Writing it down and weighing it up

If you want to write anything for publication or pleasure may as well get yourself a notebook or exercise book depending on how mobile you are during the day.

Using a notebook, Dictaphone, or mobile phone somehow, may be good for people on the move. For writer’s in one place most of the time, all of those ways are good, but a writer in one place may use an exercise book effectively.

The idea is to write, jot, or note down what comes to mind, your inspirations, your thoughts, that may become stories, poems, articles, and so on.

But not every idea is worth its weight in gold.

When I’m in a critical frame of mind, there are ideas I see in my external environment, or whatever ideas I’m engaging with, that I may dismiss.

But if I reviewed the product I would give it a chance.

At the end of engaging in the product I may ask myself if the idea stacked up. Even asking that question is slanted on the negative. If one has to ask it, what does that say about the product?

The lesson of that is some ideas are always going to be poor and some are going to be good.


Opportunity knocks

When I did a writing course, the tutor said to the class to ask the publisher for writer’s guidelines before one sent them a story. Don’t write the story and send it without reading the guidelines first, in other words. So, that’s what I did this week.

There are no online guidelines to access with the publisher I am interested in writing for so I sent them an email. An editor came back to me by email a few days later with some positive feedback. He would be interested in seeing some samples of my devotional writing. Opportunity knocks.

Unrelenting but also inspiring

Filmmakers have endeavored to capture this man on celluloid since the silent era of film, but Jesus might be one of the hardest historical figures to film.

The Passion of the Christ (2004) co-writer and director Mel Gibson portrays Jesus, played by Jim Caviezel, in his anguish and torment, in an unrelenting portrayal of Jesus’ Roman crucifixion which doesn’t hold back any punches.

From the beginning of the film, as Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is agonizing over God’s will, but Jesus’ obedience to the will of God will lead him to the cross of crucifixion in its unrelenting ‘passion’, a grueling two hours for the viewer.

Jesus’ agonized facial expressions, as portrayed by Jim Caviezel, elevates the intensity of the moment in Gethsemane. Then, Judas betrays him and gives him over to his enemies to be crucified.

Dialogue in Latin, albeit unhistorical, and Aramaic, adds flavor (and subtitled in English) and space has been made to digress from a verbatim retelling of the gospel in the aid of drama.

But the effect is, at times, overdone, with showy slow-motion camera movements, intended to revere Jesus while it’s also violent.

The relationship between Mary and Jesus is sincere. The flashbacks to Jesus’ life in ministering to the needs of others makes a striking contradiction from many scenes of his torture–why such horror for such a good character? Jesus’ taking on the burden of humanity sins is the supernatural and theological substance Gibson doesn’t elaborate on too much.

The brutish Roman guards make the scourging look realistic. The scene eventually climaxes in an emotional crescendo—when the violence becomes too much for this viewer, an eventual bogging down in excessive violence, a violence that is hinted at right at the start with the quotation from Isaiah the prophet, that hints at yet another blood fest from the director of Braveheart.

Yet, The Passion of the Christ is an emotional roller-coaster. It can reach a haunting tone and moments that tear at the heart, but there’s also a hint of inspiration. There are moments that make us sympathize with Jesus and we see his selflessness. While one shouldn’t sacrifice one’s life as Jesus literally did, The Passion of the Christ challenges us in our own contexts to endure the pain of putting to death selfish actions and inactions.

The Passion of the Christ (2004) ***½ Revised version of review, original published Entertainmentnutz.com, 2004. Starring: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Francesco Cabras, Rosalinda Celentano, Claudia Gerini, Ivano Marescotti, Matt Patresi, Sergio Rubini. Screenwriter: Ben Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson. Director: Mel Gibson.

Looking closer

On the writing journey, there is at least one thing a writer can do to improve their work. It is to look closer at how they are putting something. Instinct to write is compelling, and then excitedly submit the work. The piece sounds okay or good, but look closer. Thinking twice can improve the piece no ends. Looking for ways to make the piece more interesting and compelling.

A time to cast away

A few months ago I wrote several devotions. They were intended for a publication I had in mind. After I wrote them, I waited. One may wait. How the writing sounds one moment may sound completely different two months later. Which means in two or three months (or a matter of weeks in other cases) that writing may be taken to the cleaners or it’s perfect as it is.

A good thing about waiting is that one can see the writing with fresh eyes later on. I hadn’t rushed ahead and submitted the writing straight away. And I realized, after letting the writing “marinate” for months later, that these devotions should be cast aside, put almost in the recycle bin, but not quite, because that would be disrespectful. So, I placed the devotions in another folder, to never see the light of day again.


A rich, but also bleak, drama

The Color Purple (1985) is based on Alice Walker’s diary-formatted novel, about life for African Americans during the early 1900s in the American South. It is well translated to the screen.

It begins with teenager Celie giving birth to twins, their father is Celie’s father.

When she is older, Celie becomes the housewife of Albert (Danny Glover), who needs her to look after his household chores. Though Albert would sooner have married Celie’s sister Nettie because she is more attractive.

Celie, they say, is ugly, but knows how to work hard, and Nettie isn’t for “sale”.
A hard thing for Celie to take is when Nettie is visiting Celie and she’s thrown out of Albert’s house. The separation of the close bound sisters is raw.

The hard life abounds in The Color Purple. When I looked closely at the first half, it is bleak. Manhood and masculinity are equated with aggression and abuse to show who’s boss, but it leaves the women in their lives hurting and fighting for survival. Inter-generational sins of the fathers come down to visit the sons.

It’s not an easy watch in the first half, but shows people doing the best they can in a difficult world. This is someone’s story. This is real. But what’s inflicted on others is still unacceptable.

The meaning of ‘purple’, an intermediately colour between the colds of blue and the hots of red, sums up the first half. Life can be ‘blue’ or ‘red’, but in between is how one copes, it’s not flash, but somehow one gets through. It’s the ‘colour purple’.

But the second half is transcendent. Here’s the theme of having enough and confronting the abuse. Here’s taking a stand, here’s finding redemption. It’s also about coming to terms with God in their almost hopeless world.

As well, the second half broadens the scope of the film, to how black and white interact. Sofia, played with spunk and fire by Oprah Winfrey, comes out worse for ware, in her interactions with whites, but Sofia is not one that is easily walked over.

The Color Purple is rich in characters, performances, and delivers a redemptive story, but it also has bleak parts.

Whoopi Goldberg as Celie is outstanding in her subtle and nuanced delivery, Danny Glover is, as always, convincing, playing Albert, Celie’s husband by arrangement.

Great support comes in all directions, especially Margaret Avery as a singer who shows Celie affection for the first time and Oprah Winfrey storms her way through her role like a powerhouse.

The Color Purple (1985) **** Starring: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey. Director: Steven Spielberg. Warnings: a profanity, domestic violence, and sexual situations.

Great start to new Star Wars trilogy

Luke Skywalker has vanished, the Empire has crumbled, and from its ashes cometh the First Order. The Resistance is fighting back.

The previous trilogy with the centrality of the Skywalker hero and the shadow of the insidious Empire has come and gone.

Enter the new in Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens (2015), the next episode in the continuation of the Star Wars series, just over thirty years since Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi.

However, there are remnants of the former trilogy that appear on screen. Luke Skywalker isn’t fully absent and Han Solo and Leia return. Chewbacca, C3-PO and R2-D2 are still here.

Even Darth Vader gets a vague reference although he died in the earlier film.

The freshness of the new film is referenced when the evil Imperial leader Snoke tells his right-hand man Kylo Ren he senses an awakening in the Force, the New Age-like mystical energy that surrounds and binds everything. Something is anticipated or brooding on the horizon which isn’t made fully clear, yet.

It makes one hanker for what’s going to happen more than the old although one can’t resist seeing the old come and do their stuff.

The new characters hit the spot. Daisy Ridley plays a tough scavenger whose instincts are to survive and gets involved in the fight against the First Order; John Boyega as a defective Imperial trooper has over-the-top charm; Oscar Issac plays a Resistance fighter obviously on the side of integrity. A new droid has spunk.

Having a villain as menacing as Darth Vader would be a feat, but Kylo Ren just about comes close. Adam Driver is mostly masked throughout the film, but as Ren his voice conveys fear that will send shivers through your spine and with the first sequence of mindless violence the First Order is palpably scary.

The bare bones of the story is finding Luke Skywalker who has vanished. The First Order want this “last Jedi” eliminated, but the Resistance need him back on their team.

It’s a fresh Star Wars film, with a few new story revelations, but like other Star Wars films that have a clear good versus evil thread. In this one, the meat in-between is engrossing and the production values top notch.

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens (2015) ****½ Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Director: J.J. Abrams.

Out of Africa sweeps one up

Thematically, Out of Africa (1985) has got some interesting points, of one’s place and connection in the world in spite of the transient nature of life, seeing the life God intended although the world is imperfect, and the small details of life carrying some significance for good or ill. A bit of a smorgasbord of ideas, a bit of a mix and pick, but the ideas connect to the central story.

Out of Africa is based on real people and fictionalized for dramatic effect, Danish baroness Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) moves to colonial Kenya and marries her best friend there, Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer). There is a strain in her marriage as Bror has infidelities coming left, right and centre despite them trying to make a go of a coffee plantation in the African country.

Enter big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). Ever so gently a romance develops after Blixen’s divorce from Bror.

The spectrum of events like these can make one question one’s place in the world, question if the events are ominous or good, and somehow get back to the life God intended. Ambiguous and lucid but getting through the fog to find a meaningful life.

Meryl Streep had two acting Oscars already on her mantelpiece before she filmed Out of Africa. When the Oscar nominations came out in 1986, she was nominated for her role as Karen Blixen. She didn’t win and didn’t win again for another 26 years when she got another one for The Iron Lady in 2012. But some may say that the field was so good in 1986 that they all deserved the Oscar.

The beauty of Meryl Streep’s performance as Karen Blixen is that she consumes her role as if disappearing in it, which many say is what Meryl Streep tends to do. Streep may be the best thing in Out of Africa but there are other reasons to admire it as a movie.

Streep consumes her role as Blixen, but when she’s with Redford and he’s putting on the charisma, you start to think, oh, he’s a star and so is she. Redford has that effect on occasion, but mostly you wouldn’t notice.

There’s a slow burning romance between the main characters. Finch Hatton takes Karen Blixen on his plane–some magnificent aerial photography showcases the romance of the African landscape. By then it’s more than a date, not that dates figure in this film’s world.

I’m not commending the moral flaws in this film, such as the infidelities, the divorce, and the romance with another man, but Streep’s wonderful performance, and Brandauer’s too, the production’s handsomeness, the literate sweep from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke (based on the writings of Karen Blixen), the detail and well-developed characters, are all on the flip side. There are few lulls. I was taken into this movie’s cocoon. A tremendous effort, a film that’s focused and follows through on what’s been established, and a film of poetry, nuance and detail, delivered with a return on the viewer.

Out of Africa (1985) ****½ Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer. Director: Sydney Pollock.

Research can get done, but before it does, read for leisure as well as research

If your too focussed on your research, it can drain rather than sustain.

Research may start off promising and enthusiastically especially if one likes the subject.

If one is interested and engrossed in research at work, it’s a bonus, rather than researching something you don’t care about but it pays the bills. However, if one can apply their brains to something then researching any subject may at least be interesting…yet some subjects are just boring depending on who you are.

Personal research or research done on one’s esteem rather than a boring subject done for work is done with a lot of enthusiasm.

But if you start focussing on your purpose for this fun research, like I do, it can drain the life out of the research and it starts bogging you down. It is no longer fun.

A solution is to take a break for a while and read for leisure like one would normally do. Reading for leisure is important as it relaxes the brain.

If your fun research becomes a trudge through mud, get back to basics and read something for leisure rather than concentrating on your purpose. Focusing on your purpose can drain the life out of your research, so take five. Even start reading the same thing but for leisure.

It sounds funny to research for fun, but one’s interests can take one there like learning about your family history.

In terms of personal or fun research, it is also important to stick with your original research plan and not give up – done in stages rather than in one bout. It can get done.