Thursday, December 31, 2015

MEMORIES FROM 2015

Although there are lot of pleasant memories for 2015 you can read about below,  I will start off with what many might consider downers.  The loss of people dear to me hurt, but they also brought back the value of knowing them and appreciating life.  The memories are mostly pleasant and I would like to share them a bit. Words really don't convey the value of my experiences with some people I will be missing in the future..

Peter who came into my life after my father in law died, has been a Godsend.  He married my mother-in-law and truly became part of the family which he was always extolling.  You could always be sure of a smile when meeting him.  Before he talks about his history or his viewpoint he always asks about you.  The only Grandfather one of my nieces ever knew.  I became aware that after the death of my father-in-law and my own father Peter took on many aspects of the father role for me.  Peter died in early December at the age of 92.  15 years ago when my father died, Peter, who barely knew my dad drove from Burlington to Oshawa to pay his respects.  A fuller explanation of him can be found at a blog post on his 90th birthday.  5thhttp://www.johnfdavidson.com/2013/06/peter-is-still-kicking-at-90.html.  We met his son Sam, daughter in law Lisa and grandchildren Nicole and Greg (who flew in from California).

Thelma Oddi died in March and reminded me of some pleasant experiences.  She was not directly related to my wife's family, but often was our hostess when we visited Watertown, New York.   Her husband Lefty had become a good friend of my father in law Boris Olynyk.  My wife and I became friends with her son John and daughter in law Joan.

Shawn Hagerman  We had been close from high school and early married years.  He lived in Oshawa while I had moved to Haliburton.  An irony was that a job in a house for emotionally disturbed children, an easy walk from my rural home was too difficult for me to handle, but  he took it on.  Later he became an insurance agent in Haliburton county and sold me a policy and later set up an investment which I still have.  He married a local woman, Diane Earle that I was acquainted with and they went on to have three children.  In a sense Shawn and I were drinking buddies and had been on a number of double dates, but when my parents moved from Haliburton we drifted apart.  We never went to the same school, but always enjoyed long conversations when we got together.  Several years ago a mutual friend got married in Oshawa.  I had booked a hotel room, but it was unsuitable and my wife and I decided to drive home at about midnight, and just at the exit to 401 my car stalled.  No place to stay, so I remembered Diane's brother's name (we had never met) and phoned him and he readily accepted my plea for a place to stay.  Shawn and Diane picked us up and everything turned out ok.  I have occasionally mentioned him in other blog posts, but they don't do justice to his positive influence on me.  http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/1076805/Hagerman-Shawn.php

Shawn's unexpected death reminds me of an earlier one that I also don't want to forget.  I met Martin Weber in university and we hit it off, although we were different in many ways.  We were drinking and talking buddies, and shared much of life.  I  had met his brother and two sisters (and one of their boyfriends).  I visited him at home in Clarkson (part of Mississauga).  He was an usher at my wedding, and he had asked me to be the master of ceremonies for his.  After university he got some financing and decided to be a blueberry farmer where I picked a few baskets.  After awhile we drifted apart--he lived in St Williams, but after a few years I had an occasion to visit the area and dropped by his farm and was shocked that he and his wife had both died leaving two youngsters. As with Shawn this brief writing doesn't do him justice, but I don't want to forget.

Ken Taylor the Canadian ambassador to Iran at the time of the hostage taking.   He was a real hero, not just a Hollywood footnote.   A movie came out after "Argo" to set the story straight and restore Canadians to their real role.  Ken has appeared on many tv shows and in this movie and with the extras you see what type of person he was.

In January I checked off one bucket list item--a Fado nite--at Ventura's Restaurant.  For you non Portuguese a Fado night is listening to a unique style of singing.  At first annoyed because the entertainment didn't start until after we had eaten our main course.  However it turned out to be a good idea to more thoroughly enjoy the concert after a wonderful meal.   A fairly intimate setting for the entertainment--we were two tables away from three instrumentalists and two singers.  Understood very little of the words except through the emotions of the music.  An enjoyable unique experience.


In March I manned a booth at the Can-Am Equine show at a new facility in Markham.--parking improvement, no big guests.  I met a few customers, prospects and other booth exhibitors  I drove Glenda Fordham who originally came from Perth Australia.  She has a lot of experience promoting artists and musicians.

Pan Am Games in part came to Hamilton and I enjoyed one sporting event live and a bunch more on tv.   see http://bit.ly/1MvVG5h

The highlight of the year for me was our son Michael's visit  (from New Zealand) and one of the highlights of that was an outdoor party with relatives.  We also visited Philadelphia so Michael could take part in an educational conference.  The trip was mostly driving, but the city of Brotherly Love was very interesting.  You can read more and see a few photos at  http://bit.ly/1NzC2TP


My youngest sister, Jennifer got married to Charles Deal in Cambridge.   Every wedding has uniqueness and this one certainly did.  Starting with the minister there was a lot of humour.  My Muslim sister  Rebecca was allowed to make a reading which was well received.  My brother Marshall took photos (except for the one to the left that he is in).  Sharon made the wedding cake.  The food was potluck and it turned out pretty good with an excellent variety not often found at a wedding.  Many guests I did not know  Lots of hugs

I went on my 8th Superwalk for Parkinson's.  A bit embarrassing because I had not really pushed for donations and had my worst contribution.  Walking through Gage Park I was reminded of an old friend, Don Theroux who died a year ago, but had encouraged us into a fundraiser for Gage Park.  For the first time in years the fountain was flowing, partly thanks to Don's efforts.

The Royal Winter Fair is when the country meets the city.  I went mainly to support selling ads for The Rider., but also as a perk of the job  Saw a few of my advertisers and learned of some future prospects.  The country seems to be losing out to the city. watched part of a show with the Mounted Equine Games that showed some of the excitement horses can bring.  As the announcer said the horses love to run.

Fortunately I hang out with a number of couples as they celebrate their 40th wedding anniversaries.  This year we gathered to celebrate that anniversary for Rob Land and Barbara Drake.  Although they went to the same high school, M.M. Robinson they didn't really get to know one another until they were thrown together during an European vacation.  A lot of interesting stories were told with some great food and wine.

Technology has made it both easier and harder to save old favourite music.  I am sure any of you older than about 40 can identify with my dilemma.  This year made still another transition.  http://bit.ly/1ENn6N4

One of the enjoyable things in life is eating out.  We live near James St. N  and are constantly tempted.  Thai Memories, Culantro Peruvian Cookery, Saltlick Smoke House, Acclamation, Wild Orchid, Ventura's, the Butcher and Vegan (mural by a favourite artist Lester Coloma).   Romano's, and Limoncello were two other Hamilton restaurants I had to drive to.  An old favourite, Mex-i-can was forced to re-locate, but the chef started Mesa Mexican restaurant that my Halal eating sister and I really enjoyed on James St N.  While in Philadelphia we would recommend Maggiano's.


At the end of the year we like to get together with a few good friends.  Talk, wine, music, tooting horns a bit.



Movies are one of my indulgences and I saw many enjoyable ones.
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/films-that-l-appreciated-in-2015.html
Books are another of my cravings and I was fortunate enough to read a few.
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/my-best-reads-during-2015.html

I wrote a lot of blogs and was surprised to learn which were my top 2 blogs for 2015. Hispanic films you can read here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/07/hispanic-cinema-spans-globe.html   Basketball was such a big part of my life that I wrote a two parter and it turned out the second part got a lot of attention:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/03/my-basketball-projects-part-two.html

I hope you have pleasant memories of your past year (remember them when things aren't always so smooth).  Share them and you will remember them better.

Read about the previous year here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/01/looking-back-on-2014.html

RESOLUTIONS FOR 2016

I hesitate to get involved with resolutions again.  You were supposed to help keep me on track and I certainly could have used a push.  However, really it is my fault that I have more lame excuses than accomplishments.  At this natural time of reflection it is an opportunity to re-direct myself.








Here are my resolutions from last year.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/12/christmas-eve-resolutions-for-2015.html

I feel exercising was my poorest result.  I did run into both physical and mechanical problems and really didn't come close.  More importantly I didn't walk as much, although I have made short noon hour walks almost a habit (thanks for the suggestion, Greg).

Mindfulness is not easily measured, thank goodness, because I definitely slipped in this regard.

Nicer?  That is decided by others, but I would say not really--maybe even slipped a bit.

I didn't read as much as usual (about 2/3 of goal), perhaps because I did over achieve in watching movies.  I think I got more out of the movies than previously, but still it is mostly passive.

Blogging, superficially can be measured, but I am convinced that a lot of my so called page views are really robots and doubt that very many were read all the way through.  I did get significantly more views, but am very sure a good measure of them were  not legitimate.  On the positive side I did almost reach my goal of 2 a week.

My New Zealand repeat visit is still a dream, but am thinking about it more.  My goal is now within 24 months and includes Heather.  The photo at the top is to help remind me.

I will continue to work on sit-ups and pushups.  The elliptical will be replaced with a stationary bike which I will measure by time.

Blogging is still enjoyable and gives some senseof purpose.  Goal is to have 3 views per hour. bringing me up to 106,500.

Goal of 20,000 pages read and 225 movies.

Spend more focused time selling and preparing to sell.

Mindfulness needs to be developed.  Eating, walking.  Diet to be logical and aided by mindfulness.

Simple, but if it was easy I wouldn't need to remind myself.

Films that l appreciated in 2015

A lot of movies were seen in the past twelve months and included a number I would recommend for those who love good movies or who have specific movie interests.  There are a lot of good movies, but few have the time or inclination to watch them all.  My hope is that some of you will find
something worth your while.  Please feel free to suggest your favourites.  There are too many worthy movies for a lot of details, but in some cases you can link to more detailed descriptions.


English speaking favourites  

"Boyhood"   filmed over a 12 year period.  Richard Linklater took a big chance that all the actors would be available over a 12 year period, however the risk paid dividends.   Award winner.  One feature was some awkward moments covered accurately

Also finished trilogy with Ethan Hawke, Judy Delpy and directed by Richard Linklater

 "The Theory of Everything" with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones was thought provoking and inspiring.

"A Good Lie" directed by Canadian Phlippe Falardeau and starring Reese Witherspoon gave refugees some spotlight  Later in year watched Reese in "Wild", a quite different story that illustrates her versatility.

"The Imitation Game"  with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly and  Matthew Goode from The Good Wife.

"The Martian "with Matt Damon was a homage to man's ingenuity. Saw in 3-D


"Gone Girl"--study in sociopathy--critics said plot was implausible.  I would agree it would seem highly unlikely, but we go to movies to watch highly unlikely events.  Most would get a kick out of this.

"Mandela A long Walk to Freedom" starring Idris Elba.  Mandela is one of the most admired men in history.  He saw those around  him as humans who didn't know any better.  Later watched Idris in a few episodes of Luther

"The Best Offer" written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, was a big surprise.  If you haven't seen the trailer, it is misleading, but I feel justified for the twists along the way.  It helps if you like the world of art, but even if you don't you would appreciate the twists.  Re-kindled interest in Giueseppe Tornatore and Ennio Morricone.  Read more http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/08/giuseppe-tornatore.html

"Frequency," an unusual suspense movie.  A what would have happened--illustrates to me that a lot of things had to happen for today's circumstances and if any of them had been changed today's circumstances would be quite different.  We all can think of how things might have been different for
just one slight change

"To Kill a Mockingbird", a classic.  Gregory Peck reminding us of courage required confronting racism.

James Cagney was a childhood favourite.   Saw a number of old favourites and a few new ones.  Learned his background and like him more.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/09/james-cagney.html

Roger Ebert left a big imprint on society which was brought home to me with viewing "Life Itself"  I had read the book he wrote, but in some ways the film, done after his death had more impact.  They showed a clip of him explaining that movies give insight to ourselves and others.  The film was more graphic in showing how his body had deteriorated, but he kept on plugging away.  Although I had read many of his reviews, I really became attracted to him when he developed a website when he in the midst of his health problems.  I wrote a bit about him, but this movie hit home harder.   The director said Roger did not want a tribute, but a true story, meaning the unhappy parts.  Read about the book this movie based on:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2013/04/a-few-thoughts-on-roger-ebert.html

"The Prosecution of an American President"  was not popular, but irrefutable.  Vincent Bugliosi, a famous prosecutor presents a strong case against President George W. Bush.

Saw a few horse related movies.  "This Way of Life" a documentary from New Zealand about a man who makes his living training horses and living as naturally as possible.  The film deals with some personal conflict and I was struck with how introspective and tolerant he was.  Horse lovers will be struck with some of the horsemanship displayed by his young children.  "Buck" recommended by a sales contact. "Riding Back to Life" was a short film and demonstrating how horses can be effective therapeutically.   "The Turin Horse" was not something horse lovers would enjoy as the horse in some way is used symbolically.

The last film of the year (number 343) I saw was an oldie, "Hoosiers" about my favourite game, basketball and was done very well and although seemed to have some cliches was also realistic.  Good writing, directing, acting, cinematography and music.


South Korea

I watched several South Korean movies with those three listed below among the best for me.  "Spring, summer, fall, winter...and spring"  suggested by Mary Ito.  Last year I felt the best movie I watched was another Korean movie--this is quite different, but really hit home--beautiful cinematography taking advantage of lush scenery, one bit of music as the end left a strong impression--story seemed very simple, but very basic to human nature--gave an insight into Buddhism

A second Korean film "Miss Granny"  a hit on Netflix where a 74 year old women who reminds me of my dear Nanny, my wife's grandmother Lucy.  The protagonist was  transformed into someone 50 years younger.  Opens up a lot of interesting plots--some enjoyable music.

A third Korean movie "Glove" was a notch above a typical baseball movie.   Other Korean flicks that left a favourable impression were "The Admiral",   "The Attorney" and  "The Thieves"- which could be compared to "Ocean 11," but more complicated, with females doing wire action.  Another memorable one was "My Way," depicting D Day with two Koreans mixed in with the Germans


Bollywood

For me, I thought the Bollywood movies I was able to see contained the best value for my time.  The most entertaining suspenseful was "Drishyam" with a different perspective on deception.  An excellent cat and mouse game. http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/11/driishyam-bollywood-remake-masterpiece.html

"PK"  was perhaps my second favourite of the year.  Another film with a religious theme.  Very clever and deep for a movie.   Aamir Khan is very selective in what he does and goes into a great deal of preparation.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/03/pk.html  Anuska Sharma also played a lead role in this and went onto produce and star in NH10 and later Dil Dhadakne Do illustrating her versatility.  See http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/05/anuska-sharma-actess-on-rise.html

"Haider," a version of Hamlet was one of the very best "Talvar" based on a real trial of a double murder as complicated as one could imagine.  Tabu made her third appearance in classy movies I have seen during the year.   She made the strongest impression on me of all actors seen during the year.    http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/tabu.html

"Hamari Adhuri Kahaani" with Emraam Hashmi and Vidya Balan provided layered sad romantic story inspired by a producer.  I liked the music and bought two songs on iTunes.

"Staying Alive" was about two men meeting in a cardiac ward under heavy care.  Their wives relate to one another, but the story is more complicated than apparent at first.  I was surprised to learn that one of the main characters was also the director, Amanth Narayan Mahadevan

Ayushman Khuranna played a role in a non typical romance  not involving glamourous types, "Dum Lago Ke Haisha"    Read more:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/05/a-feel-good-movie-little-off-beaten-path.html

"The Best Goodbye Ever" (Dasvidaniya) starring Vinay Pathak in a bucket list type of movie from the perspective of a shy man.  Makes you think what your priorities could and should be.

I discovered a director to admire who put out a movie this year called "Margarita with a Straw."  Shonali Bose films are usually about a significant event or cause.  An earlier movie,"AMU" was about the riots that occurred against Sikhs (after two Sikhs had assassinated Indira Gandhi).  Special features gave some insight to funding problems.  She has overcome lots of problems to put out movies and you can read about them at http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/09/shonali-bose-does-films-with-impact.html  

"Bajrangi Baijaan"  starring Salman Khan broke down one of my barriers about him.  He is smooth, too smooth, but in this movie he fits in with a delightful plot where an Indian finds himself helping a young Pakistanni girl who is mute.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui played a supporting role and made me realized he has been an unsung hero for many years while contributing to many good movies.  He got to play the hero in  "Manjhi"  You can read more about him at http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/09/nawazuddin-siddiqui.html
   
Other non english movies

"The Vanishing", unlike most films was difficult to watch, particularly the ending.  If you like movies of this description the 1988 version in Dutch and Flemish is a masterpiece with an American version 5 years later apparently not so good although had the same director.  Most movie viewers would probably not enjoy this movie.

A German/Norwegian production, "Two Lives" takes us back to the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Julianne Kohler, a prominent German actress plays the daughter of an East German and Norwegian with lots of secrets.

I watched a number of French movies.  Daniel Auteuil captured some of my attention over a series of movies. http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/07/daniel-auteuil.html

Costa-Gavras was a study for me of political films.  More here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/11/costa-gavras-and-his-political-movies.html

Amongst French movies I enjoyed "3 Hearts" mainly because I always enjoy Charlotte Gainsbourg.  I also watched "Gainsbourg" a movie about her father.

I explored Swedish movies including the popular film fest favourite "Force Majeure" which gives a really simple theme of masculinity.  This helped open the door to a long history of significant movies. Read more:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/06/swedish-movies.html

I checked out some movies from Israel including "Walk on Water' (enjoyed Lior Ashkenazi) "The Gatekeepers" and  "Ajami" amongst others.  Read more at http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/05/youll-find-arabic-and-hebrew.html


From the Japanese cinema I most enjoyed  "Like Father like Son" which was an intriguing story, but also a study in contrasts of fatherhood.  Very well done and thought provoking.  "Hula Girls" was about a mining town laying off workers and looking for an alternative.   For more Japanese films I have seen read;  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/03/japanese-movies-are-more-than-godzilla.html

My most popular blog of the year has been one on Hispanic movies.  You can read more at;  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/07/hispanic-cinema-spans-globe.html   Some of the ones I enjoyed this year included "The Education of Fairies"  and "Wild Tales, both with favourite actor Ricardo Darin.  After writing my blog I found another source of his films--the Burlington Library and enjoyed "Chinese Take-out"

The Liberator" is from Venezuela, but with a lot of international content.  Spanish, French and English dialogues with star Edgar Rarmirez, fluently handling them all.   a natural beauty captured by the cinematography.  A biography of one of the most unsung heroes--rode over 70,000 miles to liberate several South American countries from Spain--international cast and producers--Venezuela composer, Gustavo Dudamel  (who works between Sweden, US and Venezuela)

Last year I discovered a movie from Paraguay, that was quite noteworthy and this year I found a movie set in Laos that surprised me with its quality, though directed and written and financed by Australians.  "The Rocket "  Australian director/writer Kim Mordaunt  first filmed a documenter about bombs inLaos.  The fictional sequel won 3 awards at debut festival--Berlin Film Festival.

I watched a DVD of "Ilo Ilo" from Singapore that been shown at the Hamilton International Film Festival.  Dialogue in Mandarin and Tagalog (from the Philippines) plus English as the main language between the main protagonists.  Interesting casting story  The director had to fly to Philippines to pick out a key character--after a long search picking a lead character she got pregnant.  Instead of going after a replacement the director/writer decided to re-write the script to include a pregnant mother.  Won an award at Cannes.

There were lots of others I enjoyed or appreciated, but this already too long.  In the effort I also saw a few duds with little redeeming value.  Which movies would you recommend?

Movie reviews from last year:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/12/movie-pleasures-from-2014.html

MY BEST READS DURING 2015


One of the joys of life is reading, but there are more books than anyone could read in a lifetime.  Even very good books.  The books chosen by me come from a variety of sources that involve marketing, but also trusted advisors and randomness.  Suggestions are important to me so please feel free to steer me.

This year I read only 42 books a little over half of my normal and there are a few I would be pleased to recommend.   It is always difficult to compare apples and oranges, but I feel comfortable with "The Woman in White" as my favourite read amongst fiction and "Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind" as my favourite non fiction book.  That doesn't mean there weren't many other books I am glad to have read.

"The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins.  Interesting plotting and character development, but I liked the narrative style.  A series of narrators advance the story and often are at cross purposes.  Hard to believe it was written in 1860.

Canada Reads always gets my attention.  --personalities--I actually read "Ru", "Intolerable" and "The Inconvenient Indian"  interesting book defenders Martha Wainwright and Cameron Bailey amongsts others.  Cameron was especially effective in not only advocating for "Ru", but also understanding the merits and demerits of the other books.  If you love books it is wonderful to hear articulate people discuss the strengths and weaknesses of noteworthy book.

Hamilton Reads--"All my Puny Sorrows" by Miriam Toews (watched her in movie role).  A morbid book, but with some redeeming moments.

Nelson DeMille and "Radiant Angel" is suggesting Americans should be more concerned about Russians than Islamists and that harbour approaches are as dangerous  as the airwaves.  Reminds me he was very prescient regarding airplane terrorism.  See my blog on Nelson:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/05/tribute-to-nelson-demille-real-writer-i.html

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize author with "A Strangeness in my Mind." helps explain an old lifestyle in Turkey, but also includes a modern perspective.

"The Girl on The Train" by Paula Hawkins.  I spotted it at Len and Cindy's for the traditional Christmas Eve birthday celebration.  Cindy has a tradition of loaning out books to whoever is interested.  We have taken advantage a few times.  A compelling read.

Margaret Atwood book, "Stone Mattress" recommended by my Facebook friend Vijayakumar MK Nair.  He has never failed me.  A good book.



"Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind" is an explanation of the way we are--the best book I have read this year, perhaps of several years.  Reminds me of Jared Diamond's book, but believe this is both more comprehensive and readable.

http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/12/sapiens-brief-history-of-humankind.html



A book strongly recommended on NPR was "Deep Dark, Down."  It was about the Chilean mining disaster that caught the world's attention.  Tremendous detail, but very well done to capture the human elements.  I want to see the movie.

"This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein was revolutionary.  It helped persuade me to finally sell off my TransCanada Pipeline and Suncor stocks.  A must read book.  Read more here: http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/02/this-changes-everything-deserves-major.html

"Thrive" by Adrianna Huffington helped fine-tune a definition of success.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/03/thrive-new-look-on-success-by-adrianna.html

"Thirteen Days in September" by Lawrence Wright.   A Jimmy Carter achievement explained in detail.  Read more http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/03/thirteen-days-in-september.html

"Eye of the Beholder"opened my eyes a little bit to appreciate my own visual perception and that the naked eye only sees so much and understands even less.  I ended up watching two films to explore this further.   Read more here:
lihttp://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/10/johannes-vermeer-art-and-science.html 

Kill the Messengers.  Will admit with credible detail confirmed my anti Steve Harper views.  Read more here http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/04/kill-messengers.html
 
Frank --memoirs of Barney Frank, a most interesting man.    http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/07/barney-frank-has-interesting-book-out.html

"The Rise of Robots" points the way to a depressing future, but one that perhaps can be ameliorated.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/08/rise-of-robots.html

"The Entreprenurial State", puts a lie to the too often stated view that the government messes up business.  Well thought out.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/07/the-entreprenurial-state.html

"Thieves of State" explains the importance of eliminating corruption.  Read more here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/07/thieves-of-state.html

Kelly McGonigal the Upside of Stress--enjoyed previous book--an intelligent view of how to deal with inevitable stress.  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/09/the-upside-of-stress-can-help-you.html

"The Carbon Bubble" by Jeff Rubin refined his thinking on an important topic--the price of oil.  Get more on his views here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/10/jeff-rubin-and-changing-role-of-fossil.html

Last book finished was "Syria" by John McHugo.  Syria is more complicated and although the U.S., France, Britain, Israel and others have much to answer for, there is guilt for the Syrian leaders that helped lead up to the mess we are all living with today.

I read a lopsided percentage of non fiction books, but I now appreciate there is much "truth" in a well written fiction book.  2016 should be a little more balanced.

to read about my best reads of 2014:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/12/books-remembered-from-2014.html

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

HUNGARIAN CINEMA

Always looking for something different I stumbled on two Hungarian movies that got my attention.  I had previously seen a special feature with the Swedish movie "The 100-year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared" that discussed their preference for a film studio in Hungary.  Hungary has provided the background scenery for both Hollywood and European productions (supported by local expertise) that you may have enjoyed.

Hungary has a long history of cinema with screenings as early as 1896.  They developed skill levels such that leaving the country, Alexander Korda played a prominent role in British cinema and Michael Curtiz directed many Hollywood movies.  Adolph Zukor founded Paramount Pictures.

World War I disrupted progress and many fled the country.  Startng about 1935 anti-Semitic sentiments forced restrictions and ousting of Jewish participants.  Communism nationalized the movie industry.  By the early 1940's Hungary was ranked  the third largest film industry in Europe.  Censorship was an obstacle, but movies went on--won at Cannes

The 1956 Revolution clamped down, but didn't stop films being made, sometimes with subtle criticisms of the government.  In 1986, a Hungarian film "Diary for My Children" won a Grand Prix at Cannes.

"The Notebook" released in  2013 was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Directed by Janos Szasz who has won awards on the international film circuit and shared in the writing.  Janos will be directing an English language, film, "Michigan" just in the planning stages right now.  I had not noticed that an American, Tom Abrams worked as a dramaturge.  Apparently that is transferring emotions to the screen including putting the emotions in context.  Undoubtedly there is more to it.  The story revolves around twin brothers caught up in World War II as Hungary, allied with Germany is losing.  The boys are shipped out to an estranged grandmother who is a tough character who resents the two boys.  They make a conscious effort to toughen themselves by such things as standing still while taking turns punching each other.  They do deliberately cold hearted things and are actually complicit in the deaths of their parents on separate occasions.  Ulrich Thomsen, a prominent Danish actor plays a German officer who befriend the boys.  An unusual role was played by Orsolya Toth who plays a harelip (none of the characters has a name) who at first steals from the boys and later befriends them. She has a bit part in "White God"--see below.  Was the official Hungarian submission for a foreign language Oscar.

"White God" released in 2014 was inspired by director Kornel Mundruczo who felt dogs were being given a bad deal and approached Viktoria Petrany to write something from the dog's point of view.  She was dismissive at first, but the two collaborated to produce a script.  In Hungary a law was passed discriminating against mixed breeds.  A young girl is forced to give up her dog and it ends up joining other rejected dogs.  The real key to this movie is the American dog trainer Teresa Ann Miller who explains in a special feature how they got the dogs to perform some apparently vicious and abusive scenes without actually hurting them.    The director explained they wanted no CGI and would used mostly street dogs.  A masterful told story.  This movie was also submitted for the best foreign film for an Oscar

After these two movies I decided to check out Hungarian movies but to be honest the library had very few and only two of the ones I had researched.

"Fateless "released in 2005 is a Holocaust story from a young man who survives    Director Lajos Kotai gained much experience with Giuseppe Tornatore as a cinematographer.  Surprised to learn music came from Ennio Morricone  and there was a cameo by Daniel Craig,  Marcell Nagy did an excellent job portraying a 14 year old enduring Buchenwald camp for a year.  There is hope in this movie with the mere survival under horrible circumstances.

"The Turin Horse" released in 2011"started where an incident that may or may not have happened about the famous philosopher, Fredrich Nietzshe.  According to legend  in 1889 he stopped a horse beating and shortly after suffered a mental illness that lasted until his death.  This is about the horse, but people are seen.  In one sense they are dependent on the aging horse who in the end starves himself to death.  A father and daughter live very bleak lives with a howling wind throughout the movie only relieved with a haunting musical score.  They boil and then eat potatoes every day and sleep.  Not too much else.  Reading the IMDB account there seem to be a number of complaints about how depressing the movie is with a few defenders.  I too, found it very depressing and boring, but found many of the comments helpful.  The director Bela Tarr who also helped write it has a long history of such movies and one of his traits is long takes with minimal dialogue.  This movie has only 30 takes spread over 146 minutes.  Bela's wife, Agnes Hranitsky is listed as a co-director and also as editor.  To get any value out of this movie you have to be patient, have a philosophical interest and some appreciation of cinematography.

All of these movies were bleak, in some cases extremely so.  When I review national films I try to find a variety including comic, but had to do with what I could find. Still one can appreciate that there are interesting stories to be told and excellent skills on display.

A little research into Hungary as a filming location.  There is a historical background, partly aluded to above.  Famous Hungarian actors in Hollywood included Bela Lugosi and Tony Curtis. the Gabor sisters.  George Cukor was an Oscar winning director.    The Hungarian government has offered generous rebates for filming costs in Hungary.  They also provide low cost expertise for such areas as cinematography, acting, set design and construction.  Their architecture is varied enough to double up for London, Berlin, Rome and even New York.  They also provide post production facilities and expertise.   Don't be surprised to learn about Hungarian connections to some of your favourite movies.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Tabu everyone should enjoy!

In 2015 I watched three exceptional Bollywood movies.  I mean the kind everyone should see: "Haider," "Drishyam," and "Talvar." A common denominator was Tabu  Some of my readers might have seen her in English films.  "The Namesake." with Irrfan Khan where the two shared a Best Seduction award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.  She also had small supporting role in "Life of Pi "where she played the main character's mother.  The grownup narrator son was played by Irrfan Khan.

Her provocative name was originally Tabassum Fatima Hashmi, born in 1971.  She speaks Urdu, Hindi, Telegu and English.  She could fairly be described as a stately beauty with class.

"Haider," released in 2014 was a revision of Hamlet, but set in Kashmir.  Tabu was a best supporting actress playing the mother.  This film won several other awards. You can read more at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/02/haider-bollywoods-version-of-shakespeare.html

"Drishyam," released in 2015 was a remake of a film in another Indian language.  Tabu played a police chief and demonstrated that not only can she be tough, but very nuanced.  In this movie she played a police chief who was trying to locate her missing son with no concern for ethics in a very complicated story, that required her not only to be tough, but also to be the mother of a less than perfect son and the wife of a decent, but weaker man.  She is likely to be nominated for an award.  Read more here:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2015/11/driishyam-bollywood-remake-masterpiece.html

In "Talver," also released in 2015 she was really a supporting role, again with Irrfan Khan in another excellent movie that did well at TIFF.  The movie was as good as the other two, but I decided I would rather do a blog post on Tabu herself.  "Talvar" was based on a controversial double murder.

I had been fortunate to see some of her earlier films and looked up a few more.

In 2001 she won best actress award for "Chandni Bar" about an abused dance hall girl.

In "Cheeni Kum" released in 2008 she played a 34 year old, romanced by 64 year old Amitabh Bachchan.  It was mainly comedy but also included a little tragedy.  Tabu demonstrated a comic touch and won the Filmfare best actress award.  It is an enjoyable movie, but not a masterpiece.

In "Fanaa"  released in 2006 she plays a military police woman searching for terrorist Aamir Khan.  She is very strong and effective.  Another exceptional movie.

In "Astitva" released in 2000 she played a wife who had a one time lapse and was not forgiven by her adulterous husband winning another best actress award.

In 1997 from "Virasat" she won a best actress award opposite Anil Kapoor.

Tabu won other awards in movies I did not see.  She was awarded a Padmi Shri from the Indian Government in recognition of her contributions to cinema.

Studying the wide range of movies Tabu appeared in, one might appreciate that to qualify for the really good ones requires enduring some that range from embarrassingly terrible to merely just ordinary.  Tabu has been in a number of critically acclaimed movies that weren't commercially successful, but also commercially successful movies that weren't necessarily artistic successes.  Unfortunately there were a few duds along the way.  Three that I watched were  "Khuda Kasam"
which was started in 1997, delayed while Tabu replaced the leading lady and after a few names changes was finally released in 2010.  Even less impressive was "The In-laws" released in 1996.  A third film was "Toh Baat Pakki" released 2010 after an absence of two years is ok enjoyable and she is the best part.

She has appeared in Hindi, English, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam, Maratha and Bengali films.  Doing research for this I noticed the languages spoken by Tabu, but that she has appeared in movies for languages she isn't fluent with,  Tamil, Malayam, Marathi and Bengali.  India already has a reputation for dubbing with their songs allowing backup singers to make a good living.  I have also heard someone like Katrina Kaif has had some of her lines dubbed because she didn't always speak good Hindi.  I believe some actors are taught to speak lines phonetically when the language is not natural to them. This could be a topic for a future blog post, but I am curious if because of the fame of some actors if they have their lines dubbed in foreign languages.  I am a little concerned about synchronization.  When given the choice of dubbing or subtitles I usually opt for subtitles (which have their own set of problems).

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The American Primary Debates

Unlike in Canada the Americans really stretch out an election campaign, specifically the Presidential election.  As soon as one election is resolved organization begins for the next election four years later.  The situation intensifies two years in, especially after the midterms.  Although my bias is for the Democrats I feel there are concerns that bode ill for any political aspirant and for the voters.

By itself this is an expensive proposition which automatically eliminates many prospects.  It also encourages a lot of investigative efforts to uncover any flaws in a particular candidate including their families also discouraging for some worthy prospects  It is good business for media and marketing people.  A number of candidates are able to neglect their jobs in the pursuit of a higher office.  It rewards those who are best able to leap through all the hoops, but not necessarily the best candidates.

My great fear is that the Democrats are conceding too great a broadcast platform to the Repubicans.  A lot of speculation that as part of a pro Hilary Clinton campaign they are limiting the number of debates and making them at unpopular awkward times.  Hilary has hard to beat name recognition value.  The only other two left are Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, both capable men who would benefit from greater exposure.  As one celebrity once said you can say anything you want about me, but spell my name right.

The last time around the Republicans did hurt themselves with a long drawn out campaign that seemed to force candidates to out yell and out threaten each other.  They have cut down the number of debates, but started with a longer list of candidates and were forced to do outrageous things to get attention.  In reality they have to appeal to a difficult to please base before they argue their merits in front of all the voters.

Getting our attention is the goal of every aspiring politician.  The debates are only one forum for this, but potentially a very good opportunity for the voter to understand their choices better.  But it is not quite as clear cut as it seems.  Squeezing in time for a large number of egoists is difficult for a media who sees this as an opportunity to boost their advertising revenue.

When I list the issues it is perilous to ignore any of them and they are all inter-related.

I agree inequality is fundamental.  The Republicans keep proving their loyalty is to their donor base Those at the top get to decide for the rest of us.  They seem focused on allowing freedom to exploit those not fortunate enough to have more power.  Opportunities are restricted from birth and there is no painless way to alleviate that.  The government has power to facilitate the optimal mix, but they are too often beholden to special interests before even tackling the difficult choices.

Climate change, an issue critical for our future in some ways illustrates the inequality.  Those who  are entrenched with fossil fuel resources feel threatened.  I am sure some are learning to hedge their bets, but know clearly that when the consumption and price of oil goes down so does their fortune and their power.  It seems amazing that many voters prefer the opinions of those with vested interests over relatively neutral and earnest scientists, but that is still reality.

International instability is a very complex issue.  First one has to accept that no one nation, not even an exceptional one like America, really controls the rest of the world.   The international players are  threatened by inequality, climate change and ignorance of each other.  The Republicans scoff at the idea that climate change has anything to do with national security.  Many of them are intelligent enough, but more concerned about maintaining their own  power.

Campaign finance affects everything else.  Getting your voice heard costs money and with a long campaign, money becomes an even bigger concern.  A major concern of every elected politician is to get re-elected.  Raising the necessary money now takes up more of their time and ties their options.  They used to spend time sorting out the factors of decisions they were elected to make and to discuss with other perspectives.  Billions are being spent to sway your vote, not necessarily for your best interests.

Human rights are too often a wedge issue.  If the majority is prejudiced against a group they feel it is their right to discriminate and ignore the merits.  In some ways this is an inequality issue, but goes beyond income.  Politicians have learned by using code words and sometimes blunt language they can get votes at the expense of minorities or of some people violating other people's religious beliefs

The voters get most of their information through the media.  Although many have pre-set notions others are open to facts and intelligent opinions, but bear in mind that the media has its own agenda.  Basically they are in business to make money and sometimes that means sensationalizing the format and/or the content.  They tend to minimize the issues to cover the horse race aspects.  The more powerful media outlets may have their own preferences and can advantage one side or the other.

Everything is stacked against the middle class, but most of us are unaware of how we are being manipulated or are made to feel helpless.  As a counter balance there is the inter net and word of mouth.  Most voters have access to alternative opinions and facts.  Bernie Sanders, my favourite has been able to draw large crowds, mostly I suspect sympathizers, but is not able to get nearly the time on major media outlets as someone like Donald Trump.  He has the disadvantage of not being favoured by the establishment.  Part of his appeal comes from avoiding special interest donations that go against his platform.  Others are willing to compromise their agendas to get the necessary money.

It is easy to be self-rightious, but nothing can be done unless a politician is able to get elected.  Really what we have is a representative democracy, meaning we trust others to make the decisions that we do not have the time to understand.  In many ways we do not have the time or even motivation to understand who can be trusted to represent our best interests.

The American primary procedure illustrates the problems.  Hopefully as more people become aware of the distortions something can be done.  This blog is really only indicating some problems, but is not in a position to implement any helpful suggestions.

The photo is from a trip taken to Las Vegas a few years ago.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SAPIENS A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND

We study history, mostly that has been written down and have some appreciation of how the world got to be this way.  Yuval Noah Harari goes before the written word was invented to discover more of our origins and better understand why we are the way we are and even where we are headed.  It is a fascinating tale with unexpected insights told with a sense of humour.  This is my top read of the year.  Although very easy to read, the author does go into a lot of depth.

Whether we are religious or not we all seem to feel mankind has always been dominant and we have had no real rivals.  Apparently our history is more complicated than we were taught.  100,000 years ago we were one of several human species competing amongst larger, faster, fiercer animals for survival.

As our bodies evolved to adapt to our circumstances our minds were shaped.  The author speculates that how we defeated the Neanderthal that was supposedly more intelligent and physically capable was through our social skills.  By social skills the author includes communication, group formations and very critically, gossiping.

We used to hear of Neanderthals as primitive ape like people who vanished.  There were actually a few other human like species that also disappeared.  The author likes to point out that they didn't totally disappear as some traces have survived in our DNA.  The Neanderthals were likely stronger and possibly more intelligent than Homo Sapiens, but they lacked social skills and possibly were not as aggressive.  For the most part our ancestors started out in Africa and spread across what he calls Afro-Asia which is essentially one big land mass.  Thousands of years ago our ancestors moved to Australia and the Americas.

The author breaks down our development into three Revolutions.  The Cognitive Revolution, was the first where our Homo Sapien ancestors started to take advantage of their evolutionary advantages such as upright, larger brain, grasping hands and developed social skills to allow them to form groups.  The Agricultural Revolution came when our ancestors developed food production based on plants and animals and developed more permanent residences that allowed specializations to develop further.  The Science Revolution got rolling around 1500 when men accepted that they were ignorant, but by observation (and later mathematical analysis) could unravel all sorts of information.  The information was not necessarily practical, but in the long run supported our modern technology.

Yuval declares that there are three unifying forces in the world, namely money, imperialism and religion.  At one time we were probably thousands of isolated tribes.  By money he means our commercial system that covers virtually everyone in every country.  Imperialism was a form of nationalism where one group would conquer another nation and impose its culture on the losers.  Sometimes as an example, the conquered Greeks had their culture shared with the victorious Romans. Religion is another force that unites people that once would have been in different tribes.  Each of these forces can be criticized, but undeniably they have brought a wide variety of people together.

Yuval explores different cultures, but more as a development of humans.  He does not necessarily see our progress as constant improvement.  The point of it all is happiness.  Has all this progress made us happier.  It is possible that our hunter-forager ancestors were happier as they spent less time seeking food and getting a better variety than our agricultural ancestors who endured a more bland diet.  A definition of happiness is that "it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations."  Ultimately it depends on our biochemistry which is designed to re-balance itself.  Sexual reactions spur us to repeat, but also subside so we can move on.

He explores several perspectives on happiness.  I think he admires the Buddhist philosophy the most, but gives credit to other ideas. He points out that humans have in effect become more cruel to animals without giving them much thought.

Throughout the book he points that our civilization is really "imaginary."  By sharing a lot of our images we are able to form nations, conduct business, and carry on with our families and friends.

What lies ahead?  We are in fact becoming intelligent designers.  We already manipulate DNA and have cloned a variety of animals.  We also have developed prosthetic devices that enable people to physically do many amazing things hithertofore impossible.  Scientists are now considering integrating organic and inorganic as cyborgs.  Maybe science fiction is not so far fetched.

Final question from the book:  "Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don't know what they want?"  He is suggesting we think more deeply on what we want.

Aside from reading the book which I highly recommend you can visit his website:  http://www.ynharari.com which has a heading "History began when humans invented gods and will end when humans become gods.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

With all the Donald Trump nonsense Bernie Sanders is being overlooked by the media

When one writes about a political figure it might be fair to declare your own bias.  I like to consider myself liberal and progressive and confess an admiration for Bernie Sanders.  That doesn't mean that I would automatically agree with every thing or nuance he declares and I hope to retain some objectivity.  In some ways he seems to be fading from serious contention with Hilary Clinton over-whelming, but Bernie in many ways is much more admirable.  Loud mouth Donald Trump is getting much more media attention, but people ought to realize Bernie is their real champion.

He has been consistent over a longer period of time.  He actually marched with black civil rights groups.  He actually voted against the Iraq War.  He is the main candidate who understand climate change is a key issue.  He has consistently voted for sexual equality and fairness to tax payers and doesn't check polls to decide what to say.  He was caught off guard by Black Lives Matter, but seems to understand their concerns.

In western democracies, especially in the U.S. the real rulers are wealthy.  Donald Trump is not only a very wealthy man, but adept at getting attention through the media. His expressed views placates the fears of important masses.  The sort who feel that blacks and Mexicans are robbing them of their culture and that any Muslim could be a terrorist.  The other candidates understand these fears, but are concerned about what they must do to win over the general less bigoted population.

Bernie Sanders wants to get elected, but is not accepting money from lobbyists.  He  wants to focus on the real issues instead of entertainment.  Inequality is his biggest concern and campaign financing which allows the very rich to distort and lie their way to further inequality.  Listen to him and you will appreciate he makes sense and is on the side of the middle class.

Is he perfect?  Probaby not, but getting rid of or at least diminishing the power of the wealthy to inflict their views on the rest of us is critical.

A concern of mine is Palestine where he says the right things, but doesn't get involved with details.  As a Jew he shows concern for the Palestinians, but seems reluctant to get very involved as he has with other issues.  It is a touchy subject with many Jewish voters.  A very key issue that is long overdue a revamping.

One can anticipate tactics used against him.  A CNN moderator made it sound like Bernie went on his honeymoon to Russia because he is a socialist, when in fact it was an official event decided before he became mayor of Burlington, Vermont. The word socialist is an abused word conflated with the "dirty Communists."  Americans applaud individual achievement and occasionally one hears it is the society that allows that.  The connection between the society and achievement is not always clear, but in reality it is a critical factor.

The biggest weapon being used against Bernie is ignoring him.  The media ignores him in favour of those more friendly to the corporations that run them.   When he is talked about the point is always made that he is a socialist, but few really understand that is different from Communism.  In fact he had drawn some of the largest crowds of the whole campaign and most polls show his ideas are more accepted than many of those getting more publicity.

There are polls show not only that Hilary Clinton has a lead and has added to it on the Democrat side.  She put on an impressive demonstration at a Congressional hearing on Benghazi that should not have been allowed to drag on.  I have heard of some polls that say she has problems on the national scale convincing enough voters she is trustworthy.  Bernie's problem seems to be a lack of name recognition and the aura of a bad word, "socialism."  Big dollars will assure that the media will be inundated with lots of distortions of the truth.  Bernie seems the man really needed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

English speakers with an impact on foreign cinema

What do Jane Fonda, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jodie Foster, Charlotte Gainsborough and Kevin Kline have in common?  They all have been successful in English speaking cinema and you have probably seen them, but have also performed in foreign films.

Why?  Well, first it expands their opportunities.  You might think opportunities to make more money and I am sure that is true, but I would add more artistic opportunities.  Language is a skill and needs to be used in order to be maintained.

Although most consumers may be locked into their primary language, movie stars get to travel.  Many English movies are premiered in international film festivals.  At the same time many foreign films are on display at American and British film festivals meaning movie personnel mingle.  Often a decision to act in a film depends on the director and they are always looking for the ideal cast, while the actors are looking for challenges that add to their resume.

Jane Fonda married a Frenchman, film director Roger Vadim.  She appeared in "Tout va Bien" in 1972 with Yves Montand and directed by Jean-Luc Godard.  More recently was in "All Together" in 2011.

Kristin Scott Thomas, also married a French man, an obstetrician and has been fairly prolific in French cinema, while also being active in English films.  I remember her in the comedy, "The Valet" (released in 2006 and directed by Francis Veber) where she played the smart wife with a two timing husband.  "Tell No One," released in 2006 and directed by Guillame Canet, was based on an American novel, but the French were the first to pick it up and gave Kristin a significant role.  Another supporting role was in "In the House,"  released in 2012 and direct by Francois Ozon.   She was the lead for "I"ve Loved you So Long," released in 2008 and direct by Philippe Claudel.  A  film that went international was "Sarah's Key,"  released in 2010 and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner where she played an investigative journalist who was an American married to a Frenchman.  We tend to think of the Holocaust as a German history, but this movie showed that the French were involved and wanted to forget their part.

Jodie Foster graduated from Le LycĂ©e Francais as class valedictorian in 1980.  In addition to French she learned Spanish and Italian at an early age.  She spoke French in "Stop Calling Me Baby" in 1977 directed by Eric Le Hung.  She had a role in "A Very Long Engagement" (that starred Audrey Tautou.

Charlotte Gainsbourg was the daughter of Jane Birkin and famous French rock star Serge Gainsbourg.  She got my attention in a comedic role in "Prete-moi ta main," released in 2006, and directed by Eric Lartigau.  I was surprised to see her in an Australian movie, "The Tree"  Recently saw her in "3 Hearts" released in 2006.  She is in a movie I look forward to seeing with Omar Sy, in  "Samba." released recently but not yet seen by me.

Kevin Kline is reported to be fluent in French (according to IMDB), but spoke only one sentence at a time in "Queen to Play"released in 2009, directed by Caroline Bottaro and set in Corsica.  He also appeared in Swiss short, "L'homme du Pont Levant" with French dialogue, released in 2010 and directed by Claudio Todeschini.


Pierce Brosnan is an interesting case.  He appeared in "All you Need is Love", but only spoke English although the film shifted from Denmark to Italy.  In a sense an arrogant rich American who didn't have to speak to the natives.  For him he got to work with Danish award winning director, Susanne Bier and top actress Trine Dryholm.

There are a lot of multi lingual directors, producers, composers,etc. etc.

I am sure there are other English speakers who have performed in foreign language films. Some are major stars,but many are supporting actors.  If I left out your favourite let me know.