Good enough documentary for even non-fans of Star Wars

The actors in Elstree 1976 (2016) say having a small role in Star Wars changes people’s perceptions. “Were you in Star Wars?” someone says. They want to know more.

Signing autographs at fan conventions is quite a lucrative consequence of being in Star Wars. In Elstree 1976, the actors playing the smaller parts are presented as people and more than their parts.

If Star Wars fascinates one, and even if it doesn’t, Elstree 1976 provides interesting stories and colourful personalities behind some of the smaller roles in the first released Star Wars film.

For a movie with a studio in its title, it is not a chronicle of what happened during studio shooting.

Studio filming was done at Elstree Studios, but the documentary also mentions moments around the filming of some of the Tatooine scenes in Tunisia.

It features the actors behind some small roles in Star Wars. As well as bit parts and extras, some of which many have never heard of apart from the fans who know the ins and outs.

David Prowse is the most well-known as he was the man in the suit of Darth Vader.

They talk about life before, during and after the filming of the first Star Wars film. Interview questions are rarely present in a lucid presentation of faces, voices, personalities, and words, which makes for a colourful film experience.

What they say is always interesting, such as comments about how the film industry works. The detail is fascinating.

It’s interspersed with footage of the film, still photos, the actors in real life settings, their other work in television and film, and even their personal lives.

Will it just interest Star Wars fans? It should interest those who are already interested, emotionally attached, or were or are fans of the Star Wars films. It should also be interesting to others.

One of the actors said that 25 per-cent of the world have seen Star Wars.

Not all of those will see this documentary, but it’s good enough for even those remotely interested.

Elstree 1976 (2016) ****½ Featuring: Paul Blake, Jeremey Bulloch, Garrick Hagon, Derek Lyons, Angus MacInnes, David Prowse, Pam Rose, John Chapman, Anthony Forrest, Laurie Goode. Director/Writer: Jon Spira


A writer’s state of mind on a grey day

Bad days are gone, grey days instead. In the grey days there’s a sliver of hope.

The day may be grey. A rejection letter that sounded like a gentle let down. A letter from the editor that while the piece hasn’t been accepted, it’s on the short list. Tiny bits of encouragement woven in.

With that little bit of encouragement, one is encouraged to do more. There may be encouragement in a letter from the editor. The letter may be a rejection, but although this sounds funny, there’s the bit in the letter that says try again, send another one, and see how it goes.

The letter may say your piece is on the short list and the bit of encouragement is to feel free to submit something else in the meantime. That could be two pieces that get published or more.

So, with this encouragement one starts to conceive fanciful ideas. What will my next piece be about? How should I write it? Better be careful in writing it properly. It gives one a bit of hope that the next time the editor sends you an email, it may be good news. It gives you the steam to write something else.

Ambitious film does get a sense of tragedy over

In sum, Bitter Harvest (2017) is a dullish movie, but memorable for its theme, which by the end has an effect. As they say, only a stony heart would not be moved.

There are apparently other voices which question the validity of the history propounded in this film. But I don’t doubt the potential of human beings to do evil things, which is treated as a tragedy in Bitter Harvest.

The film is a depiction of the Ukraine facing the imposition of what became known as Stalin’s death-by-starvation campaign in the 1930’s. The country is forced to submit to Stalin’s territorial plans which inadvertently caused poverty and starvation.

Resist Yuri (Max Irons) does, even as he and his girlfriend Natalka (Samantha Barks) are apart. Central to proceedings is this love story – which is the anthesis of the Soviet plans in the Ukraine –and is a welcome change of pace to the official line that caused suffering in the region.

As things unfold, as Yuri and his friends attempt escape and save their families, it is a plod, though. Terrence Stamp and Barry Pepper add a dash of distinction to the cast. The rest of the cast doesn’t provide the powerful performances demanded by the material.

The impish production scale does not fit the film’s thematic and story ambitions, but on one level the tragedy that unfolds may have an effect, though epic or something of scale the film isn’t.

It doesn’t go into much graphic detail over what happened, but that wouldn’t have improved the film anyway. Even if action added vigour to proceedings that may not have fitted in with the intentions – that of highlighting injustice.

Certainly, some filmmakers can create empathy out of action or violence done in such and such a manner, where there’s a sense of tragedy about the violence. But Bitter Harvest is no Schindler’s List and going by what’s here, perhaps the material outshines the abilities of the filmmakers and the size of the budget.

Bitter Harvest is certainly no epic, but it is well-meaning and worthwhile as it takes a pointed stand against genocide. If you take the film seriously, considering it’s about genocide, it should have the effect of sad resignation over what’s happened and the frustrating inability to have changed it.

Bitter Harvest (2017) *** Starring: Max Irons, Samantha Barks, Terrence Stamp, Barry Pepper. Director: George Mendeluk. From a story by Richard Bachynsky Hoover. Screenplay by George Mendeluk and Richard Bachynsky Hoover. Warnings—Rated R for violence and disturbing images.

Not Mozart the musical, but it does contain Mozart’s music

This is not a musical about the legendary Mozart, the man who brought the world the ‘divine’ operas The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, and Don Giovanni, among others, but which are recreated in part in Amadeus (1984).

I know that some people liked the musical episodes in this film more than the story, but I am not in that camp. I appreciated the music, but enjoyed the story, the production and performances more.

It is no straightforward, sentimentalized bio-pic of the musical genius, who wrote his first symphony at age five (a fact which I forever remember in the extended remix of Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus.). Perhaps some inspiration could be leveraged from his life, but not in this film.

Amadeus is fiction, based on the play by Anthony Shaffer, that takes liberties about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and imagines his descent at the hands of another Austrian composer, who in history perhaps had a good relationship with Mozart.

This man, Salieri, is fictionalized as a rival in the film, who appears friendly and well-mannered but seethes with jealousy at Mozart’s better abilities and gifts in music.

Salieri was also disillusioned by Mozart because of his appetite for the seamier side of life, which according to this film was Mozart’s crude, rude and unconventional side, but Mozart’s music held a rare purity of sound, beauty, and skill, which came naturally to Mozart, a fact that confused and infuriated Salieri.

Salieri plotted Mozart’s downfall in a silently brooding and calculated effort to swipe the man of genius from his pedestal and put this “trained monkey” in his place.

Cold hearted snake Salieri was, his obsession to be the best consumed him though he would never reach Mozart’s heights. His confession to a priest comes after his suicide attempt, because of his guilt at doing the unthinkable, to rid the world of Mozart and another human being.

Yet his music is what Salieri connects with. It is flawless and remarkably skilled yet triggers Salieri’s base instincts, instincts which have nothing to do with Mozart’s music, but with Salieri’s nature.

In the end, from a bird’s eye view, God who bestows the gifts has no favorites.
This was my first serious film that I really appreciated—so have a special place in my heart for it.

Salieri’s (F. Murray Abraham) confession of jealousy and revenge to a Catholic priest frames the drama. It takes a while for Salieri to unleash his “demons”—in a sophisticated plot to kill Mozart (Tom Hulce) involving the ‘ghostly’ presence of Mozart’s overbearing father and the naïve complicity of Mozart’s wife (Elizabeth Berridge) who is susceptible to Salieri’s good manners.

Salieri’s passions had been simmering underneath for a good hour-and-so into the film during which Amadeus may be faulted at being too literary minded. However, Amadeus works, and production values and musical episodes are done to the hilt.

Revised version, original published, 2000. Amadeus (1984) ****½ Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge. Director: Milos Forman.


Reading for leisure

Plowing through reading a book as your primary research is easier than going the hard lengths of internet and library research.

My research was quite simple, so I bypassed the rigors of thorough research. My research was all done for fun by simply reading a book.

If you’re researching for fun, I mean, you’re not being paid, and it is a labor of love, there is also the pains of labour in it. Which means it is no longer fun.

So, there’s a time to make fun actually fun: read the book for leisure instead.

Just reading for leisure, without taking notes, sounded so much better.

So I spent a little time reading the same book I read for research and read it for leisure. I didn’t regret it.

Myth is the attraction of this fantasy

I have a soft spot for Krull (1983). It was critically maligned, and didn’t do big business at the box office, but the attraction of Krull for me is its purity. It’s centre of gravity is in the good, a substance somehow invisible, but tangible, and which energizes.

Krull is not the most professional piece of filmmaking, but it does have at its core the power of a good myth.

Mythical tones

Krull is like a combination of Excalibur and Star Wars, where medieval meets science fiction fantasy.

The planet of Krull has the hallmarks of a medieval setting, with lush country side, mountains, and desolate areas such as caves and craggy rock faces.

There’s armoury on the Slayers, riders on horseback, castles, kings, queens, princes and opposing tribes.

In terms of the influences of a film like Star Wars on Krull, there are laser weapons, a wise old man, a hero and a princess, and the influence of evil.

Good attempts to save the day.

The prince searches for a mysterious, powerful weapon, like the lightsabre that Luke Skywalker used, to destroy the beast.

It is also a myth of peculiar charm. It has its own lines of wisdom, philosophy, and ways, that make it peculiarly Krull.

The story of Krull

The story goes that a wicked beast roams the galaxy, seeking whom it may devour, with domination on its mind. The beast can change at will, and even appear to look good.

“There is no love in it,” says the film’s princess. This beast is a cold-hearted snake.

The beast lands on the planet Krull in a fortress. The beast’s soldiers, the Slayers, ransack a castle, leaving a prince wounded and his princess captured. With the assistance of a wise old man, the prince goes in search of his princess—who has been taken to the beast’s fortress—to bring her back, as well as destroy the beast. With the prince come a crew of supporters, one played by a young Liam Neeson, and another played by a young Robbie Coltrane.

The fighting scenes are a bit tinny. Krull is not perfect. But it’s still has that invisible touch. A wise and disenchanted widow, surrounded by a giant spider’s web, whose name only one knows, may be familiar, but its wrapped up in Krull’s invisible touch. The power of its myth is optimistic, positive, and restorative. With the rousing James Horner score, it’s stirring.

Krull (1983) ***½ Starring: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Alun Armstrong, David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw. Writer: Stanford Sherman. Director: Peter Yates

Judge not the theme of this murder mystery drama

The investigative murder mystery A Soldier’s Story (1984) comes around to a profound maxim that ricochets thematically through the entire story: who are you to judge your brother? Do not judge wouldn’t seem to be the point considering an investigator is sent to identify who killed a sergeant, but the theme of crime and punishment is juxtaposed with the human story and a sense of brotherly love that goes deep.

It is bonding between brothers in a close-knit military unit and baseball team, in Louisiana, 1944. But the unit’s sergeant causes them grief. He is murdered although there is no hint of foul play in the unit.

An investigator is put into the case. Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.), a black lawyer, is assigned from Washington D.C, to find out who killed the sergeant.

The unit co-operates, but the white folk of the town may not accept an African American man investigating the shooting of a black man. They think a white man may get unfairly pinned as the culprit.

The self-confident Davenport stands his ground to do the job he is assigned. Davenport says he is about the facts, but even he appears to hold a sense of suspicion about who did it. Essentially, he’s fair, even when the prevailing racist attitudes of the community may cause him to think a white man may have done it.

The events around the murder of Sergeant Waters (Adolph Caesar) unfolds in interviews and conversations with the unit’s men. They are dramatized in flashback.

As that unfolds, the murder victim is boozy, good-hearted, and a spit and polish kind of sergeant and becomes a clear-as-crystal character.

Waters demeaning attitude towards some of his men rubs them the wrong way setting up a potential showdown between brothers and a possible motive for murder.

It ends up a worthwhile story as it makes one think about the humanity of characters one may not side with.

A Soldier’s Story (1984) wasn’t the frontrunner to win Best Picture at the 1985 Oscars. With Places in the Heart it was an also-ran. A Soldier’s Story didn’t win the Best Picture category in the end. It shows on a purely superficial level. It’s no epic, it’s not highly visual, it’s not indulgent, and it’s not an obviously cinematic film. It was based on a play.

Nevertheless, this who-done-it murder mystery is good dramatic entertainment. It is buoyant but more than juxtaposed by a deep seriousness. There’s some dirty language and mild profanity, but director Norman Jewison’s efforts behind the camera shows skill has gone into making this film, it’s engaging, and all the performances, especially Howard Rollins as the airily confident investigator, are excellent.

A Soldier’s Story (1984) ****½ Starring: Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, Larry Riley, Denzel Washington, Scott Paulin. Director: Norman Jewison.

Stan (2018) by Stan Walker

I have never been a follower of New Zealand singer Stan Walker, but his most personal album to date is worth a listen. Walker has released a short album, an EP, a nice collection of six songs, coming after his ill health. The songs strike a different tempo than what he’s done before. It sounds like a lite version of Justin Bieber’s Purpose, with that kind of ambiance and echo, but mixes this sound around quite a bit. There’s variety, with songs about struggle and real life, relationship and loved ones, one in the Maori language, and a heartfelt spiritual song about his relationship with the Lord that’s breathtaking (‘I Surrender’). One can’t help but think that the subjects of his songs have something to do with his personal experiences, but I don’t know. Whatever the reason for the songs, Stan Walker is telling it from the heart. “Stan” is simple but not simplistic and layered in something deep that resonates through his vocals. A quiet pop album, but reaching greater heights than your average. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Not easy

It is not an easy road getting published, but I had some good news about a month ago that a meditation I submitted to a journal is being seriously considered. It has passed the “first round” or phase one and is on the short list as it was. The outcome, I’ve been told, will take quite a while, which goes to show how rigorous getting selected for publication can be. Not easy. Many other devotional pieces are in the same boat, but only a few survive.