Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bridge: Wednesday, May 16 2018

Our Party Room, set up for Bridge
Naomi says I can quote her. Once again, she commented on how seriously everyone takes the Bridge. No chit-chat as we bid and play the hands. Plenty of chit-chat between hands, of course. Naomi also pointed out what a lovely group of people we are. I happened to mention this to Loretta later in the afternoon, and her comment was that Naomi doesn't hear everything that goes on. On the other hand, everyone is agreed that we are, indeed, an unusually nice Group of people.

Ruth was on the wait list, as she had thought she wouldn't be available this week. This was fortunate, as Ivor came so that he wouldn't affect the numbers adversely, which was so sweet of him, but he didn't feel too well. Ruth replaced him. We hope he feels better by now!

Keith once again was a darling, and made up the numbers at the last moment. Joyce joined us after her enjoyable visit to the south of France. She was looking well.

Janet brought her delightful peanut butter cookies, which I particularly enjoy as I like peanut butter. I first experienced peanut butter when I came to Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed it in a sandwich with jam or honey. Delicious! Michael brought a box of chocolates, which didn't last too long. They were also delicious. As I handed the goodies around, I was impressed by those people who have such strong wills, they could resist.

We had our usual four tables, and played 5 rounds, finishing around 4:00pm.

Won the Money
Loretta won this week with 4230 points. The very first round, Loretta was playing with Keith at the same table as Naomi and I. Loretta bid 6 Hearts, and made 7 Hearts. Obviously, that was a good beginning for her. Essie came in with 3460; Eti had 3310; Evelyn had 2850; Janet had 2690; Joyce made 2510; Ghamar had 2300; Raisyl made 2040; Michael had 1890; Pauline 1860; Ruth 1550; Marianne 1340; Naomi 1320. Everyone was complaining of bad cards this afternoon, and the scores confirm that these were justified. Essie was heard complaining it was a while since she had won.

Won Dollar Back
I won my dollar back with 950 points. After the wonderful afternoon I had last week, I felt the Universe was keeping me humble. It's one thing to be able to play the cards well, but, as we all know, we have to have the cards to play. I had one smiley face, three rounds with scintillating defensive play, and one with one game score.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Catch Me If You Can: Monday, May 14 2018

As usual, my Film Group settled down happily with their choice of red or white wine, and chips. We really are enjoying this way of viewing films. Catch Me If You Can (2003) was the choice, and is a fun film. We all enjoyed it. In fact, everyone clapped when it finished, they had enjoyed it so much. It was such a change from all the much more serious stuff we have been watching.

What can I say! The direction by Steven Spielberg (71), the screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (52), the music by John Williams (86) and the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (58) ensured that the film was of a highly professional standard. Leonardo DeCaprio (43) as Frank Abagnale, and Tom Hanks (61) as Carl Hanratty, completed the picture (pun intended). Christopher Walken (75) as Frank Abagnale, Sr., and Martin Sheen (77) as Roger Strong, added to the great cast.

The film is based on the real life of Frank Abagnale, who as a teenager, became a con artist of great talent. He conned over a million dollars as a pilot with Pan American World Airways, a doctor and a lawyer. Carl Hanratty is also a real person, and did catch Frank Abagnale after being led a merry chase. In the end, Frank Abagnale is invited to work with the FBI to catch checking forgers. He made a fortune designing fraud-proof cheques.

The film was a great hit when it was released in 2003. It's budget was $54 million, and it's Box Office was $352.1 million. It succeeded where it really matters. It was entertaining, and left its audiences feeling good, as it did us.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Cambridge Spies: Monday, May 7 2018

My Film Group settled down with wine and chips, to enjoy Cambridge Spies (2003), a four part series created by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Thanks to Kristine and Ivor for lending the DVD to us!

This is not the BBC's best miniseries ever. Written by the experienced writer for television, Peter Moffat, and directed by Tim Fywell, a not so experienced director, it is slow and not always coherent. Cambridge Spies is not a documentary, as the story had been changed a bit to make for a more dramatic production. The basic facts are correct: the spies came from privileged families and had Cambridge University in common; they were homosexuals; they were communists; they all spied for the Soviet Union. They continued in their belief in the Communist Ideology all their lives.

The cast consists of attractive actors. Tom Hollander plays Guy Burgess, Toby Stephens is Kim Philby, Samuel West takes the part of Anthony Blunt, and Rupert Penry-Jones plays Donald Maclean. Watching them perform made the three hours we spent watching the first three parts of the series well worth while. It helped overcome the poor direction. I first saw the miniseries when it was released, butI don't remember the homosexual sex scenes. Perhaps I had just forgotten. We enjoyed the miniseries in spite of its flaws.

Before labelling the spies as traitors, it's necessary to examine the times in which they lived. The Great Depression and the Stock Exchange Crash of 1929, had cast the promise of Capitalism into shade. The rise of Fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain, was seen as a threat. The only hope for the world seemed to many to lie with Russia and the Communist ideology. The unfeeling arrogance of many of the incredibly rich English upper class and the extreme poverty of many of the working class, also influenced the Cambridge Spies. They wanted to see change in the world. Their ideology told them they were not traitors, but rather, heroes wanting the greater good.

The Cambridge Spies thought they could contribute to that change by working for the Soviet Union. In the beginning, they were young idealists attracted by the Utopia preached by Friedrich Engles (1820-95), Karl Marx (1818-83) and Lenin (1879-1924). They probably had read The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867-83)  and other writings by Engles and Marx. They believed the Communist philosophy and Socialist economics that form the ideology. It states that history consists of the "class struggle", and that "the forcible overthrow of all social conditions" was an unfortunate, but necessary prelude to creating a Socialist society. A Utopia where "the workers of the world" have followed Engles and Marx's exhortation, united and taken over the "tools of production." Russia interpreted this to mean that it was necessary to take all businesses, including farms, from their owners and give them to "the workers", in the form of the State. The Soviet Union become the embodiment of the ideal Communist and Socialist Utopia. Even Burgess was disappointed when he had to flee to Russia and he saw the reality.

Of course, at that same time between the two World Wars and just after the Second World War, many people were convinced that British society had to change even more than it already had been. The gap between the wealth of the richest people, and the extreme poverty of the poorest, was too wide. After the Second World War, the electorate voted into power the British Labour Party, who instituted many changes. Among these changes were heavier taxation, the implementation of the National Health Service, and other social programs to help the poorer sectors of society. Businesses were "Nationalised" for a while, before it was understood by the results, that this is not always too good an idea. Britain had its revolution, but from within, and without violence. Those people who worked for change within the society were considered reformers, not traitors.

I saw this program when it first was aired on TV. I enjoyed it then, and enjoyed seeing it again. It was thought-provoking, and revived my memories of reading the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital in the 1960s. These writings appalled me at that time as being so radical. I had to read Das Kapital three times, taking notes, to be sure that I was understanding what Marx was expressing. I did get it the first time, but found his argument that the only true worth of a widget is the labour that goes into producing it as showing his lack of understanding the true nature of business. If only it were that easy! I found when I was in business, that there is a market out there at will only pay so much for what is being sold. Also, there are the costs to a business capitalizing it and of managing it, and also of the equipment and materials, and then the cost of labour. Engles and Marx didn't appear to have studied economics.

When history is revisited and all the millions of deaths that have resulted from this philosophy and economic system are considered, the mind boggles. When one considers that Hitler, or Stalin, might have invaded Britiain, and contemplates the horrific pictures that possibility conjures up, it rather puts the Second World War into perspective.

Cambridge Spies provoked lots of thought and discussion.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bridge: Wednesday, May 9 2018

Party Room set up for Bridge 
Charles West Bridge Group
Every Wednesday
PARTY Room, Floor 31
12:30pm sharp - 4:15pm
Facilitator: Alainnah Robertson
Wednesday, May 9

It was a lovely day outside as spring has finally come to Toronto, but we were all very happy to be in our Party Room playing Bridge. Lots of laughter, intense moments as everyone concentrated on the game, and lots of chat between hands and rounds. Very civilized!

Ghamar brought her delicious, almond shortbread cookies. They just float on the palate, and they all floated off her lovely, silver, serving plate. Loretta had told Ghamar she had to bake her cookies as she had won so much recently. We were all delighted Ghamar had followed instructions. Judy brought moreish pretzels and chocolate nuts and raisins. This all adds to the pleasure of the afternoon.

Essie and Theo were with us again, after their trip to Florida with Eti. They had all had a most enjoyable time. Theo made us all envious by telling us about her morning walks on the beach.

Eti had to drop out of Bridge this morning, as she was so ill she was off to see her doctor. She says I can tell you all that the doctor thinks that the morphine she has been on is the cause of her problems. She asks that we pray that this is so. I told her I was grovelling, and would ask you all to do the same.

Won the Money
I finally won this month. Raisyl said I ought to put my record score of 7230 in big letters and coloured. The afternoon began with Evelyn as my partner. She bid a small slam of 6 Spades, and made 7. Ruth was my partner when it became obvious there was a slam between our two hands. Asking for Aces showed we had four, asking for Kings showed that one was missing. I bid 6 No Trump, and Ruth played very well and made 7. I've never had an afternoon like this, when everything went right. Fantastic!

The cards were running well as most of the scores were good. Raisyl made 5140; a record score. Indrani made 4800; Ruth had what she says is her best score ever of 4490; Judy did well with 3870; Theo had 3760; Evelyn had 3690; Ghamar had 3350, a good score even if she didn't win; Judith had 2940; Ivor had 2740, so won neither the money nor the dollar back; Loretta had 2140.

Won the Dollar
Janet thought she had to have won her dollar back with 1980. Then Maureen came in with 1930, and Marianne produced 1920. Naomi had 1640, and Essie won the dollar with 1360, which is also a reasonable score.

It seemed a particularly pleasant afternoon. Must be something going on in the stars!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Beyond the Sea: Monday, April 30 2018

My Film Group enjoyed the choice of this week. The music was light-hearted and with a good beat, and had us moving along with it. We were all agreed that Kevin Spacey (58) is talented. The singing and dancing were professional, and obviously the result of natural ability and his good training at the New York's Juilliard School. Thanks to Eileen for lending us this DVD!

Beyond the Sea (2004) is an American musical drama film based on the life of Bobby Darin (1936-73). The name is from one of his most popular songs. Kevin Spacey co-wrote, directed, and co-produced the film. He also sang, danced, and starred as Bobby Darin. Kevin Spacey was so keen to make this film because it reminded him of his mother. Apparently, his mother loved the music of Bobby Darin and played it all the time. Stacey also admired the courage of Bobby Darin, who had rheumatic fever in his childhood, which he knew had shortened his life. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he lived fully and did so much before he died at age 37. People still remember his rendering of Kurt Weill's Mack the Knife.

Bobby Darin 1959
I liked what Spacey did with the story. He created it as a fantasy, hero journey, based on the broad facts of Darin's life. Singer from unpromising background, rhematic fever as child, works hard and rises up through the ranks to rival Frank Sinatra and sing at the Copacabana, New York City. Falls madly in love with Sandra Dee (1942-2005), and marries her against all opposition. Lives happily ever after. Fantastic! The film leaves its audience feeling good. I didn't care that a few facts were altered, such as that the marriage lasted seven years, and came to an end because of Sandra Dee's anorexia nervosa and other problems.

Beyond the Sea was made with a budget of $24,000,000USD. It's box office is reported to have been $8,000,000USD. In other words, this film bombed. Made in 2004, one reason given was that musicals had fallen out of fashion. Another reason given is that it received some brutal critiques; among those was the suggestion that Kevin Spacey, who would have been 44 in 2004 when the film was made, was too old to play the part of the much younger Bobby Darin.

Kevin Spacey 2004
After watching this film, I was left with an appreciation of Bobby Darin. The film had moved me, due to the direction of Kevin Stacey. What difficulties Darin had overcome to achieve what he did! How sad that he died so young! Kevin Spacey must have related strongly to Bobby Darin to create such a lovely film in tribute to him.

I also felt sympathy for Kevin Spacey. He came from a highly dysfunctional family, to say the least. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Randy Fowler, Kevin Spacey's half-brother, says that their father sexually abused him, Randy. Fowler wouldn't say what might have been done to Kevin or their sister. Whatever they experienced, it certainly wasn't pleasant. It saddened me to think that Kevin Spacey had such a horrific childhood, yet rose above it to become a success in the world of Hollywood. Now, as a result of not being able to overcome his upbringing, his career is in ruins at 58. What a tragedy!

I'm so glad we saw Beyond the Sea. It was an enjoyable film, and has brought so much to the forefront of our minds. My Group felt as I did about both Bobby Darin and Kevin Spacey.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Bridge: Wednesday, May 2 2018

Charles West Bridge Group
PARTY Room, Floor 31
12:30pm sharp - 4:15pm
Facilitator: Alainnah Robertson
Wednesday, May 2 2018

That soft murmur of voices and laughter filled the Party Room again this afternoon, indicating that our Bridge Group was once again enjoying our Bridge session. Keith joined us again at the last moment to make up the numbers, for which we were duly grateful. Maureen brought chocolate almonds and Cadbury small chocolate eggs. Very moreish!

Table Numbers: 4 Tables. 5 rounds of 4 games each = 20 games. Finished around 4:00pm.

Won the Money: Ghamar won the money this week with 4390 points. No muttering this week about handicapping Keith! Evelyn, justifiably,  thought she might have won with 4010. I had a faint hope with 3400 points, but it proved to be faint. Loretta came along this afternoon to keep up the numbers, although she hadn't been feeling too spry, for which we were grateful. She did well with 3370, which made her feel much better. Ivor had 2950, and he was disappointed he hadn't any money to take home to Kristine. Pauline made 2940; Janet had 2670; Keith made 2450, proving that it helps if the cards are running in your direction. Raisyl had 2350; Marianne made 1420; Judith also made 1420. Naomi had 1360; Maureen made 1340; Judy had 1120'

Won Dollar Back: Indrani had two happy faces, one round of 50 points, and the other two scores gave her the grand total of 780. She and I played the last round together, and our score of 200 points lent weight to her complaints about the cards she had been getting. This does happen!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bridge: Wednesday, April 25 2018

Charles West Bridge Group
Place: Party Room, Floor 31
Date; Wednesday, April 25 2018
Time: 12:20pm for 12:30pm - 4:15pm
Facilitator: Alainnah Robertson

Another most enjoyable afternoon playing Chicago Bridge with friends. What a lovely game it is when everyone follows the rules of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), and no one tells anyone else what they should have done. We call it Eti's Etiquette as she was the first member to suggest that we ought to make a point of banning the word "should" from our collective vocabulary. Everyone agreed, and it was done!

Pauline brought chocolate Turtles for our enjoyment. Delicious! They were much enjoyed.

We had four tables again, and played five rounds of four games. We finished at 3:45pm.

Won  The Money
Keith joined us again today, and won the money with a record-breaking 6020 points. The second last round he and I played as partners and he bid and I made a 6 No Trump Small Slam. At that point, I had a good chance of winning, and all depended on the last round. He and I were at the same table for this last all-important round. The cards were running his way, and he and Raisyl had a good score. Although I had a good score of 4160 points, Keith won.

Ghamar justifiably thought she might have won with 4800 points. Ghamar was heard to suggest that we ought to handicap Keith. There are one or two of us who would second that motion.

Ivor came in with 3000 points and Loretta had 2990 points. Marianne had 2880 points, and Evelyn had 2750. Indrani had 2780, Pauline had 2500, and Janet had 2210. It was downhill from there on. Raisyl had 2170, and was bitterly complaining about not winning her dollar back, as she had been in the running. She played with Keith for the last round of the day, and that score of 1370 points ruined her chances. Take 1370 from 2170 and the result is 800, which would have given her the dollar. 

Won Dollar Back
Maureen won her dollar back with 950 points, as some compensation for the dreadful afternoon she had suffered. You can see that Raisyl would have beaten her by all of 150 points, but for Keith.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Local Hero: Monday, April 23 2018

I made sure my Film Group had what we all wanted to drink, whether white or red wine, or Perrier water, and a good supply of chips, or chocolates, or popcorn, before we settled down to watch the film. Lorna had lent us the DVD, for which many thanks.

Local Hero (1983) is a Scottish comedy-drama film, directed and written by Bill Fulton, who had already directed and written Gregory's Girl (1881). It's a gentle comedy about an American Oil Company sending "Mac" McIntyre (whose family were from Hungary, and changed their name to McIntyre) to the north of Scotland to buy the seaside village of Ferness, and the surrounding area, as it wants to install a refinery. Money being no object, the majority of the villagers want to sell, while, of course, the old curmudgeon, Ben Knox, doesn't want to sell his beach, which was granted to his ancestors by the Lord of the Isles, in the dim and distant past. He is very happy where he is. The big, American boss arrives, hears the problems, and resolves the situation. The refinery will be built off shore, and an oceanographic marina and astronomical observatory built at Ferness instead. All's well that ends well, as Shakespeare said so long ago (1623).

Peter Riegert (Born 1947) played Mac, the American representative of the Oil Company, and Peter Capaldi (Born 1958) plays Danny Oldsen, the Scottish representative of the Company. They both look so young as they begin their careers. Fulton Mackay (1922-1987) was already a well-known Scottish actor, and was ideally cast as the holdout, Ben Knox. Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) was almost seventy when he played the part of Felix Happer, the Oil magnate. It was a pleasure to see him in such a different part, and he played it well. Jenny Seagrove (Born 1957) as Marina was appropriately beautiful. Dennis Lawson (Born 1947) as Gordom Urquhart, is so young in this part. He is the uncle of another Scottish actor, Ewan McEwan. The scenery is beautiful, and the wonders of nature, such as the aurora borealis and showers of shooting stars, so amazing, the location adds greatly to the film.

How different the world seemed then: no fanatic anarchists screaming and shouting like big bullies in the streets; no polarization of groups by rabid agitators; rational discussion leading to a solution acceptable to everyone. Civilized!

This is an entertaining film that leaves the audience feeling good.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Hare with the Amber Eyes: Friday, April 20 2018

The Hare with the Amber Eyes proved popular with our Book Group. Written by Edmund de Waal, it is his family memoir tracing the history of his family, the Ephrussi, from 1871 to 2009. The Hare with the Amber Eyes is a netsuke from Japan; a small, carved ornament, worn as part of Japanese traditional dress. It was a toggle on the sash, to which an object might be attached. In his book, de Waal uses the netsuki, and the collection of which it is a part, as the thread that runs through the story, and holds it together. Really very appropriate, considering the use of a netsuki.

Professor Michael Manley-Casimir, who had suggested the book, led us in an extremely interesting discussion. Everyone had enjoyed reading it. In fact, I had sat up late one evening because I couldn't put it down. We liked Edmund de Waal's writing style, and found the book easy to read. His talent for creating an environment, and bringing alive the atmosphere, was much admired. His description of Charles Ephrussi's salon in Paris, with mention of the art hanging on its walls, evoked Paris in the time of the Impressionists. As I read, I enjoyed looking up the art on my Chromebook, as it was mentioned by de Waal: Renoir; Manet; Monet; were the names ringing down through the centuries. Charles Ephrussi knew them all, and was a patron.

Palais Ephrussi, Vienna, Austria
The Ephrussi had begun their business activities as grain merchants in Odessa, in the Russian Ukraine. The family made its fortune from that hard work, and moved to Paris, France, where they became bankers and financiers. de Waal's ancestor then moved to Vienna, Austria, and built the Palace Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse. The Ringstrasse was just being built at that time, toward the end of the eighteen hundreds, and it is still there. Part of the upper echelon of Austrian society, peers of the Rothschild family, they felt they were Austrians like everyone else. During the Second World War, when Hitler aryanized the property of the Ephrussi, the family only escaped Dachau by signing away their property, including the Ephrussi Bank. No one with Jewish ancestry was exempt from Hitler and the Nazis. 

Another thing that our Group liked, was that, although this book was set in the time leading up to two world wars and during the wars, and touched on anti-semitism, it did so objectively. There was no hint of victimization or self-pity. His vivid description of what it must have been like for the Ephrussi to lose their home and possessions, made that unnecessary. The appalling facts spoke for themselves.

Michael had certainly suggested a book we all enjoyed reading. It's a brilliant book, gives lots of food for thought, and lively debate.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Zulu: Monday, April 16 2018

Zulu (1964) is a British epic war film depicting the historic Battle of Rorke's Drift (1879), between 150 British soldiers of the British Army and 4,000 Zulu warriors. This battle was part of the Anglo-Zulu war, as the British Army moved into South Africa to further extend the British Empire. Zulu is a romantic rendering of the story around this military event. The basic facts are accurate, but some have been changed for dramatic effect.

It was directed by Cy Endfield, who collaborated with John Prebble in writing the screenplay. The direction could have been tightened up, and the acting perhaps improved, but it is an entertaining film. It became popular, and went on to great box office success.

The film has a great cast. Stanley Baker played Lieutenant John Chard, Jack Hawkins is Reverend Otto Witt, a Swedish missionary based at Rorke's Drift Mission Station. Michael Caine is introduced in this film, and played the first large role of his career, as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. The following year, he went on to play Harry Palmer in the Ipcress File (1965), and the rest is history, as is said.

Real life Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, played King Cetshwayo (1826-1884)), his real life great-grandfather. Zulu leader Chief Buthelezi was very active in South African politics, acting as President of South Africa 22 times.

The Reverend Otto Witt was turned into a caricature which did make clear the attitudes of the missionaries. They were idealistic, unrealistic pacifists, who wanted everyone to love each other. Did he drink alcohol to shut out the reality he knew to be the truth?

The film opened with Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead trying to shoot a leopard. Anyone who knows anything about hunters and hunting animals, knows that no hunter would shoot randomly, as he did, in the hope that a shot might land by accident. The intent is to take down the prey with one shot, before the animal knows what has happened. However, it made for a romantic introduction to the young Michael Caine. He looked gorgeous in his red tunic and white helmet. Apparently, he worked very hard to lose his native Cockney accent and substitute it with the tones of the English upper class. He did make a good attempt at it, if not quite achieving perfection.

The lovely red coats were totally unsuitable for South Africa, as in all warmer climes. They were very hot, as is shown in Zulu. It was authentic that the soldiers would be sweating and red in the face. Shortly after this time, towards the end of the eighteen hundreds, the British Army overseas in India and Africa adopted much more sensible cotton khaki. But Michael Caine does look dashing in his red tunic and white helmet.

The Zulu warriors were authentic, and Zulu warriors dancing were a fearsome sight. When they rattled their spears against their shields, and uttered their war songs, they must have been a terrifying sight to any neighbouring tribe they had decided to attack. Their great King, Shaka Zulu (1789-1828), had welded the Zulus into an invincible fighting force, and drove off, or assimulated, the neighbouring tribes, creating a nation of 250,000 people. His revolutionary improvements to Zulu military tactics, created an army of courageous warriors who were a real threat to the British Army, under King Cetchwayo.

As Zulu showed, it was only the disciplined use of rifles that gave the British Army the upper hand.

I lived in Northern Rhodesia from 1955, through it becoming Zambia in 1964, and left Africa in 1975. I knew South Africa well, and I found this film fascinating. I saw it when it first was released, and it was an experience to see it now.

My film group enjoyed it, and we had such a good discussion afterwards, about Empire, and warfare.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bridge: Wednesday, April 18 2018

Charles West Bridge Group
Place: Party Room, Floor 31
Date: Wednesday, April 18 2018
Time: 12:20pm for 12:30pm - 4:00pm
Facilitator: Alainnah Robertson

Naomi, who happily tells everyone she is 93, said I could quote her when she said yet again that she was impressed by our Group. Everyone takes the game seriously, and we all play carefully. It is pleasant to look around and see everyone concentrating on the game, and hear the soft murmur of voices. Everyone is so friendly and amicable, with no one telling anyone else what they "should" have done. We all observe the Rules of Bridge laid down by the American Contract Bridge League, and one of the most important says that a player should maintain at all times a courteous attitude towards the other players. This is done, and the result is most Bridge players idea of Paradise. Naomi loves it. What a delightful way to spend a cold, icy day in Toronto!

Thanks to Joyce for making up the numbers at the last minute. She is busy preparing for her trip to southern France, so we are doubly appreciative. It makes such a difference to have full numbers.

Many of our members are busy doing other things this week so we were down to three tables. Playing Chicago Bridge, we played five rounds of four games, finishing at 3:40pm. Not too bad going!

Those playing on Wednesday were, as follows:
Joyce Arnold; Naomi Dake; Marianne Heller; Judith Katz;
Maureen Manson; Ghamar Moshiri; Ruth Osak; Alainnah Robertson;
Loretta Rosnick; Janet Stovel; Ivor Thomson; Raisyl Wagman
12 Players: 3 tables
Couldn't Make It
Melanie Duras; Judy Etling; Essie Garfein; Theo Hopkinson;
Michael Manley-C; Eti Teitelbaum; Pauline Toker

Won the Money
Ghamar won all of $11 this week with 4580 points. I thought I was going to win with 4030 points, but it wasn't to be. Judith did well with 3220 points. Raisyl, much to her surprise, had 3190 points. Loretta had 3160 points, Naomi had 2970 points, in spite of gaining an unhappy face for one round. Joyce had 2950 points. Ivor had 2390 points, so he neither won the money, nor his dollar back.

Won Dollar Back
Maureen won her dollar back today with 830 points. Marianne, who wins the money so often, was next with 1760 points, so was out of the running for the consolation of her dollar back. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Guys and Dolls: Monday, April 9 2018

This week, my Film Group saw the old musical, Guys and Dolls (1955) My friends all enjoyed seeing the film again. It generated lots of interesting discussion, including how dated it seemed. The fashions were of the 1950s, as was the production. The music, singing, dancing, and acting, were all so much of that time. More than that, so were the social mores. It was a fairytale, with it being assumed that the main characters ought to marry each other, regardless of suitability or desire, and then they would live "happily ever after." How times have changed!

Guys and Dolls was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who also wrote the screenplay. The film is based on the Broadway musical by composer and lyricist Frank Loesser, and that is loosely based on two short stories by Damon Runyon. Michael Kidd choreographed the dances for both the Broadway musical and the flm.

Marlon Brandon was Goldwyn's choice for Sky Masterson, because he was one of the biggest boxoffice draws at that time. Frank Sinatra wanted that role, but settled for Nathan Detroit. Brandon trained extensively in singing and dancing for the part, and performed amazingly well in the film. Frank Sinatra was better in the role of Nathan Detroit. His voice could have been shown off a bit better. The songs he sang weren't quite as suitable for him as they mght have been. Jean Simmons was well-castt as Sister Sarah Brown, a Sergeant in the Salvation Army. She sang and danced surprisingly well. Vivian Blaine played Miss Adelaide in the original Broadway production, and not even a call from Marilyn Munro, who wanted the part, would change the mind of director Mankiewicz.

Guys and Dolls won four Academy Awards nominations, and the Golden Globes gave it the Best Picture Musical/Comedy. Jean Simmons won the Golden Globe for Best Actress Musical Comedy. In 2006, the American Film Institute ranked it #23 on it's list of Best Musicals. It did very well at the box office. On a budget of $5,000,000, it made $20,000,000 world wide.

Monday, April 2, 2018

In Bruges: Monday, April 2 2018

In Bruges (2008) is another black comedy, crime film, enjoyed by my Film Group this week. Thanks to Lorna for lending it to us, and to Carol for having us to her suite. We learned that the Party Room doesn't have a screen that plays DVDs, so adjourned to Carol's instead.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (48), In Bruges is very funny, which is surprising considering that the storyline is all about criminal hit men. But what hit men! Colin Farrell (41), with his expressive face, is engaging as Ray, who is a hit man, devastated that he has killed a child unintentionally. Brendan Gleeson (63) plays Ken Daley, and is a hit man who finds Bruges and its history, fascinating. These characters are multi-faceted. They engage the audience, and win sympathy, even although they are criminals and killers. Ralph Fiennes (55), as Harry Waters, is menacing, the epitome of pathological evil, yet even he can't kill Daley in cold blood. This film gives the message that no human being is a black and white creature. All individuals are many-sided, and often molded by their circumstances. 

I liked that we saw a lot of Bruges, which I visited a long time ago. It's a lovely, old city, and the cinematographer, Eigil Bryld, lingered long enough on the scenery that we could appreciate it. Too often a film is made in a city that the audience hardly sees. It could have been made anywhere.

I enjoyed this film, and after seeing so many films of this gengre, I appreciated it. It's very tongue in the cheek, and as such, is great fun! All the fighting is orchestrated, and I am becoming a  connoisseur. Somehow, I can enjoy it, knowing it's not real. This is not a "great" film, but professionally made to a high standard. If you feel like some light entertainment, this is the film for you.

John Wick: Saturday, March 31 2018

This film showed on a TV channel, and I really enjoyed it. Having been exposed to a few neo-noir thriller, and comedy, films, I am understanding the genre more, and finding I like it. With John Wick I loved the martial arts fights. The choreography is fantastic.

John Wick (2014) is an American action thriller film, in the neo-noir genre. Directed by Chad Stahelski (49) and David Leitch , two stuntmen turned directors, the action is brilliant. The writing by Derek Kolstad (43) is tight, and the cinematography by Johathon Sela (39) is in the neo-noir style: dark, reflecting the world of the criminals, and with unusual angles and lighting, making the film interesting to watch. The music, by Tyler Bates (52) and Joel J. Richard (41), is perfect for the film, and sets the tone. John Wick was a success at the box office. It had a budget of approximately $ 20,000,000, and made around $89,000,000.

It has an anti-hero, Keanu Reeves (53) as John Wick, who was a retired hit-man, until tragedy in his life stirred him into action again. He is such a compelling character, strong and determined, it is difficult not to sympathize with him. His beloved wife, Helen Wick, is
Bridget Moynahan
played by the beautiful Bridget Moynahan, and we can believe he had given up his old way of life for her. The late Swedish actor, Michael Nyqvist (56), is Viggo Tarasov, the head of the Russian Mob in New York City. He brings a depth to the character, and a humanity, that defies the stereotypical picture of a Russian mobster. Alfie Allen (31) plays his son, Josef Tarasov with just the right blend of bravado and timidity. Willam Dafoe is Marcus, a hit-man who was a mentor at one time, to John Wick. As always, Dafoe is brilliant in his part. I liked Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Prekins (34), a distinguished female contract killer. She is cold, heartless, and holds her own in a fight scene with John Wick. The rest of the cast all do a wonderful job with their parts.

The film has lots of violence, with lots of thrills. The fight scenes are a mixture of the martial arts and guns. It is also entertainment, with a love story triggering the action. It has the western movie theme of a man appearing in a world, and changing it forever. In this case, the man, John Wick, is up to the task he has set himself. The film ends with him having accomplished what he set himself to do: justice is done, and seen to be done. He walks off into the unknown yonder, with a rescued dog at his side. The stage was set for a sequel.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Kinky Boots: Monday, March 26 2018

Kinky Boots (2005) is fun! It's an American-British comedy-drama film written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth (53) and directed by Julian Jarrold (57).

Joel Edgerton (43) plays Charlie, the owner of a shoe factory in Northampton, England, who is desperate to find a new line to save his factory from closure. He meets Lola, a drag queen, played by Chiwetel Eniofor (40), and together they create kinky boots for drag queens, saving the business. Nick Frost (45) plays Don, the factory employee who originally opposes Lola, but who, in the end, works with Lola to save the day.

Kinky Boots has gone on to be made into a highly successful
Broadway musical which is presently going into it's fifth year. It played in Toronto recently, and is a smash hit. It has the audiences dancing in the aisles, having a fun time. It will be opening in Las Vegas soon, where it is expected it will be as popular.

The original film was successful. Entertaining and lively, with some great acts by drag queens, it was enjoyable. It has all the components of entertainment: a story that has attractive characters who are intriguing and rouse our sympathy, even our affection; these characters are facing a challenge and striving to achieve a vital goal; in the process they change and grow, and we feel supportive of their efforts; the aim is achieved, so the ending is happy; and we are left "feeling good". This, even if it could have been given more impact, which, no doubt, has been added for the stage shows.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Memoirs of a Gheisha: Monday, March 19 2018

Memoirs of a Gheisha (2005) is an American epic drama, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Arthur Golden.  Directed by Rob Marshall (57), with screenplay by Robin Swicord (65), the film was a box office hit, and won six Academy Award nominations, winning three. These were for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. John Williams (86) created the music, which added to the sensual beauty of the film.

Zhang Ziyi as Chiyo Sakamoto/Sayuri Nitta, Gong Li as Hatsumomo,  and Michelle Yeoh as Mameha, are absolutely beautiful. Apparently, one of the criticisms of the film is these are popular Chinese actresses, not Japanese. They played the parts of the three leading roles as competing geishas.  Ken Watanahe as Chairman Iwamura, is also gorgeous. The acting is good, with the direction moulding the film into a beautiful whole.

The physical beauty of the characters is an important factor in this romanticized version of the life of a Geisha. We are taken into a world that we otherwise would not know. It's not a pretty world: a world of exploitation of women to fulfil the needs of men; a world often of no choices for the Geisha. They were not prostitutes, but, rather, entertainers. Although this film didn't emphasis that role, in fact, the Geisha often trained in dancing and playing musical instruments, to add to their other talents. Obviously, there would have been many varieties of Geisha, some more formal than others. In Memoirs of a Geisha, the women are little more than prostitutes, struggling to survive. The American soldiers with whom they came in contact, certainly adopted that attitude. 

The film is a feast of beauty for the eyes and ears, and has a happy ending. I was left with the feeling that I had enjoyed Art, but Art created from a particularly sordid subject.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

No Country for Old Men: Monday, March 12 2018

My Film Group is still meeting on Mondays, in our Club Room, to view films at 1:00pm. Thanks to Maureen for borrowing this film from the public library. 

No Country for Old Men (2007) is written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. It's genre is neo-western, neo-noir thriller. It is well within it's genre as it certainly is a thriller, on the dark side, as we would expect from the Coen brothers. 

The cast is fantastic, with Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell, Josh Brolin as llewelyn Moss, and Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells. Javier Bardem is outstanding as Anton Chigurh, the superstitious hit man, who gives his victims a chance when he asks them to choose the result of the flip of a coin. He is the personification of Evil, and causes his audience to shudder whenever they see him. The rest of the cast are appropriate for their parts, and play well.

The writing and direction is highly professional, again, as we expect from the Coen brothers. The film won four awards at the 80th Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem); and Best Adapted Screenplay. I remember seeing it when it first came out, and really enjoying it, but wondering why I did so. Seeing it again, I felt the same way. It is violent, to say the least, and my favourite performer, Javier Bardem, is a psychopathic killer. These Coen brothers certainly have a way of messing with my mind.

I enjoyed viewing No Country for Old Men this second time. I could see more clearly how black was the humour. The western theme of a stranger arriving in town, changing the town by his actions, and then leaving, was there in Anton Chigurh, especially on his own belief that it is fate that has brought him into the lives he is destroying. The ending was ambiguous, which I also liked. What was Chigurh going to do now? Javier Bardem was considered a supporting actor in this part. I thought he really was the main character. There was also the unanswered question: what happened to the money?

Brilliant film! The Coen brothers are a brilliant team! See it if you have the nerve!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Goldfinch: Donna Tart: Friday, March 16 2018

Charles West Book Group
Third Friday of Every Month
1:00 - we have the room until 5:00 pm
Party Room - Floor 31
Time: 1:00 pm sharp
Date: Friday, March 16 2018

Mar. 16
The Goldfinch (2013)
Donna Tartt
Lorna Kelly

Lorna gave us an interesting presentation on her choice of book, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Lorna pointed out that the little goldfinch in the painting (1654) by Carel Fabritius, has a chain around its ankle anchoring it to its perch. This is the painting that is at the heart of the book, and it was on show at the Scottish National Gallery at the end of 2016. Lorna, herself, had thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is why she recommended it to us. She mentioned that although it had won the Pulitzer Prize, along with other awards, the critics were sharply divided in their opinions of the book. Some loved it, others wondered why it had won any awards at all.

A very interesting discussion ensued, with by far the largest consensus having loved the book, even if it were a little long at over 700 pages. When asked, Dr. Ruth pointed out that it couldn’t be called literature in the true definition of that word. Lorna agreed, saying that many critics had compared the writing to that of a teenage novel. On the hand, the characters in the book were not very old, nor were they well-educated. They wouldn’t have used sophisticated language. No one in our Group really cared, as they had found the book so entertaining. Lorna was thanked for having introduced us to The Goldfinch, and given everyone so much pleasure.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pulp Fiction: Monday, March 5 2018

My Film Group viewed Pulp Fiction (1994) this Monday. It was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (54). The name refers to the pulp magazines and crime fiction that was popular during the 1960-1980s, as he was growing up. These were known for their graphic violence. From his early childhood, he knew he wanted to make films, and studied the lives and work of other directors in the genre of gangster and crime films. He then went on to develop his own style, as do all great artists. He is considered one of the greatest film makers of his generation. Pulp Fiction was given seven nominations in the Oscars, including for Best Picture. In 2013, it was preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Pulp Fiction is certainly violent, with John Travolta as Vinvent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield, two of the most objective hit men you wouldn't ever want to meet. They are magnificient as two men with a job to do, which doesn't interupt their very serious conversation about a foot massage given to Uma Thurman as Mia, the wife of the crime boss Marcellus Wallace. Jules is fearsome as he recites Ezekiel 25:17 incorrectly before he puts a bullet in his target. But what he adds does sound biblical, and the sentiments can be found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. The correct quotation, in case you are interested, is, as follows:
Ezekiel 25:17 And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

As Jules lays the vengence of Marcellus on Brett, he certainly epitomises the most fearful image anyone could have conjured up in their worst nightmare. Then he goes outside and continues his conversation  with Vincent as if nothing has happened. It is so funny, but also so horrific, and the audience are left wondering at its own mixed reaction to it. Absolutely brilliant! This continues throughout the film, and we are left a little shaken that we have laughed our way through a film full of violence, with totally amoral characters, who have so heartily entertained us. Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge, Ving Rhames as Marcellus Wallace, Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace, and Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolfe, were all perfect for their parts, as was everyone else in this film. I loved each one of them.

Pulp Fiction inspired a wide discussion on its meaning. It appeares to deal with American nihilism, which describes the loss of value and meaning in people's lives, with the loss of religious belief systems. The words of Nietzsche, "God is Dead", infer that there is no inherent moral code. This film does seem to illustrate all these ideas, and show what life without meaning can look like.

Quentin Tarantino created a masterpiece with Pulp Fiction. It is brllliantly directed, and apparently the actors loved working with him. It reactivated many careers, and furthered others. When it first was screened, I avoided seeing it because of its well-advertised violence, and all the criticism it aroused. I'm very glad I've seen it now, and have developed my own opinion of it. I ought not to have listened to the critics. It is a multi-layered film, with lots of food for thought. The characters were so strongly drawn, they remain in my memory, and I even feel fond of them, in spite of their violent jobs.

There is so much more one could say, but primarily I am left with the feeling that Quentin Taratino is saying it with his tongue in his cheek.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

90th Oscars: , Sunday, March 4 2018

The Oscars 90 this year was the most enjoyable I have ever experienced, in all the many years I have been watching the show. The Oscars was produced by Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd. Glenn Weiss directed. What an improvement! They did last year's show too, when the quantum leap forward began. This year was even better.

I loved the stage setting. I like gorgeous, full of splendid colour, and constantly changing in surprising ways. The Swarovski crystals were stunning, and Derek McLean, the designer of the set, deserved an Oscar himself for his incredible work.

I liked that the Academy had asked the women not to wear black. I love the Red Carpet, and what a pleasure to see so many beautiful women arrayed in many colours. I like elegant, and this was difficult to find. Boobs hanging out doesn't do it for me.

I feel embarrassed for the women who cheapen their image by showing too much flesh. A few of the dresses had two strips of fabric as the front bodice: I found this most unflattering.

But there were many women who were elegant. Maya Rudolph in this elegant gown was also striking. Tiffany Haddish was outstanding in this elegant and original design.

Jimmy Kimmel was polished, funny, and tactful: his barbs weren't malicious. His little side trip off to another cinema across the road, to thank the audience for supporting the film industry, was an
unnecessary diversion. Most of the recipients of Oscars kept their remarks mercifully short and free of politics, but Frances McDormand asked the women nominees to stand, and this was well-received. She made a few other remarks in favour of women, and this was allowed as she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her incredible performance in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Her dress was elegant and striking, but perhaps not the best colour for her.

The other winners of Oscars were as expected, in my opinion. Gary Oldman won for his Churchill in The Darkest Hour. Allison Janney won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Tonya Harding's mother in I, Tonya. She looked elegant and striking in my favourite colour of red. Sam Rockwell won his Oscar for best supporting actor as the corrupt policeman in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Best Picture went to Shape of Water and Best Director went to Guillermo del Toro who created the film. He also wrote the screenplay along with Vanessa Taylor. The film was highly original and imaginative. A fantasy fairytale, It portrayed the love story between an amphibian god-humanoid and a human woman. This idea is not new, but in this case, the woman was able to become amphibious herself because her lover was also a god, capable of magically giving her the necessary gills. del Toro loves monsters, and there were many in this movie. There were many fascinating facets to the film, but, best of all, like all good fariytales, it had a happy ending. The amphibion and the human woman had sex, and lived happily ever after, we were left to believe.

I was disappointed that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, didn't get the Oscar for Best Picture and that Martin McDonagh wasn't awarded Best Director and Best Writer. I found myself touched by this film, in a way that doesn't usually happen to me. On the other hand, perhaps the story and characters were too ordinary, certainly compared to Shape of Water

Altogether, a wonderful show. I had almost given up on the Oscars as they had become so infantile, but I'm glad I didn't as I might have missed this one.