A moment of clarity

There’s nothing like the feeling of relief when you know you’re done and dusted on something that had been following you around like an obsessive fan. But then you’re done with it–one can put that side of writing aside–and focus on what goes better. You juts know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that side of writing is not the way to go. So, out it goes, and in goes what’s going to work better. In fact, it’s so major that it’s sheer peace to know it’s over.


Invisible Touch (1986) by Genesis

Genesis’ 1986 pop rock album Invisible Touch is musically half an infectious album, the second half puts it out of whack, just a bit. Interesting, in-depth, not superficial lyrics about the subtleties and intricacies of love and commitment, In Too Deep standing out, and Land of Confusion challenging apathy and the status quo. But on second thoughts there is not much light in the album’s songs. It’s kept on my shelf because it connects with the human condition and the infectious songs that open the album–Invisible Touch; Tonight, Tonight, Tonight; Land of Confusion; and, In Too Deep, with Throwing It all Away the highlight towards the end of the album.

Pretty obvious stuff really

I love researching for the sake of it, to dwell on and absorb knowledge, but whenever a writer wants to apply research, one should know what it’s useful for before starting. Is it for a book? Is it to learn something to pass onto your readers? Pretty obvious stuff really. The trick is knowing why?

Maybe research for fun, full stop, no more than that. Become not a know-it-all, but useful in some regard that you never thought about before. Research for fun may come in handy somehow.

Painstakingly effective

This is a movie that flew under the radar. For one thing, it’s very long. The production design is mostly indoors, which may be too wooden for some tastes, and the costumes from the 1800’s, with only the occasional flare for cinematic storytelling. Despite the pitfalls, it’s not gratingly so. Although the dialogue and interactions are more or less so sophisticated and may require one’s full concentration, Little Dorrit (1987) is involving.

It is impressive in terms of the scale of the storytelling despite the setting limitations. In Little Dorrit, famed English actor Alec Guinness plays William Dorrit, the gentlemanly head of a debtor’s prison in Victorian England. He sweeps visitors up in conversation and is the object of adoration of her daughter Amy, otherwise called Little Dorrit. One has a certain amount of sympathy for William Dorrit, as the story sides with him, especially evident in the final scenes which are breathtakingly good and highlight the divide between rich and poor.

It’s all based on Charles Dickens reportedly satirical novel about being rich and poor in Victorian society. Part one—the three hour It’s Nobody’s Fault—is seen through the eyes of Arthur Clennam (Derek Jacobi), who becomes involved with the business of William Dorrit (Alec Guinness). William’s daughter Little Dorrit (Sarah Pickering) is the seamstress of Clennam’s mother to earn a crust. Clennam aims to help them get out of the debtor’s prison with the help of a lawyer.

Part two is much the same storyline as part one, but told through the ‘eyes’ of Little Dorrit (or Amy). Scene after scene is framed to see the second half through the perspective of Little Dorrit. One finds respect for her, her kindness, genuineness, good manners and even temperament standing out, which made quite an impression.

I loved the cast and characters. With a sprawling cast, Little Dorrit is filled with good performances and interesting characters. As Clennam, Derek Jacobi exudes a youthful air. Clennam’s fineness and reserve is the surface but he is secretly in love. Clennam’s also impeccably generous which reveals nobility.

As Cleenam’s mother, Joan Greenwood is frightfully straightforward. Her reading of the Bible is of a punitive passage in the book of the prophets at exactly eight o’clock and no bible context is given. With her bubbly personality and effervescence in a reserved society, Miriam Margolyes as Flora Finching stands out in the sense that she seems out of place, but in a good way.

Roshan Seth’s exuberance is catching, his cockney accent a change of pace from his refinement in Gandhi and a villain’s off-colour charm in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The actual logistics of undertaking a film told from two character’s perspectives would be painstaking to produce, but effective and very satisfying.

Little Dorrit (1987) ****½ Starring: Derek Jacobi, Sarah Pickering, Alec Guinness, Roshan Seth. Writer/Director: Christine Edzard. Running time: About six hours.

Liking serials not a fine science

I love the idea of a serial of books, the epical feel of a serial.

A serial is about the same characters in a long or short series of adventures. Even if the number of books is overwhelming, a serial’s “aura” attracts one to the whole package irrespective of how long it takes to read each book in a serial.

What is this apparent “aura”? What makes one buy a particular serial and read one book after another until the serial is finished, and then there is another book in the serial coming out to look forward to? Is it the cover of the first part? Or is it the covers of all the parts with a distinctive signature look? Is it the look of a character’s face? A special effect, perhaps? Or is it the title, like “The Adventures of Saint and the Leopard and the…” and so on. Perhaps something bizarre?

In the end it comes down to how one connects to the product and this is not a fine art or a fine science. It just happens.

I had a whole slew of Hardy Boys books. But I didn’t read them. The impression is what counted in this case. The appearances counted even as the reading of them didn’t. The mystique or “aura” of the serial mattered even as the series of book remained on the book shelf, unread. However, one can sit down and just read it, some day. To take the plunge. But whatever it was like reading it, serials will always remain mysteriously etched on my mind as something special.

Frantz: the effects of guilt, what guilt does to people and finding forgiveness

This one stood out on a glance so I got around to seeing it, at last.

A young woman’s fiancé died in battle during World War I. The grieving woman Anna is drawn to the mysterious stranger to his grave. It’s, at the very least, interesting: what does this stranger mean to the young woman Anna (Paula Beer) and the family of her fiancé she has adopted into her life? What is his motive? This seems the road less travelled. Frantz (2016) is a film that immediately got my attention, with an idea that straight away appealed.

Paula Beer is subtly magnetic as Anna, a grieving fiancé who is taken by the mysterious stranger to her fiancé’s grave after World War I.

One does not know why he is placing flowers on Frantz’s grave, but when Anna invites him back home, his story is so plausible that Anna’s would have been in-laws are given some catharsis over the death of their son.

But is he telling the truth? Adrien’s body language and sometimes evasiveness may give him away although he works himself into their hearts—with Anna’s heart the most receptive.

Edouard Manet’s painting Le Suicide, which depicts suicide, is referenced in the film, quite uncomfortably in a sense, but also thoughtfully and it wouldn’t appear to condone suicide. This refreshingly good black and white and colourised film from France is about the effects of guilt, what guilt does to people and finding forgiveness. I was moved by how it all comes together and wasn’t disappointed. Despite the obscureness of some scenes, it’s kind of in the affirmative of life.

However, Frantz may put one off because it is not by nature straight forward enough and it can be disorientating, but that is one of the film’s strong points, a film that keeps you guessing and involved in these character’s lives, despite keeping one off-kilter. The dramatic tension rises, and the performances are solid.

Frantz (2016) **** Starring: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stotzner, Marie Gruber. Director: Francois Ozon. Loosely adapted from the film Broken Lullaby (1932)

A satisfying finale to prequel trilogy

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) is, in a way, predictable enough, but also attractive enough to get bums on seats–in terms that we know what will happen, but don’t know how.

The predictability lies in the telling of the story of young Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace. Everyone knows the ending.

The result in Star Wars creator George Lucas’ finale of the prequel trilogy is effective in portraying a conflicted individual who concedes to the ‘dark side’ because of “lust” i.e. personal ambition and a sense of significance that can’t be quenched. Anakin Skywalker is never satisfied.

As well, Anakin is torn between duty as a Jedi and forbidden love for Padme (Natalie Portman) and his all consuming attachment to her.

The love story is the movie’s central soap opera along with Anakin’s trainer — a more mature Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) — trying to keep reigns on his apprentice’s impetuousness.

The movie seems to be saying that Anakin missed out on acquiring knowledge which in-spite of his immaturity would have given him wisdom and foresight and hold him back from being a mechanical dictator.

And there are other messages in the movie – adoption of children for those that cannot have them, faithfulness, loyalty, and friendship are all interwoven.

Your sympathies may be touched in feeling for the likeable Anakin who said as an idealistic ten-year-old, in The Phantom Menace, that what is wrong with the universe is that no one cares for one another. But Anakin is vulnerable, especially in his friendship with Chancellor Palpatine. Their relationship in Revenge of the Sith is crucial to Anakin’s demise, as Palpatine plays on Anakin’s lust for power and significance.

Depending on your level of commitment to the saga the viewing process could be emotionally strong, symbolically rich, and a wonderful tapestry of mythic storytelling.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) **** Revised version , original published Entertainmentnutz.com, 2005. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew. Screenwriter: George Lucas. Director: George Lucas.

Less than satisfying second part to prequel trilogy

I’m looking to George Lucas’ collaboration with director Steven Spielberg to make the next Indiana Jones adventure. Let’s hope that magic doesn’t get lost in the new century, as it has with Attack of the Clones (2002). It is not all bad news, though. Attack of the Clones is hugely entertaining mainly because of its visual experience to be only fully felt at the cinema. State-of-the-art computer effects are eye blowing and conceptual design is highly imaginative.

Star Wars blew cinema audiences away in 1977 when it captivated with an appealing sci-fi adventure. The awe-inspire lies back there. Nowhere in Attack of the Clones is there a smooth operator like Han Solo, a feisty princess, an intimidating Wookie, a fear inducing dark villain and a great actor named Alec Guinness, who brought a lot of expression to his character Obi-Wan Kenobi, more so than his “Padawan learner” Ewan McGregor in Attack of the Clones.

Anakin Skywalker, now accomplished Jedi, falls in love with the ex-Queen of Naboo (from Phantom Menace days). He is assigned to look after her as her life is under threat from those dividing the Republic into Separatist states. Anakin has recurring nightmares over his mother and his separation from her, as described in Phantom Menace, which has its after effect. This is a psychological undercurrent of Anakin’s fall from grace to become Darth Vader. We will need to wait until the third instalment to encounter the real story with its poignant pseudo religious cum spiritual significance.

This prequel has a high sense of soap opera, especially evident in conversations between characters. The decisions political figures make, a Jedi’s contemplation followed by wise action, and the consequences of these, are dished out with importance as if this is the story of the century. However, despite this movie being less than satisfying, it is another Star Wars film and there is an interesting development of action sequences in this. Unlike the rudimentary action set piece that stands out because it is self-conscious, Attack of the Clones seamlessly weaves its action set pieces within the fabric of the plot and each one plays like a mini story in and of itself.

For example, Obi Wan and bounty hunter Jango Fett fight it out on a planet and in outer space. It plays out like extension of the previous scene.

In the final analysis, one needs some patience with the story, as it pans out to a lifeless pace, but visual and mythical elements (such as the new characters of the trade guild) keep those committed to the Star Wars saga interested.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) ***½ Published Entertainmentnutz.com, 2002, (last sentence deleted and new one added 2018). Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Frank Oz, and Christopher Lee. Screenwriters: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales. Director: George Lucas.

Satisfactory first part in prequel trilogy

The first prequel to the blockbuster Star Wars trilogy of the late seventies and early eighties and late seventies and early eighties, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) progresses into quite an entertaining piece of science fiction fantasy.

The scenes look like they are derived from a graphically rich comic book and there are plenty of throwbacks to older Star Wars material, most notably in the development of plot, characters and brief comic interludes.

The intention of the makers is to create a coherent and epic series, one that viewers can watch from beginning to end on the life and drama of a family set somewhere other than earth, but that ‘earthlings’ can relate to.

The Phantom Menace continues this trend with its over-arching theme of good defeating evil and lesser themes of loyalty, courage, belief in one’s self, sacrifice and redemption.

The good versus evil topic has a quasi-religious overtone with the supernatural phenomena called The Force, something that has fascinated young and old alike.
Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) is a master Jedi sent with his apprentice Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewen Macgregor) to settle a trade dispute between the peaceful Planet of Naboo and the Trade Federation. After an unsuccessful meeting, the Federation maintains blockades and stifles communications and has ulterior motives to dominate proceedings. Queen Amadala of Naboo (Natalie Portman) will not tolerate war and is intent on protecting her people.

Then the Jedi’s, along with the help of a native creature of Naboo, Jar Jar Binks, and the Queen’s handmaiden, stumble across Anakin Skywalker, a slave who works in a junkyard of the planet Tatooine. Qui-Gon feels that Anakin has special powers.

After some bargaining with Anakin’s owner and a good stroke of destiny in a “pod race”, Anakin comes on board to help support challenge the strokes of evil over the democracy.

Anakin is then going to be trained as a Jedi Knight. And if you’ve seen the first trilogy you know what happens to him (and the evolution of that won’t be on screen until the next two episodes).

The battle scenes in space and on Naboo, the climatic and convincing light saber duel, the presence of Liam Neeson and Ewen Macgregor, the pod race, the rousing John Williams music score and the visual excitement outweigh any deficiencies in quite an enjoyable space opera.
Published Entertainmentnutz.com, 2000, (minor edits made in 2018 for this blog). Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) ***½ Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewen McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiamind, and Jake Lloyd. Writer and Director: George Lucas.