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Film Review of Beautiful Boy (2018)

Most of my short film reviews look at great classic films. This movie is different in that it received a mixed reception when it was released in 2018. On Rotten Tomatoes , the aggregated rating for Beautiful Boy is only 67% and some of the reviews are scathing.  The low score for this movie is something of a puzzle. The film offers good acting by rising star Timothee Chalamet , reliable Steve Carell , and excellent supporting actors such as Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan . It is well-made and has moments of poignancy and intensity. Beautiful Boy is based on separate memoirs written by David Sheff , the father in the story and Nic Sheff , the son. The film reflects some of the limitations of personal memoirs written at a young age or a narrow point of view, but within the given framework the film is well-written. Beautiful Boy tells the story of a father-son relationship during a time when son Nic (Timothy Chalamet) is in his late teens and early twenties and addicted to drugs. They are cl

Easy ways to bank like a pro

Most Canadians do banking exactly the way they are told by the bankers. This a mistake. Let’s do better. Here’s why. “No Soup for You!” Years ago, I was working at a bank branch one sunny summer afternoon. A man came in with a couple of wriggly, little kids in tow. He filled out one of those withdrawal slips that oldtimers may remember. The young father waited patiently in line while struggling to maintain order, gradually making his way up to our bank teller. Finally, he arrived and exchanged the usual pleasantries to the smiling teller. He presented his withdrawal slip. The teller began doing some banking magic on the computer terminal. There was a hesitation and then a frown. Then a polite, nervous smile. The manager was called. The manager did a little more magic on the computer terminal. Now the branch manager was frowning. Everyone was frowning, even the two small children who had been busy with other business were frowning. Finally, the verdict was brought in. There was a probl

Review of Film 'They Came to Play'

  This is a quiet, beautiful documentary film (2008) about some nice people who like to play the piano. From various places in the United States and a few other parts of the world, these adults enter an amateur Piano Competition sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation in 2007. The film patiently introduces us to a number of the contestants in their homes as they prepare. We meet their families, see their lives and work, and hear their great love for music. Predictably, most belong to the comfortable social classes. Two are physicians. Drew Mays is a handsome Birmingham, Alabama ophthalmologist with a charming accent, a beautiful home, and a delightful and supportive family. His small children are wonderful. Henri Robert Delbeau is a more complex character and an internal medicine specialist from Long Island. Not all the characters in the film are from the comfortable classes. One is a recovering addict and another is an AIDS patient, but mostly these are people who appear to live p

Gambling that a vaccine will be discovered before the money runs out

  We should be deeply disappointed at the feeble political response to Covid. Little payments here and there (adding up to many billions in aggregate) do little but temporarily prevent people from being turned into the streets and starving. What we urgently need is a wartime economy, intended to last until a vaccine is widely distributed: close non-essential services, repatriate essential industries (back to Canada), transition people into new ways of life and lines of work, and infrastructure projects that absorb displaced workers. Most of the middle class still enjoy the rivers of money that flow from government and corporate accounts. So our politicians and bureaucrats don't feel an urgency for making large-scale change. Will these rivers of money run dry if things continue as they are? Our leaders are gambling that the poor can be ignored and the middle and upper classes can be placated until good times return.

Getting the best mortgage financing for your first home

Most Canadians do not give this much of a thought. They go down to their local bank branch, apply, and are pleased when they are approved for a mortgage. The Canadian retail banking system is designed to make you feel safe and comfortable.   You can do better. For example, the default setting is a five-year mortgage term. This might be right for you. Or it might not be. You could belong to a large percentage of people who will need to make changes in less than five years. This could involve expensive penalties. On the other hand, you might choose a one year term. You will need to requalify for a renewal or new mortgage at the end of the year. This might not be convenient if your employment circumstances change. A standardized approach works if you live a standardized life. Speak to a mortgage broker . This person probably has more experience than you do or the person who is waiting to greet you down at the bank branch. Usually, the mortgage broker’s service is free to you. There are ma

Revisiting a Classic Film: My Left Foot

From a distance of more than forty years, I remember finding a well-used paperback on a shelf when I was 12 or 13. It had probably come from one of Toronto’s dusty used book shops (the modern shops are not nearly so dusty as the old ones were!). These have mostly disappeared from streets like Queen and King and Dundas and Bloor. You would walk into one of these overheated shops on a cold, winter day and inevitably there would be an eccentric character wrapped in an ancient scarf and sweater behind the till. You may have been hard up and hard done by but for only a pittance, you could buy some pages of escape.    That paperback was Christy Brown’s autobiography, My Left Foot . In just a page or two, I found myself immersed in a rough and tumble world of Dublin’s working-class men and women. I liked them immediately. The Browns were a family of fifteen. Da was a bricklayer and Ma was the loving life force that held it all together. There were children everywhere in a crowded house and

How to Give Financial Advice on Buying a Home

  As a financial professional, you are more objective and knowledgeable about financial matters than most people. However, there is a line to walk. You do not want to give the impression that you know everything because you don’t. You also do not want to be the one who knows a lot but never helps anyone. When someone is purchasing a home, here is how to give solid advice without overstepping. First, suggest they begin saving early. They will need a downpayment. Do not be specific about what downpayment they will need. This will vary. The smallest downpayment possible is 5%, but this does not apply to everyone or to every property. The average Toronto home price in September 2020 is 1 million dollars, but you know how averages work. Suggest they speak to a mortgage professional who can help with specifics.  Be sure to tell them to put their whole downpayment in a single accessible Canadian bank account. Regular automatic deposits to this bank account are a good way to go. Along with the

Brief Review of a Classic: Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery

Booker T. Washington (1856? - 1915) was born into slavery and rose to become one of the most prominent American public figures and intellectuals of his time. Washington lived and worked in a straight line - he committed his career to the school he was instrumental in founding, Alabama’s famed Tuskegee Institute . Building up the school and his fund-raising meetings and speeches took him to the power and wealth centres of the East Coast of the United States where he earned a reputation for fine oratory and reasonable, responsible views by the standards of influential persons of his day. Perhaps it was unavoidable that such a prominent African-American would be a controversial figure in his day as well as our time. In some of his talks and writing, he appeared to favour segregation. Some of his audience might have thought he favoured training in manual labour rather than intellectual education for professional careers. He seemed to design his public presentations for white audiences and

2020 Financial Lessons for Kids

  Our kids are living through times, unlike anything that we have ever experienced. They have been home from school for a half-year. They have been told to wear masks because everyone around them might have cooties. There are questions about how society and the economy will unfold over the coming years.  Those who are children today will face new financial opportunities and challenges that we can only begin to anticipate. We are tempted to normalize and behave as if things will continue as usual, even while the world is undergoing radical change. We want the kids to be safe and secure, but the best way to do this is to prepare them for the world as it is and as it will be. In Canada, the most secure jobs in 2020 are with governments, particularly health care. Will this continue as governments engage in massive deficit spending that will require decades of debt repayment? What about university education? Will this continue to be the most reliable path to middle and upper-class financial

Review of Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It Every Time

Maria Konnikova’s book is a lively and educational read. With a series of expertly-told stories, the writer takes us into the world of ‘con games’. Konnikova opens with a story that has the bonus of Canadian content. Ferdinand Waldo Demara , without a medical degree, assumes the role of a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy. One afternoon, a rickety boat pulls up alongside the HMCS Cayuga. The Korean War is underway and the boat is packed with young men who were caught in an ambush. Under the pseudonym, Dr. Joseph Cyr, Demara takes charge of the messy bullet and shrapnel wounds. Somehow, over the following 48 hours, Demara fakes his way through nineteen surgeries. He has the help of a field guide he had persuaded a physician back in Ontario to create “for the troops” in the event a doctor wasn’t readily available. With all the publicity that accompanied this heroic day, Demara is discovered by the real Dr. Joseph Cyr who had known him in a different disguise, Brother John Pa