson involving a theatre chain and ownership of the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He is a man who believes in the power of stories and inspired me to tell one of my most useful ones in his best selling book "Tell to Win".  check

Robert Richardson was the cinematographer and has won 3 Oscars plus another 4 nominations.  Before starting with feature films he did documentaries for PBS and BBC.  His film credits include "Eight Men Out"  (1988), "JFK" (1991),  "Heaven & Earth" (1993), "The Horse Whisperer" (1998), "The Aviator" (2004), "Inglorioius Basterds" (2009), "Eat Pray Love" (2010), "Hugo" (2011), "Django Unchained" (2012) and "A Private War" (2018).

William Goldenberg was the editor.  He won an Oscar for "Argo" (2012).  Other film credits included "Gone Baby Gone" (2007), "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), "The Imitation Game" (2014), "Unbroken" (2014), "Concussion" (2015), "Detroit" (2017, "News of the World" (2020) and "The Outfit" (2012).

Jason Bateman played Rob Strasser Sony's immediate boss.  He is a versatile film maker.  Among his early roles at age 12 was with television series, for 21 episodes of "House on the Prairie".  At age 18 he directed 3 episodes of another tv. series.  His film credits include " The Invention of Lying" (2009), "Up in the Air" (2009), "The Change Up" (2011), "Bad Words" (2013), "This is Where I Leave You" (2013), "The Gift" (2015), "Zootopia" (2016), "Ozark "(2017-2020) and "Game Night" (2018).

Viola Davis was requested by Michael Jordan himself to play his mother.   She is another Oscar winner, this time for "Fences" (2016) for a supporting role she originated on Broadway.  She also is the first African American to win an Emmy for the lead in a television dramatic series,  "How to Get Away With Murder" (2014-2020).  Altogether she has won  112 awards and 231 nominations.  Other film credits include  "It's Kind of a Funny Story" (2010), "Eat Pray Love" (2010), "Trust" (2010), "The Help" (2011), "Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close" (2011), "Prisoners" (2013), "Widows" (2018), "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (2020), "The Unforgiveable" (2021) and "The Woman King" (2022).  She was chosen to play Michelle Obama in "The First Lady" (2022).    I had not seen that at this time, but insired to watch it was not disappointed.  Check  She also has been a producer for 18 films with more on the way.

Viola Davis' actual husband Julius Tennon played Michael Jordan's father.  He received a football scholarship to University of Tulsa where he also became the first African American to graduate from their theatre program.  Has over 60 film credits (as actor and producer) including "How To Get Away with Murder" (2017) and"The Woman Warrior" (2022).  They try to arrange to work on the same film projects.

Chris Tucker plays the one role Michael Jordan requested to be included, Howard White.  He is well established as a stand up comedian.  For a brief time he was he highest paid actor in Hollywood, with $25 million for "Rush Hour 3" (2007).  Other film credits include "Rush Hour" (1998), "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012) and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" (2016).

 One surprise was there was almost no sign of Michael himself.  The most was a telephone voice.  This was a decision by Ben Affleck who felt anything but the real Michael Jordan would seem a fake.

It may seem like a mundane subject, a sponsorship for a basketball shoe, but it illustrates that everybody didn't know.  A lot of very talented people put an effort to its success.

You can read about my 60 years of basketball involvement

As usual I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.  Not so usual was the large numbers of such films, hopefully reflecting the calibre of the people involved rather than my vanity (really I was lucky to have seen such films).   

Saturday, May 13, 2023

When Hollywood meets Bollywood "Mississippi Masala"

One outcome of "Mississippi Masala" (1991) is to realize that racism is universal.  The underlying reason is that humans fear outsiders and/or look down on them.  If they are of a different color or even dress differently that is more than enough to awaken primitive feelings.  Among liberal whites we feel superior to those who are prejudiced against blacks.

"Mississippi Masala" (1991) not only brings Bollywood and Hollywood together, but opens us up to universal truths.  

 The movie starts in Uganda, Africa where Idi Amin had decided to rid his country of Indians.  The Indians had been brought to Uganda by the British to work on the railroad, but stayed and many became professionals and business managers. 

For the father, Jay it is agonizing leaving friends behind, but he has no choice.

We follow Jay's family with a young daughter that ended up owning a motel in Mississippi.  A black man, running a small business runs into an accident with the daughter.  They meet each other the same evening at a night club dominated by blacks, but she fits right in.  He makes a play for her really to make an ex girl friend jealous.  But inevitably they are strongly attached to one another.  At first blacks and Indians seem to get along, but as their relation deepens the black customers drop off causing financial stress.  Her family remembering how black Africans had forced them to abandon their home, despite the father feeling Uganda was his home. 

Bringing the two cultures together was done very professionally.  Here are some contributors

Mira Nair, director and producer was educated in India and Harvard University.  After a brief acting career and some documentaries her first feature film was "Salaam Bombay" (1988) which won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival.  Her film credits included "Monsoon Wedding" (2002), "The Namesake" (2007) and "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2012).

Sooni Taraporevala, born in India, won a scholarship to Harvard where she studied English, film and photography.  She established herself as a still photographer.  As a Parsi she developed photographs into a book and exhibits in India, the U.S., France and Britain. Through friendship with Mira Nair she got into script writing.  For this film she made trips to Uganda, Mississippi and New York.  She credits Denzel with helping on the script to better understand blacks in America.  Her film credits include "Salaam Bombay" (1988), "Such a Long Journey" (1988), "The Namesake" (2007) and "Yeh Ballet" (2021).  She has also been a director and has two credits for her still photography.

Music was composed by L. Subramaniam.  He had 7 credits including "Salaam Bombay" (1988).

Cinematography was by Edward Lachman.  He has 80 film credits including "Selena" (1997), "Erin Brockovich"  (2000). "Far From Heaven" (2002), "Paradise:  Hope" (2013) and "Carol" (2015).

Editing was done by Roberto Silvi.  He has 50 film credits including "The Ninth Configuration" (1980), "Closer to the Moon" (2014) and "The Homesman" (2014).. 

Denzel Washington after winning his first Oscar for "Glory" (1990) took one of the main roles for this film.  He got started in theatre and returned to it a few times winning a Tony Award.  His first break was as a lead character on popular tv. show "St. Elsewhere" (1982-1988).  His film credits as an actor include "The Pelican Brief" (1993), "Philadelphia"(1993), "The Hurricane" (1999), "Inside Man"(2006), "The Great Debaters" (2007), "Flight" (2012), "The Magnificent Seven"(2016), and "Fences" (2016).  He won a second Oscar as well as numerous other awards.  He also has produced 12 films and directed 5 films.  He now is one of the highest paid actors commanding over $20 million per film.  He has been generous with his wealth and has been a national spokesman and board member for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Sarita Choudhury played the love interest in her first film.  She spent time studying at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  She has 92 film credits including "Midnight's Children" (2012), "Admission" (2013), "Learning to Drive" (2014) and "A Hologram for the King" (2016).

Roshan Seth played the father, Jay who all his life felt Uganda was his real home.  He studied at London 's Academy and Dramatic Arts and performed in theatre roles.  But he noticed he was only wanted for ethnic roles.  Back in India he developed quite a career, including such films as "Gandhi" (1982), "Such a Long Journey" (1998), "Monsoon Wedding" (2001), "Kabul Express" (2006), "Amal" (2007), "Guru" (2007), "Trishna" (2011), "Ek Tha Tiger" (2012), and "Behind Her Eyes" (2021).

Sharmila Tagore played the mother.  She is distantly related to Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore.  She married a famous cricketer and a noble, Mansoor Ali Khan.  She was mother to two successful stars, Saif Ali Khan and Soha Ali Khan.  She started with Bengali films before being brought to Bollywood where she played romantic roles in heer youth and became one of highest paid actresses,   She has 109 film credits including "Devi" (1960), "Nayak" (1966), "Khushboo" (1975), "Chupke Chupke" (1975), "Eklavya" (2007), "8 x 10 Tasveer" (2009) and "Break Ke Baad" (2010).

This is not only a compelling story, but an example of how collaboration should work.  I was able to get a copy from my local library.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2023


 Good vs. evil is a common movie theme.  "Queenmaker" (2023) reminds me of "House of Cards"(2013-2018), with one difference being the focus is on two females with two male antagonists (and another female).  Plenty of twists.

This is about a disillusioned and guilty fixer eventually working with an idealistic lawyer.  Demonstrates it is possible for some people to make a drastic change.

The fixer, Hwang Do-hee, orchestrates lots of details mostly behind the scene for the Eun Corporation chaired by Son Young-sim.  The two of them are manipulative in their pursuit of profits with scant attention to morals (only about the appearance).  

Hwang Do-hee was asked to deal with an annoying lawyer, Oh Kyung-sook protesting on a rooftop against Eun's dismissal of several employees.  Her efforts are not successful.  About the same time she is requested to deal with a potential family scandal which she brutally sets out to do.  But it turns out to be offensive to her and she refuses to finish it.  This is not acceptable to Seo-jin and eventually Hwang Do-hee quits and pays a price with her father being denied medical treatment and losing her company condo.

Revenge is on her mind and she recalls her encounter with Oh Kyung-sook and to be honest sees her as an instrument and talks her into running for mayor of Seoul.  Along the way she seems to genuinely become more compassionate.  It turns out one of the opponents is the son in law of Son Young-sim, Baek Jae Min who the viewer will recall was the unsavory antagonist behind the potential family scandal.  There are many dirty tricks against the uppity lawyer, but Hwang Do-hee is a master and saves a few of her own tricks.

The ending has a twist of course, but you should wait until after the election results to more fully appreciate the plot.  It also hints at the possibility of a sequel.

Some of the key contributors who keep your attention riveted.

Oh Jin Suk was the director with 6 film credits.

Moon Ji Young was the writer with 3 film credits.

Here is some fabulous music I bought for my collection:

Yang Dong-yeop was the editor with 8 film credits.

Kim Hee-ae played Hwang Do-hee, the Queenmaker, alternating from a cold blooded fixer and a compassionate political advisor.  She is a prolific award winner and has taught acting at Sawan Science University from 1996.  She has 20 film credits. One interesting note is she played the leading character in  a remake of "Doctor Foster" titled "The World of the Married" (2020).  

Moon So-ri plays Oh Kyung-sook, an idealistic lawyer convinced to run for Mayor of Seoul.  She wants to do the right thing even if it hurts her prospects.  So-ri has 40 film credits including "The Handmaiden" (2016).  She is another prolific winner of national awards.  She has also directed and written two scripts.

Ryu Soo-Young plays the despicable Baek Jae Min.  He has 24 film credits including "The Attorney" (2013).

Seo Yi Sook plays another evil character, Son Young-sim the chairwoman of the Eun Corporation.  She has a very extensive theatre background including a lot of awards.  She has over 15 film credits including "Under the Queen's Umbrella" (2022).  Check:

Lee Kyung-Young played a clever fixer for Baek Jae Min.  He has 114 film credits including "Misaeng" (2014), "Assassination" (2015), "The Beauty Inside" (2016), "Misty" (2018), "Hyena" (2020) and "Vincenzo" (2021).  

Ok Ja-yeon played the replacement for Hwang Do-hee at the Eun Corporation.  She was also a manipulative, evil character who had an affair with Baek Jae Min.  She started in theatre in 2012 and has had a dozen roles.  She has 27 film roles including "The Age of Shadows" (2016), "Burning" (2017) and "Under the Queen's Umbrella" (2022). 

In the process of researching for this blog I discovered that Wikipedia is a better source of more accurate information on Korean films.

Dubbed and subtitled versions available on Netflix

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Why We're Polarized

American politics is basically a two party system that offers very different policies.  Ezra Klein in "Why We're Polarized" explains how this happened.  At one time it was common for some people to vote for Republican at one level and Democrat at another.  This is no longer normal.

 Each party had a diversity between liberal and conservative views depending on various issues.  Things started to change when civil rights were enacted.  For many this was a clarifying event and each party handled the change differently becoming a key voter concern.  In 1944 only 5% of eligible blacks were registered and had little influence on national elections. 

Democrats needed the support of southern Democrats.  To get their support Franklin Roosevelt had to overlook anti-lynching legislation in order to implement the New Deal.  A few decades later Barry Goldwater ran as Republican for president, advocating state's rights winning most of the former Confederate states being part of a sorting process.

Political identity has united many other identities.  Racial attitudes could easily align with gun rights, tax reductions, LGBTQ rights, etc.  It has reached the point where surveys have shown that increasing number of parents would be most upset if their child chose to marry someone of the opposite political persuasion.

Being intelligent too often takes a back seat to political reasoning.  After a social experiment the author concluded "People weren't reasoning to get the right answer, they were reasoning to get the answer they wanted to be right."

Trump was seen by many Republicans who did not like him, as their best bet to get elected and get the judges and tax reductions they wanted.

Prior to 1970 party nominations were settled by party officials.  Primaries opened up to members, but those most fanatical had a greater influence.

"It is easy to be in the middle of a muddle it's not easy to be in the middle of a chasm" This leads to fewer persuadables.  A more effective strategy than trying to motivate swing voters is to activate your base to get them out to vote and demonstrate their support.

Most democracies have adopted a Parliamentary system that binds the legislative and executive systems, meaning that if one party loses an election another party will take over both systems.  In contrast the United States has a Presidential system in which it is possible and fairly common for each party to have a share of the power and impede the efforts of the other party.  This provides opportunities for the minority party to block legislation.  "Bi-partisan cooperation is often necessary for governance, but irrational for the minority party to offer."

When newspapers dominated political coverage, most tried to avoid antagonizing either party to maximize their profits, although some papers took sides.  When television and social media overtook newspapers, to maximize their profits some tried to be the most appealing to one side or the other., example Fox News.

The media decides what is newsworthy.  For example Hilary's emails were given more attention than her policies.  In 2016 Trump was given more media coverage than all of his 15 primary competitors combined.  Obviously his ability to corral media coverage was among Trump's greatest skill.

Emotions matter more than reasoning and apparently our emotions are most stirred by how we feel about the other side.  Media very often flames our feelings.

How do we improve the situation?  Klein makes a few suggestions.

Instead of gerrymandering at state level a proportional representative system would represent the voters more fairly (and encourage more voting, more discussion and give third parties a fairer chance).  It is too common for one party to win the popular vote, but end up with fewer representatives.  This distorts the will of the people.

In 2040 it is projected that 70% of Americans will live in the 15 largest states meaning that that 70% of Americans will be represented by 30 Senators while 30% of Americans will be represented by 70 Senators.  The electoral college already distorts who gets fair representation.

Votes should be as easy as possible.  Restricting voters lessens credibility.

Washington DC and Puerto Rico should be states.  Blocked for political reasons as too many blacks and Hispanics frighten otherwise fair minded Republicans.  Author feels would increase Republicans veering from racist strategies as they would have to compete for their votes.

The author is more introspective than most political commentators.  "We will never know how fully we have been shaped by our contexts"  We all need to be more mindful that we are influenced by more than one of our identities.

Klein, back in 2019 pointed out that the debt ceiling was unnecessary.  As we now know it has become a very difficult partisan issue.

Most voters are focused on national politics, but in reality we have more influence on a local scale.  The author suggests a focus on our local level would eventually influence national concerns. In the U.S. there are 537 elected federal officials, but in the entire nation (state and municipal), there are 500,000 elected officials. Many of the local officials will go on to campaign for federal offices.

The book covers the naturalness of polarizing in more depth and it is well worth reading.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

"Nairobi Half Life" deserves a longer life

 "Nairobi Half Life" (2012) was intended to be a time filler with my interest piqued only by its Kenyan origin.  African films don't get a lot of attention in North America, but they are gaining the expertise needed as well as the stories that will interest a wider world.

Mwas lived in a rural area of Kenya selling western action films.  He thought he could be an actor.  Naive, but charming.  When arrived in the big city of Nairobi he was immediately roughed up and robbed of all his things (except his clothes he was wearing).  In a desperate situation he was soon picked up by the police and thrown in jail.  There he befriends Oti who steers him to a gang.  He soon gets involved in stealing car parts and a few times uses his elocutionary skills to help talk himself out of delicate situations.  

He tries to get a part in a play, but at first not knowing the procedure makes little progress.  Finally he does get a role and takes part in rehearsals.  The climax of the story is when the play is scheduled to open he cannot be found.  His dual life has complications that explain this.  Another complication is that he has become friendly with a prostitute attached to the gang.  She dreamed of going back to school and becoming a beautician while he of course wanted to be an actor. Although they were attracted to one another her profession was a barrier.

There is lots of criminal and police action that provides tension to keep the story interesting.  The ending is ambiguous looking like it needed a sequel, but it turns out there wasn't enough financing.

Kenya is assembling the people to support a vibrant film industry.  This is a good example of what they can offer.   Here are some cast and crew.  Germany helped provide financing and expertise.

Directed by David 'Tosh' Gitonga .  He has 12 film credits and has won international awards

Writing crew of Potash Charles Matathia, Samuel Munene and Serah Mwihaki won an international award for their script.  Samuel Munene did some camera work for an American film, "Chimpanzee" (2011) filmed in Uganda.

Three producers Sarika Hemi Lakhani, Tom Tykwer and Ginger Wilson.  

Sarika Hemi Lakhani has a German mother and a Kenyan/Indian father and was educated in Germany.  She had been involved with German and English films until Tom Tykwer asked to get involved with "Soul Boy" (2010) that was set in Kenya.  From there she has been a producer of Kenyan films.

Tom Tykwer , born in Germany worked as a young man as a film projectionist and worked up to head of programing at the Moviemento Theater.  He was encouraged to try film making and did a number of shorts before tackling features.  He directed, wrote and composed for different films.  "Run Lola Run" (1998) was an international success.  Other films include "Cloud Atlas" (2012 and "A Hologram for The King" (2016).  Also composes music for some of his films.  For "Inglourious Basterds" (2009) he translated some dialogue into German.

Ginger Wilson is based in Nairobi and had been involved with films in Africa.  Most notable might be "Clash of the Titans" (2010) that was partially filmed in Ethiopia.  She was a service producer for 20 episodes of "Sense8" (2015-2017).  She is the owner of Ginger Ink which services films all over Africa.

Xaver von Tryer provided the music.  He has 19 film credits mostly for the German market.

Cinematography was handled by Christian Almesberger with over 60 film credits.  including "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014), "Clouds of Sils Maria" (2014), "A Hologram for trhe King" (2018) and 17 episodes of "Sense8" (2015-2017).

Editing was done by Mkaiwawi Mwakaba with 7 film credits.

Joseph Wairimu played Mwas winning some awards for the role.  He was excellent playing a naive young man catching on while pursuing his dream.  He went onto to 8 more film credits including 2 episodes of "Sense8" a multi national film.

Olwenya Maina played Oti, a tough guy who nurtured Mwas into criminal activities.  He has 7 film credits.

Shix Kapenga played Anima the prostitute who liked Mwas.  She has 7 film credits.

Paul Ogola played one of the Gangsters.  He has 13 film credits which includes 7 episodes of "Sacred Games" (2019.)

Ainea Ojiambo played a crooked police officer.  He started acting on stage and from there was given an opportunity for a small role in big American British production of "The Constant Gardener" (2004).  He has 16 film credits including "The First Grader" (2010).  He has been a consultant for guns in films and in 2021 was able to take a course in Counter Terrorism at the European Security Academy Company.

Available on Netflix.  A lot of the dialogue is in English, but subtitles are available for Swahili and Kikuyu dialogues.  Watch and you will appreciate Africa has worthy films to offer the world.

I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Hunger, an interesting movie from Thailand

Thai food is my favorite and "Hunger" (2023) had a favorite leading lady, making this film a must see for me.  One strong theme is about the social stratification of Thailand, not all that different from other nations.  Food culture has risen to one of the highest arts getting increased attention in magazines television and other movies.  The masters are revered.  But after all it is basically sustenance.  You can approach this film from different perspectives and you may have to change after the ending.

Before the title is shown we see a very accomplished looking man preparing a food feast for some very rich people.  It is very impressive and eye popping and the reaction of the guests who are mesmerized by the display evokes envy (or disgust).

 The leading character is Aoy a young woman who feels she is stuck in the street restaurant her father set up.  A young man tastes one of her simple dishes and urges her to visit a renown chef.  She decides that might be her ticket to get out of her situation.

Chef Paul is the revered master and you quickly realize he is a perfectionist quite willing to throw things when upset and to fire people who disappoint him.  Later he expresses his philosophy, "What you eat represents your social status. Poor eat to end their hunger."  He wanted to turn the tables on the rich and beg him to make their special dinners.  We learn he came from a poor background with a mother who was a maid to a wealthy family that made her life miserable after he tried to eat some caviar. 

Aoy makes a good impression, but has a lot to learn.  We witness a lot of delicate techniques to make perfect food.

On one high dining invitation, Chef Paul's group is at a hunting expedition.  A rare hornbill bird is shot and Chef Paul handles the carcass for another special decadent meal.  Aoy was upset that this was illegal (and gross) and quits.  

A rich man offered to sponsor Aoy and she ends up in charge of an upscale restaurant.  She is invited to cook for a big do and learns that Chef Paul has also been invited.  Quite a very competitive display.

In the end we are left to evaluate the worth of our food.  It can be a part of our status or a necessary crutch to survive or something in between.  It certainly can be an enjoyable tasting experience as well as a socializing adventure.  Recently I had become conscious of many food experiences that have enhanced my life.

A film like this demands a lot of details handled by experts. Here are some key ones. 

Directed by Sitisiri Mongklosiri.  He has 5 film credits.

Kongdel Jaturanrasamee wrote the script and was a producer.   He is an international award winner with 18 scripts, 10 directed films and 3 acting stints.

Jame Chaibovon Seelookwar composed the music.  He has 3 film credits.

Peter T-hawat Taifayongvic was the cinematograher with 2 film credits.  Also does shorts and ads.

ManussaVorassingha was the editor with 44 credits including "Bad Genius" (2018)

Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, despite her long name is a marketing success story.  "Bad Genius" (2018) got her international recognition that is likely to be boosted by this role.  As the Bad Genius it was thought that she should change from her right handedness to be a left hander as they were thought to be smarter.  In "Hunger" as Aoy she had to learn some fine cooking techniques.  She is popular all over Asia.  Other film credits include "Happy Old Year" (2019, and "Sleepless Society:  Insomnia" (2020).   Check out a blog on one of my favorite heist movies:

Gunn Svasti Na Ayudhya plays Tone a boyfriend who helped her get auditioned for Hunger.  He has 4 film credits.

Nopachai Chaitaban plays Chef Paul as a very arrogant boss and perhaps a little too self righteous.  He has 24 film credits.

 Bhumbhat Thawornsiri plays Au, a brother to Aoy.  He has 9 credits in including "Happy Old Year" (2019).

This is a film dealing with social issues.  It is well done.  Available in dubbed format on Netflix.