Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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 2015

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: 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.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fargo: Monday, February 26 2018

My Film Group again met in the Club Room of Charles West, and we really are beginning to enjoy this. It's nice having our own space, and it lends itself to a good discussion and chat after we have seen the film. A little wine instead of a jug; some chips instead of a loaf of bread; and our Film Group instead of "Thou"; viewing a film instead of "singing in the wilderness"; and we can agree with Omar Khayyam, as he said in his Rubaiyat, "that were Paradise enow." 

This week, again thanks to Susan and Chris, we saw Fargo (1996). It is a British-American black-comedy crime film, written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It is parody, and is brilliant. It won many awards and nominations, including the Oscar for Best Actress to Frances McDormand. 

Frances McDormand stars as Marge Gunderson, Minnesota police chief. She is a joy to watch. She is completely in charge of the situation, and unflappable, regardless of what is happening. She quietly does her job, capturing Gaear, the most ruthless of the criminals, totally on her own, arresting him, and driving him back to the police station: all this, in spite of being heavily pregnant. She ends her busy day snuggled up in bed with her husband, congratulating him on having his painting of a mallard duck accepted for a 3-cent postage stamp. Not a word about the stress of what she had been doing! Priceless!

Oscars for Fargo
William H. Macy is absolutely perfect as Jerry Lundegaard, the car salesman whose actions are the starting point of the film. His face is so expressive, it is a delight to watch. 

Peter Stomare is Gaear Grimsrud, the most psycopathic of the two criminals. He is a very silent person, but acts horrifically without any hesitation, or remorse. Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter, is also a psycopath, and he and his partner are a perfect pair. They look exactly like the criminals they are, and to hear them bickering in the car, as Carl berates Gaear for being so untalkative, is delicious comedy. 

Everyone else in the film has been cast perfectly, and there isn't a bad note in the film. No wonder it won so many awards.

Everyone enjoyed Fargo, some for the second time, some for more. It left us a little bemused, as we were laughing as extremely violent action is taking place. So clever! 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015), by Peter Frankopan (46), is a book after my own heart. Peter Frankopan is a distinguished historian and Professor of Global History at Oxford University. In his book, he looks at the big picture of world history and the driving forces behind it.

As the neolithic culture of the fertile crescent in the middle east was developing around 9000 BCE along the Nile, Eurphrates and Tigris rivers, in China similar development was taking place around the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, and in India along the Indus river.

Peter Frankopan begins by talking about the great empire of the Persians that grew up in the Fertile Crescent, and the empire of the Chinese. These empires built the Silk Roads that stretched from the Mediterranean to Japan through Korea. He shows how those empires quelled fighting within their borders, and encouraged interior trade and exterior trade with each other. This brought a growth in cultures and an improvement in the standard of living. Their main intercourse with each other was to the great benefit of each: trade with each other, which is the main driving force in developing cultures and economies, and is behind almost every transaction countries have with each other. He says that the centre of the world was not the Mediterranean, but in central Asia, where roads carrying goods from China to Europe and vise versa, were fiercely guarded. It still is, where today there is a network of oil pipelines that connect China to the oilfields of the Middle East and Russia. 

Frankopan takes us through history; an exciting journey among the many empires that have impacted the world. He brings us into present day times, and shows how they have grown out of the past. He makes it clear that we must know and understand that past, to fully understand what is going on in the world today. We need to know that history has always flowed along the Silk Roads with trade, and we need a deeper knowledge of all that they carried, from silks, slaves, ideas, religions, and disease, before we can see more clearly that the East and the West have always been linked, and this gives an indication as to where the world is headed.

The book ends in the present day, and shows that, more than ever, we need to understand history so that we can understand the new world that is rising in front of our eyes. The last sentence in the book points out that the Silk Roads are rising again.

Friday, February 23, 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey: Monday, February 19

My film group repeated our experiment of using the Club Room in Charles West to see a film this Monday. Many thanks to Susan and Chris for lending us their copy of the classic film we viewed. Everyone enjoyed it, including the son and grandchildren of one of our members. It was an experience we all appreciated. The wine and chips increased our enjoyment.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was produced, directed and written by Stanley Kubrick. It was partially based on a short story, "The Sentinel", by Arthur C. Clarke, the proflific and well-known science fiction writer. Clarke helped in the writing of the film, and concurrently wrote the novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was published shortly after the film was released. Today, this film is considered by many one of the greatest and most influencial films ever made.

Dr. David Bowman was played by Keir Dullea, and the part of Dr. Frank Poole was taken by Gary Lockwood. These roles seem to have been the apex of their careers. There was very little dialogue, but one of the crucial scenes was of Hal, the computer, reading their lips as they agreed they had to close the computer down. This illustrates how futuristic was the film. Microsoft and Alibaba (Chinese) have both just created computers that can read and comprehend what they have read, better than many humans.

The big question the film raises is, "What does it mean?" Kubrick's answer is that it means whatever you want it to mean. Everyone will have their own interpretation of what it is saying, and it is saying different things to everyone. He intended it to reach the subconscious minds of his audience. That is where the story lies, and that is where any answer has to come from. 

The surface story is around monoliths that have appeared on earth and the moon at crucial time in the evolution of human beings. The first appearance is as humanoid primates began to change into more recognizable human beings. The second has been discovered on the moon, when humans have established a community there. The third monolith's presence has been discovered circling Jupiter, when the monolith on the moon communicated with it by one short radio transmission. Scientists are journeying to Jupiter to investigate the latest monolith. Bowman, in a space pod, is drawn into a vortex of coloured lights, and travels across vast space, ending up in a neoclassical bedroom. As he lies on a bed, an old man, he reaches for the monolith. A fetus appears, enveloped in a transparent globe of light, floating in space, looking at the earth.  

The soundtrack begins with the stirring opening chords of Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), the tone poem by Richard Strauss, inspired by the philosophical novel by Friedrich Nietzsche, of the same name. Nietzsche's work contains the idea that human beings are a bridge between the original humanoid primates and a superman. We are evolving towards becoming superhuman beings. When reminded of this idea by the opening music, the film does deliver this message. The Blue Danube (1866) by Johan Strauss perhaps indicates that human beings have continued along the path happily, to reach the moon. The final appearing of the baby in the bubble could be the appearance of a superbeing. Or it could all be symbolic of the striving of human beings to reach for their better selves. You can perhaps find some personal meaning for yourself.  

What do the monoliths symbolize? Some suggest they are artifacts from a superior world that is encouraging humans to evolve. Others think they may be symbolic of the Force of Evolution touching humans with the same purpose. As the film is so mythical, it can also means many other things.

Stanley Kubrick has created a masterpiece: 2001: A Space Odyssey is a work of art, dealing with universal themes. It touches the subconscious mind, and certainly encourages thought. It was fascinating to see it again, fifty years after it first was shown. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy (2016): J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is a book I loved and couldn't put down. It's written in beautiful English, but the primary reason I reacted to it as I did, is J.D. Vance (33) is so honest as he talks about the Appalachian values of his upbringing and how they relate to the social problems of his original culture. He wants people to understand these problems and see the real reason for them, as he sees it.

Born and brought up in Middletown, Ohio, he paints a clear picture of his dysfunctional family. Unemployment, violence, drugs, absent fathers, lack of a structured lifestyle, lack of understanding of the value of education and direction, are the main problems, as he experienced it.

J.D. Vance in 2017
The saving factor in his own life was his grandmother. He went to live with his grandparents in his late teens. His grandmother instilled in him the idea that he could do better with his life than he had up till then. He began to work at school, and, with sympathetic teachers, achieved good enough grades that he could go into the Marines for four years. He went on to Ohio State University, and from there to Yale. At Yale, he met a young woman from a different American culture, who taught him the mores of that culture which was necessary for him to become a successful lawyer. He learned how to dress and behave for success in the professional world. He points out that his adopted culture, with it's different value system, is much better than his original environment in producing people who are successful in life. Presently he is a CNN contributor, and is considering running for the US Senate.

J.D. Vance considers that the real poverty of Hillbilly country is not simply material, but cultural. It is the product of the attitudes of the people. These attitudes include accepting fighting, violence and coarse language as being normal. Their fierce loyalty to their families, culture and country, discourage people from leaving to improve their lives. Young males are encouraged to consider education as being not for macho males, but only for "sissies." People take advantage of government programs to sell food stamps so that they can have cell phones. This infuriates the people who aren't receiving these programs. The most self-defeating attitude is that the actions of an individual can make no difference to any individual's life. Neither respect for education nor ambition is encouraged.

The greatest value of Vance's book is that it make us all reconsider our preconceived ideas about poverty, and what can be done by government to alleviate it. He seems to be saying that the hillbilly culture needs to accept responsibility for its own part in its problems. Education would seem to be helpful to do this, but this might be difficult unless the barriers against the value of education can be removed from the minds of the people. Teachers can only do so much to undo the influence of parents. The government throwing ever more money at the problem, is not the answer. This is a universal challenge, in and around many cultures, and the questions raised can be applied to all those others. It's not money alone that is needed, it is a change of value systems.

This book raises many questions. Is J.D. Vance correct in his assessment of his culture, and the solution of its problems? Does it need to be said that some cultures ought to examine their value systems before blaming the government, corporations, colonialism, the loss or lack of jobs, and anyone else they can conjure up, as the root of their poverty? Should cultures be given ever more money when it has been shown that this doesn't make any difference to their poverty? How can cultures be encouraged to change their destructive value systems? Perhaps more emphasis ought to be placed on individuals responsibility for their choices in life, and understanding the consequences of those choices. 

Hillbilly Elegy should be read by all thinking people, with an open mind.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Departures: Monday, February 12 2017

This week, as my Film Group had seen all the Oscar films playing at our local Cineplex, we used the Club Room in Charles West to view a film. One of our Group provided the DVD: a little wine and chips, and we were set for what turned out to be a lovely afternoon.

We viewed Departures (2008), which won the Oscar in 2009 for Best Foreign Film. It is a Japanese drama, directed by Yojiro Takita, and written by Kundo Koyama. It is loosely based on a memoir, Coffinman: the Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, by Shinmon Aoki. The direction could perhaps have been tightened up a bit, and the story was perhaps a little sentimental at times, but the film was so delightful, and the music Joe Hisaishi was so beautiful, it didn't really matter too much.

When our viewing finished, one of our Group voiced what we were all thinking. This is one of the most beautiful films she had ever seen. Departures is literally about the last departure we all make in life. It depicts an old Buddhist custom, which has largely disappeared in modern life in Japan. It deals with the final farewell procedures around the body of the deceased person. This was done in a highly respectful fashion, and brought comfort and healing to the family and friends of the departed. In only one scene in the movie do we see a Buddhist monk, and the film doesn't lay any stress of the spiritual side of the ceremony. In spite of that, it does convey the respectful professionalism of the people who conduct the final tribute to the dead. As we see in the film, anyone who has anything to do with handling dead people were considered unclean in old Japan, and shunned. Departures puts the case for what a difference these professionals make to the whole situation, and what comfort they bring to those left behind.

Masahiro Motoki plays Daigo, and does this extremely well. I found myself feeling for him, and respecting him for the decisions he makes in life. His wife, Mika, is played by the beautiful Ryoko Hirosue. We see her growing up in the film, as she comes to support Daigo in those difficult decisions. Tsutomu Yamazaki is fantastic as Sasaki, the mentor who brings such maturity to Daigo, as he encourages Daigo in his choices.

I laughed and I was deeply moved by Departures. I was totally emotionally involved in the story and the characters. What a pleasant change from so many of the recent movies I have seen. This film is entertaining, but more than that, it is a gorgeous work of Art. We found ourselves more than "feeling good" when the film was ended. We felt deeply satisfied.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing, Missouri: Monday, January 29 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was even better the second time I saw it. I laughed out loud, I was deeply moved, I was surprised, I was engaged emotionally. I liked the characters. I LOVED the film.

I really liked Mildred Hayes, the mother who rented the three billboards to advertise the lack of police action in finding her daughter's rapist and killer. What a face has Frances McDormand! I was drawn to her immediately. It was clear that she was suffering a deep sorrow, yet wasn't lying down to it. She has a legitimate complaint against the local police force, and was determined to express it publicly, to try to produce some action. I admired her fighting spirit.

I also liked Sheriff Bill Willoughby, the police Chief. He explains to Mildred, so carefully, his difficulties in trying to find the killer with so little to go on. We see him as a loving husband and father, and I felt for him. He was a lovely teddy bear of a man, and I admired his strength and courage.

I actively disliked Jason Dixon at the beginning of the film, then felt a certain sympathy for him when we met his mother. By the end of the movie, he had grown up and matured so much, I liked him. It pleased me to see that the ending has been set up for a sequel. I look forward to it.

The direction and screenplay by Martin McDonagh are excellent, and this allows his actors to be superb. The music by Carter Burwell is so appropriate and adds greatly to the film. But this is true of so many films. What makes this film stand out, in my opinion, is that it has been written with the audience in mind. The story is intriguing; the characters are all real human beings whom we can admire, and with whom we can sympathize; none of these people is a loser. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is billed as a crime drama. It is totally entertaining, and never underestimates the intelligence of the audience. In my opinion, it ought to win the Oscar for Best Film produced to entertain its audiences and give them their money's worth.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012), by Charles Duhigg (43), is a useful tool as to how to change destructive habits.

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize winning, investigative reporter with the New York Times, and his book is based on research done by many scientists into how habits are formed and changed. He takes the results of that research, and writes it into an easily understood book that everyone can read.

He tells us that there is a neurological pattern that governs any habit. This consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. We first need to examine our behaviour and feelings to determine how this works with us. For instance: what feeling drive us to perform the behaviour; what is the behaviour; and is it good for us?

To change an addictive habit and replace it with a new one, we keep the initial cue, replace the routine, and keep the reward. For example: I feel bored; I go outside and smoke a cigarette with other people; I feel better because I have socialized with people. To change: I feel bored; I go to the gym and work out; I feel better because I have worked out, and built into my routine that I socialize with other people, perhaps at a coffee shop afterwards. The Golden Rule of Habit Change says that if we do this often enough, change will happen.

Charles Duhigg also goes into many other facets of human nature, and how we can use habit-forming to transform our lives. Fascinating book! It was on the New York Times and Amazon's Best Seller List for months.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Phantom Thread: Monday, January 22 2018

Phantom Thread (2017) is an American historical drama, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (47). Anderson has made many films, including There Will Be Blood (2007). His work has gained Academy Awards. Anderson says that the cinematography was a collaborative effort with Robert Elswit (67). Elswit won an Oscar for best cinematography for his work in There Will Be Blood (2007). The music, by Jonny Greenwood, is delightful.

The film is set in the couture world of London, England, in the 1950s. Strangely, the atmosphere seems reminicient of earlier in that century. The cinematography is beautiful and gives the feeling of old paintings. This is perhaps why it seems the film is set in an earlier time. The clothes are lovely, as were the fashions of the fifties. After the austerieties of the Second World War, and the boxy clothes of that time, women wanted to become more feminine, elegant, and shapely.

The acting is superb, as one would expect, especially from Daniel Day-Lewis (60) as Reynolds Woodcock. He won one of his three Oscars, as Best Actor, for his work in There Will Be Blood (2007). He really is perfect in this role. Vicky Krieps (34), with her German accent, is also perfect in her role as Alma Elson, a waitress who has a relationship with the noted couturier, Reynolds Woodcock. Lesley Manville (61) as Cyril Woodcock, Reynolds sister, is also perfect.

When Alma and Woodcock meet, her cheeks flush pink, as her dress. She allows Woodcock to carry her off. Woodcock is a sexual predator, and wants to control his much too young victim. In Alma, he has met his match. She learns to control him by poisoning him just enough to make him ill. Then she has him in her power, as he needs her to support him through his illness. They each declare their love for each other, and in the end, Alma manipulates Woodcock into marrying her. They continue in their peculiar relationship, both understanding the other's behavior, and condoning it. Is this the phantom thread running though their liaison?

The film is of a high professionalism in every area. It's lovely to look at, and will no doubt gain Oscar nominations. In spite of all that, my friends didn't like it, nor would they tell anyone they have to see it. In my opinion, that is because of the sordid subject of the story line. Woodcock is a horrible character, whom it is impossible to like, or even feel any compassion for him. Alma is not attractive either. She is manipulative and self-seeking, and not sympathetic. These are not people many people would want to know. To feel this about the main characters in a film doesn't add to one's enjoyment. It detracts a great deal! Not a "feel good" movie!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Principles: Ray Dalio

Principles (2017), by Ray Dalio, is an incredible book. In it, Ray Dalio, at the age of 68, shares the principles on which he has based his life's work. He is the founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds, with $160 billion in assets, and has amassed a personal fortune of $17 billion, according to Forbes (2017). He is among the 100 wealthiest people in the world, states Bloomberg. has become a philanthropist, and joined Warren Buffet and Bill Gates in wanting to share his fortune with others. He is presently building a large philanthropic foundation, the Dalio Foundation.

Ray Dalio was born in 1949, in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, of a lower-middle class Italian/American family. At a very early age he realised that he wanted to be successful, and that to be motivated, he had to work for himself. He began working at delivering papers, mowing lawns, and caddying. At the age of 12, on a tip from one of his golfing customers, he made his first investment in the stock market. It was hugely successful. He received a bachelor's degree in finance from Long Island University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has to have worked to pay for this. Perhaps he won a scholarship to Harvard.

He worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Later he worked for companies in the financial world. In 1975, he founded his company, Bridgewater Associates. It wasn't all smooth sailing, but Dalio navigated difficulties and continued on his course. The rest is history, as is said.

In Principles, Ray Dalio states the first five principles he lives by in his business. He says that they also carry over into his private world. These principles are, as follows:
  1. Embrace Reality and Deal with It. I particularly like his advice to look to nature to see how things are done.
  2. Use the 5-Step Process to Get What You Want Out of Life. This process is, as follows:  (a) Have clear goals. (b) Identify and don't tolerate the problems that stand in the way of your achieving those goals. (c) Accurately diagnose the problems to get at the root causes. (d) Design plans that will get you around them. (e) Do what's necessary to push those designs through to results.
  3. Be Radically Open-Minded. 
  4. Understand That People Are Wired Very Differently
  5. Learn How Make Decisions Effectively
In other words, Get a Grip and Just Do It! The book continues in that vein. If you don't believe in facing reality, acting on that insight, regardless if this means exercising tough love, don't bother reading this book. On the other hand, if you are in business and would like morale building, this book is for you. Here is everything you need to know to build a strong, successful business.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Post: Monday, January 15 2018

The Post is directed by Stephen Spielberg. As one would expect, it is a highly professional film. Tom Hanks, as Ben Bradlee, and Meryl Streep, as Kay Graham, both deliver great performances, again as one would expect. The rest of the cast is also plausible, and the screenplay and direction keep the tension high. I loved seeing the presses printing the papers. I could almost smell the printers ink.

The story is from the point of view of the media on the efforts of The NewYork Times and The Washington Post to publish the classified Pentagon Papers, stolen from the Government of the United States by Daniel Ellsberg. An injunction issued against The Times prevents the paper from publishing the papers. Daniel Ellsberg, who had first copied the secret files, then passes them on to The Post. Kay Graham has to decide whether to publish them,or not. She decided to take the risk. The Times and The Post then appear together in the Supreme Court pleading the First Amendment argument, The court rules in favour of the newspapers. The film ends with Nixon ordering that The Post be kept out of the White House. Then a report is given of the beginning of Watergate. The media was out to get Nixon, and did.

The film simplistically argues that for 20 years, from 1955 to 1975, the government of the United States had lied to the people about the progress of the Vietnam War. The war was fought by the South Vietnam Government, supported by The States, South Korea, Australia and other anti-Communist countries, against North Vietnam, supported by Russia, China and other Communist allies. No doubt hoping that the tide would be turned by the military, the news had been given that the war was progressing, whereas it had been disasterous. The American government, no doubt reluctant to announce an unpopular defeat by the Communists, was forced to do just that. But by that time, the media had changed public opinion about the war, so that in the end it seemed a good decision, even if it threw South Vietnam to the wolves, as it were. North America gained many valuable immigrants from Vietnam as a result. The Communists took over Vietnam.

If classified documents can be stolen, copied and given to the media, does this mean there ought to be no such things as State Secrets? Does this mean the media has the right to destroy a government, or an individual, in the name of freedom of the press? Ought the media to put the right of the people to know everything, before the right of the government to hide its motivations and actions from other countries, especially in times of war? Is disloyalty to the Government of the United States, no matter which party is in power, no longer considered treason? This film gives rise to many questions.

The Post is a competent film, if almost a little bit too slick and lacking in originality. It is entertaining, and pleasant to watch; especially all the beautiful houses in which it is set. It left me a little uncomfortable as I found myself asking all those difficult questions, but, apart from that, it was a good film, if not great. It didn't leave me feeling good.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

I, Tonya: Monday, January 8 2018

I, Tonya is written by Steven Rogers (52) and directed by Craig Gillespie (50). It lays out the story of the life and career of figure skater Tonya Harding (47). Of special interest is the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan, Harding's rival and Olympic teammate.

Margot Robbie (27) is excellent as Tonya Harding. Exceptional, is Allison Janney (58) as LaVona Fay Golden, Harding's mother. She is the mother that could be held up to anyone who thinks their mother was not quite up to what they would have liked. She drove Tonya Harding to skate from an early age, even although her daughter was not too keen herself. For me, Allison Janney made this film, as I enjoyed her performance so much.

The sordid story is really about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan in January 1994, in Chicago. An assailant hired by Jeff Gillooly, the ex-husband of Harding, attacked Kerrigan's leg with a police baton in an effort to injure her and prevent her skating in the Olympics against Harding.
Allison Janey as LaVona Fay Golden
The film seemed designed to make the audience feel sorry for Harding because of her ghastly mother, and thus excuse her for any part she may have had in the attack. The Judge in the court case sent Harding's husband to jail, gave Harding three years probation, and fined her $100,000 for conspiring to hinder prosecution. The question we were left with was did Harding know what her husband planned to do? In the Daily Mail, January 18 2018 edition, she admits that she did hear the two men talking, and did know what they were going to do.

The film is well made and entertaining. I was interested to learn that Tonya Harding was the first American woman skater to land the triple axel jump in international competition. The jump was performed in the film, more than once, and was impressive each time. Apparently it was created by a computer.

A well-made film, and entertaining, I,Tonya is worth seeing, even if only for Allison Janney.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Golden Globes 2018

The 75th Golden Globes 2018 was staged by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, Hollywood. The stage setting was appropriate, and the atmosphere is slightly less formal than the Oscars as the audience is sitting around dinner tables. The show itself is faster, shorter, and more direct, and many people find it much more enjoyable to watch. Seth Meyers was an excellent host: pleasant and competent.

I was delighted that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won four Awards: the Best Motion Picture (Drama); Frances McDormand won Best Actress; Sam Rockwell won Best Supporting Actor; and Martin McDonagh won Best Screenplay. Guillermo del Toro won Best Director for his beautiful The Shape of Water. This film also won Best Original Score, by Alexandre Desplat. It was almost a foregone conclusion that Gary Oldman would win Best Actor for his magnificent performance as Sir Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour.

Lady Bird deservedly won the Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). Saoirise Ronan won Best Actress in that category. Allison Janey won Best Supporting Actress for her outstanding performance as Tonya's mother in I, Tonya.

This year, most of the actresses chose to wear black, and this cast a slightly sombre ambience over the event. They were expressing solidarity with those women who have recently been protesting at having been sexually molested by marauding men in high places. Perhaps they could have done so by choosing another colour, say yellow, to celebrate the fact that times are changing and the subject is now out in the open and being dealt with? The black made me think of the devastation that must have been experienced by the men whose lives were ruined simply by accusations. No trials, no defence, no Statute of Limitations?

A lot has been left unsaid about the other side of the issue. Could women be encouraged to understand the sexual nature of men more? In other words, never be alone with a male? Perhaps be encouraged to take a self-defence course? Maybe taught how to say, "No"?

Meher Tatna
A few of the ladies did wear other colours. Meher Tatna, the President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, wore a beautiful Indian dress. She had chosen it before the suggestion to wear black, and said that black to her was the colour of mourning. I thought she looked magnificent, and wished other women would follow her example and wear modest, dramatic outfits, such as this. She was elegant, not provocative. This is the choice all women have to make.

Bianco Blancot
On the other hand, what does this dress worn by Bianco Blancot say? "Come and get me, Baby!"? This serves to illustrate the fact that not all women dislike marauding men. Many women seem to enjoy flaunting their sexual attributes. It would appear that they haven't read the results of research done into the objectifying of women as sex objects. It's been found that men and women don't respect a woman wearing revealing clothing. This objectifying leads to violence against women, and the acceptance of the violence, as a result of the opinion that, "She was asking for it by the way she dressed." The majority of men and women prefer more modest dress. Perhaps young people need to be taught this: surely it would be better if everyone made their choices on how to dress based on factual research, rather than on advertising and the media.

Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B. deMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. She gave a rousing speech that had the audience roaring its approval and showed her abilities as an outstanding orator. She epitomises the American Dream. Born vastly under-privileged, with everything against her, she demonstrates that hard work, determination, and sheer courage, are rewarded in the States. Her remarks that the time of marauding males is at an end because women have learned to speak up, was greeted with a standing ovation.

The 75th Golden Globes 2018 would have been an entertaining show in itself. I find it a little off-putting that some activists seem to think it's all right to hijack some else's Show to showcase their issues. I was not one of those cheering the agitators on. On the other hand, it did make me think!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Molly's Game: Monday, January 3 2018

Molly's Game (2017) is based on the memoir by Molly Bloom (2014). It is the true story, from her point of view. Principally photographed in Toronto, Canada, it is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (56). He is an award-winning writer, of such things as A Few Good Men and The West Wing, and this is his directorial debut. It would appear that working with good directors has taught him a lot, as his direction of this film is competent and professional. I found his fast conversations as people were moving around, a little hard to follow at times. Perhaps if I knew more about Poker and the running of a Game, I would have found it easier.

Jessica Chastain (40) plays Molly Bloom with conviction. I wonder if the real Molly is always as serious as she is depicted. This is the story of a driven woman, highly intelligent and beautiful, but with no apparent sense of humour. She is an excellent business woman, in what could probably be called more of a man's world. She even gets lightly beaten up by the Russian Mob, and survives. The FBI were almost too much for her, but she managed to get out of their clutches with much less damage than might have been expected. There doesn't seem to be a lighter side to her character. This means that there is not a lighter side to the film.

Idris Elba (45) played Charlie Jaffey, Molly's defense lawyer against the FBI, extremely well. I liked him. Kevin Coster (62), as Molly's father, Larry Bloom, a clinical psychologist, played competently.

Knowing nothing about poker, or running a Game, I found it interesting that only licensed businesses are legal. Molly Bloom knew this, of course, and never charged an entrance fee for her Game. How she made money, lots of it, was by accepting tips as a "gift" from her "guests."

The film is entertaining: colourful people; splendid environments; interesting story. My film group all enjoyed it, as did I. I would have enjoyed it more if I could have felt a little more sympathetic towards Molly Bloom. I admired her for doing well in what was a man's world. She is obviously highly intelligent, beautiful, and a good businesswoman, all of which I appreciate. I just wished I liked her more! Perhaps the problem lay with the film being based too much on her book. To her, the story must be serious, but perhaps a little more objectivity might have lightened it a little. On the other hand, she didn't give out any names, and perhaps this is what she was wanting to show in her memoir. To the "Names", that would be very important.

Monday, January 1, 2018

AGO: Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

At Home with Monsters by Guillermo del Toro, showing presently at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), is an incredible exhibition. A collection of pieces from Bleak House, del Toro's home outside Los Angeles, this is the personal collection of a creative mind that sees monsters as the darker side of each one of us. He believes that we have to recognize and face this side of our inner world so that we can make peace with it.

I would agree with del Toro. I experience my raw emotions as my monsters. To deal with my monsters, I need to admit I am even feeling the emotion, name it, and understand why it is there, inside me. It may be justified, it may be an offshoot of something else other than what it first appears, For instance, I may reject someone for the demands that person makes on me, but rather than allow the emotion to destroy our relationship, perhaps I need to learn to say, "No!" Only if I turn and face the monsters of my frustration and anger, and deal with them, will I be able to prevent them from destroying me, and perhaps others.

Shape of Water Drawing
The collection ranges from the Rain Room in which del Toro does his writing, to Edgar Allan Poe, Frankenstein, the Faun and The Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth, to The Asset from The Shape of Water. There are comics, and books, and all sorts of fantastic pieces of horror. So often Art is thought of as simply beautifully painted pictures, but this show demonstrates that Art takes many forms. This drawing for the film of the same name, The Shape of Water, is beautiful Art to my eyes. There are many others, including pieces of sculpture.

The exhibition has previously shown in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, and now at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto. The recent film, The Shape of Water (2017) was filmed in Hamilton and Toronto, so Guillermo del Toro's connection to Canada is already strong. This exhibition has certainly strengthened it, as the response has been hugely positive.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Darkest Hour: Monday, 18 December 2017

Darkest Hour (2017) is a British biographical war drama, directed by Joe Wright (45) who is known for his Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Hanna (2011) and Anna Karenina (2012). I liked his direction of Darkest Hour. His is the hand of a master. The screenplay is written by Anthony McCarten (56), a New Zealander best known for his script of The Theory of Everything (2014). I loved the subtle touches of British humour that lightened the grimness of the situation facing Churchill and the British people. Both Churchill and the Brits had a sense of humour, even in such dire times. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (60) reflects the gloom that shrouded Britain, faced with invasion by the Nazis. The music by Dario Marianelli (54) is highly original, and appropriate. Altogether, Darkest Hour is the production of highly experienced professionals.

Gary Oldman (59) as Sir Winston Churchill is outstanding. He is an award-winning British actor and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. This shows in his acting. His performance as Churchill may win the Oscar for Best Actor. I can't think of any other actor who has come up to this standard this year. Kristin Scott Thomas (57) as Clementine Churchill is excellent, as are all the rest of the cast in their parts.

What I liked most about this film is that it is make so abundantly clear how desperate the situation was that Britain was facing, and how clear the choices were for Churchill. In early 1940, the British Army was being chased by the Nazis onto the beaches of Normandy where they would be massacred. Invasion of an undefended Britain was imminent. Mussolini was offering Italy's mediation in a peace treaty with Hitler. Neville Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax were pushing acceptance of lying down and surrendering, out of good motives such as sparing lives. Churchill, who was born in Blenheim Palace and was of the Dukes of Marlborough, an distinguished, aristocratic, military family, didn't want to accept failure against an enemy force, no matter how strong. He is reputed to have consulted some members of the British public who assured him that he understood that the Brits take pride in their fighting spirit. They were with him. When King George VI backed him up, Churchill made the difficult decision to fight on. The evacuation of the troops was undertaken by the British Royal Navy, the Canadian Navy and a flotilla of hundreds of little ships and boats from Britain. Around 300,000 troops were rescued, and lived to fight another day. This made a huge difference to the outcome of the war. Churchill became an inspiration to the British people and helped keep their morale high, when it needed boosting.

It's impressive that a generation of filmmakers who are too young to have experienced the Second World War first hand, should make such a moderate, balanced and accurate rendering of those times. I found Darkest Hour moved me greatly. My fighting Scottish blood says Sir Winston Churchill made the right decision. When it is considered how different life would have been for so many people had the Nazis invaded Britain, it seems difficult to think otherwise.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Shape of Water: Monday, December 11 2017

The Shape of Water (2017) is a dark fantasy, drama film. Having seen Pan's Labyrinth (2006) directed by Guillermo del Toro (53), I had to see this film. It did not disappoint.  The direction is that of a master. The screenplay is written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. Perhaps it is because it is written by a man and a women working in collaboration, the screenplay is balanced and excellent.

The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is beautiful, creating a wondrous, eerie world that is this world, yet somehow different. The music by Alexandre Desplat is haunting and lovely. Everything about this film is highly professional.

The acting is superb, and for this role as Elisa Esponsito, a mute janitor, Sally Hawkins (41) deserves to be nominated for Best Actress in the Academy Awards. She played Maudie in the film of that name (2016), which showed her acting talents.

Elisa and The Asset
Doug Jones (57) who plays The Asset, an Amphibious Man, is used to working under prosthetic makeup, having appeared as many monsters. He worked in the past with del Goro in Pan's Labyrinth. As The Asset, he is magnificent, and I could see why he is so attractive to shy Elisa. He is strange and beautiful, and loving towards her. They connect on a deep level. A true love story.

Octavia Spencer is wasted as Zelda Fuller, Elisa's friend and co-worker. She acts competently, but is capable of so much more. Michael Shannon is menacing as the cruel Colonel Richard Strickland, and Richard Jenkins as Giles, as Elisa's friend and neighbour, a closeted commercial artist, is also given too small a part for his talents. A good cast, who play their small parts well.

At the heart of this fantastical film is a fairy tale romance. With the miraculous ending, Elisa and The Asset live happily ever after. I loved it!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Monday, December 4 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) is written, produced and directed by Martin McDonagh (47). It is ranked as a black comedy, crime film.

Born in England of Irish parents, McDonagh has a full career of writing plays and films. He won an Academy Award for his first short film, Six Shooter (2004), and was nominated in the Oscars (2009) for Best Original Screenplay for In Bruges. His work has matured, and he has become a master of the craft and art of creating a film. This film is the best film I have every seen. The direction and screenplay are beyond criticism.

The cinematography of Ben Davis (56) is a joy to behold. He is best known for his work on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Dr. Strange (2016), and many other films.

The music by Carter Burwell (63) is totally appropriate and delightful. He received an Academy Award in the category of Best Original Score for Carol (2015).

The acting is incredible. Frances McDormand (60) as Mildred Hayes is Mildred Hayes. She has such an interesting face, unadorned, and revealing great integrity. She is such a strong character, standing by what she believes to be truth; unafraid of those who would prevent her speaking her mind. She is under such stress, yet she can feel for Sheriff Willoughby, played perfectly by Woody Harrelson. We see her every emotion reflected in her beautiful face. She is not a cardboard figure, simply going through the motions. McDormand has been married to Joel Coen since 1984, and won an Academy Award for Best Actress in Fargo (1996).

Woody Harrelson (56) plays the part of Sheriff Bill Willoughby with nuances. He is a multi-layered character, and a real person. Harrelson was nominated for the Academy Awards Best Actor for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). He was the barman, Woody Boyd, in the TV show, Cheers. Another not to be forgotten role was as Haymitch Abernathy in Hunger Games (2012).

Sam Rockwell (49) as Officer Jason Dixon transforms before our eyes from being a bully boy under the thumb of a domineering mother, to a more mature person. He frees himself from his mother, and becomes empathetic to others, beginning to grow up into a mature man we can like. Here is another real person, changing and developing before our eyes. He has had an extensive career in the entertainment business, and has worked with Martin McDonagh before, in his film, Seven Psychopaths (2012).

The rest of the cast is wonderfully well cast, and this world of Ebbing, Missouri, becomes a real place. This is superb film, made by consummate, award-winning professionals. On the level of their craft, they are all masters, but their craftsmanship has moved into the realm of Art.

Martin McDormagh
Many other films can be said to have been made by brilliant filmmakers. But, even more than that, is the wonderful storyline and characters Martin McDonagh has created. A film very rarely touches me greatly, but Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri had me laughing out loud, and feeling deeply moved. I loved Mildred as created by Frances McDormand. Having a daughter, I felt for her. I loved her gutsiness; I loved that she didn't just sit back and moan about her lot, she did something about it. I loved Sheriff Willoughby, and even Officer Jason Dixon. They were real people, and captured my affections. I was delighted that the film ended where a sequel can take off. McDonagh has written trilogies in the past. I can't wait for the next part to this story. Please, Martin, carry it on! So many questions need answers.

For me, this is why I consider this the most memorable film I have ever experienced. I cared! Obviously, this would be my choice for the Oscar for Best Film, Best Actress, two Best Supporting Actors and Best Screenplay at this year's Academy Awards.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lady Bird: Monday, November 20 2017

Lady Bird (2017) is the debut film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (34). She shows star quality. She is an actress, but her first love is writing, and now, directing. She does both well. I hope we see many more films by her, in a long career.

Saoirse Ronan (23), the Irish/American actress whom many will know from Brooklyn, Plays the part of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, daughter of Marion McPherson, played by Laurie Metcalf (62). Tracy Letts (52) plays Larry McPherson, the father of Christine. Jordan Rodrigues (25) plays Miguel McPherson, the brother of "Lady Bird." I assumed he was adopted as there is no way he could have been the biological son of the two parents. They had another adopted daughter, so it seems as if they might have adopted a son also. The acting is superb. The music is totally appropriate and unobtrusive.

The main theme in the film is the relationship between mother and daughter, as daughter goes through a coming of age stage in her young life. I totally related to it, as will any mothers of daughters. The person who has been a delight all her life, suddenly becomes someone different, seemingly overnight. Where before there had been a comfortable, pleasant connection, that has been broken and daughter becomes determined to have her own way in everything. If the mother understands the process, and can let her daughter become her own person, it is easier. In "Lady Bird" the mother is not too aware of what her daughter is experiencing, but is more concerned with herself. She is dogmatic, and tries to be dictatorial, which doesn't work. The father is a sympathetic figure, and helps the situation. I liked the ending of the film where "Lady Bird" becomes Christine, and grows up with a better appreciation of her mother.

Writer Director Greta Gerwig 
This is an entertaining film, with no violence, no "cause" being preached at us, no people who are so different from me I can't relate to them, no special effects. It's about ordinary people and ordinary life, but the storyline has been shaped with compassion and ends with hope. Christine is going to make something of her life, and become a mature, loving human being. She and her Mom will become friends. Simple story, but shaped as the writing experts suggest, therefore satisfying. It's a "feel good" movie.

It's impossible not to point out that this is a film made by a woman, about the lives of women, from a woman's point of view. From my point of view, this is so refreshing. I liked this film. It's sweet!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Orient Express: Monday, November 13 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is an American mystery drama film directed by Kenneth Branagh. The screenplay is by Michael Green, based on the 1934 novel of the same name, by Agatha Christie.

The original story is now dated, and there have been many films and TV shows made of it. It is a classic. This is an unique version, and it is necessary to approach it with an open mind. If you are wedded to the depiction of Hercule Poirot by David Suchet, of the TV series, you might be disappointed. Kenneth Branagh interprets the character quite differently. For one thing, he has a real, monster moustache, and for another, he isn't short and dapper.

The cast is fantastic, with Johnny Depp as Samuel Ratchett, the victim of the murder. Judi Dench is Princess Dragomiroff, and although she says hardly a word, she is an asset. Willem Dafoe plays the German professor, Gerhard Hardman, and does it so well: I really like his work. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Caroline Hubbard beautifully, and Daisy Ridley is Mary Debenham. The list goes on.

The cinematography is outstanding, and gives the train, the Orient Express, a large part in the film. There are some wonderful shots of the train wheels, and of the luxurious interiors. The scenery is also shown, with the grandeur of the mountains overwhelming the screen.

Most of my film group had forgotten the ending, which was good, as it came as a surprise. As did the reaction of Poirot to his findings. It left a good feeling of true justice having been administered, even if it weren't quite correct legally.

Kenneth Branagh directed with a sure hand. His version of this crime mystery from the hand of a master author, Agatha Christie, transports it from being an ordinary film in which the chief emphasis is on the cleverness of Poirot, and the solving of the crime itself, to what almost feels like a beautiful dance. The master director and actor has created something quite different from anything that has gone before.

When I came out of the Cineplex, my first reaction was that this is a magnificent piece of Art. It reminded me of how I felt when on my birthday, April 15 2010, I heard the Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, conduct the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for Concerto No. 1 and 2, by Sibelius. It was a magnificent performance and moved me to tears.

The Death of Socrates: Jacques-Louis David
It also reminded of when I walked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Saturday, June 16 2010, and saw in front of me "The Death of Socrates" (1787), a painting by Jacques-Louis David. Socrates is one of my most favourite philosophers, and this depiction of his choice of death over betraying his love of, and belief in, free thinking is so vivid, I love it. He is teaching to the end, as is indicated by his upheld hand. It seems to me he is asking his friends to think for themselves. Even if he wasn't politically correct, and didn't believe in the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods, we know he considered death the door into another form of life.

Great Art in all its forms, always leaves me with a feeling of delight and satisfaction. Kenneth Branagh's version of Murder on the Orient Express left me with that feeling. If the judges of the Oscars judge the Best Picture with Art in mind, as they appeared to do last year with Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins, this film ought to win.