Ultimately striking one at the heart, of the gentleness and care of its central feature, Little Dorrit.

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

Based on Charles Dickens reportedly satirical novel about being rich or 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) and William’s daughter, Little Dorrit (Sarah Pickering), who is the seamstress of Clennam’s mother.

The Doritt’s are in a debtor’s prison—meaning they must pay back what they owe before they can be free. But Clennam aims to help them get out, by doing some investigating, with the help of a lawyer.

Part two is Little Dorrit’s Story, 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 (who is called Amy under different circumstances in a significant shift of setting).

One finds respect for her, her kindness, genuineness, good manners and even temperament standing out, which made quite an impression.

The actual logistics of undertaking a film told from two character’s perspectives would be painstaking to produce, but effective in the end.

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.

Alec Guinness plays the gentlemanly head of the debtor’s prison. He sweeps those up in his conversation and is the object of adoration of Little Dorrit.

One has a certain amount of sympathy for William Dorrit, as he is someone the story sides with, especially evident in the final scenes which by the way are breathtakingly good.

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 dialogue and interactions are sophisticated, more or less; may require one’s full concentration. Little Dorrit is more literate than most. An impressive production in the scale of storytelling despite the setting limitations, and ultimately striking one at the heart, of the gentleness and care of its central feature, Little Dorrit.

There is authentic production design, mostly indoors, which may be too wooden for some tastes, and there are timely costumes (the 1800’s), with the occasional flare for cinematic storytelling.



From “family friendly” to non-stop action

Movie trailer review, Tomb Raider (2018): a reboot, remake, or whatever it is supposed to be (not that it really matters to me that much). All the same, the 15 years between Tomb Raider films is why the new film is probably more of a reboot boasting a new lead actress.

Tomb Raider was apparently based on a video game when it came to the screen in 2001. I didn’t watch the film, but I did take note of its box office, which was very good. In 2003, a sequel was released, and from that point no other films were made.

Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft in the original films and Alicia Vikander takes over the mantle of Croft.

Croft is an adventurer from Britain—she must have a day job like Indiana Jones does, not that it matters much, as action is the focus more than not. However, not at all violent, is that she is searching for her father who has disappeared.

At the start of the trailer, her identity is wrapped up in the search for her father. She needs to find him for what may be emotional and psychological reasons although the fact that he’s missing seems to be the only reason she needs.

From searching for her father, the trailer takes us down another track. She winds up getting a computer message from him in the jungle—she is warned that an organization is attempting genocide and she must stop it in its tracks.

(The organization’s name is Trinity. It befuddles me why they come up with religious sounding names for the bad guys. In terms of theology, the trinity is the godhead in Christianity, three-in-one. If they are going to use religious terms, they should call the bad guys the Devil’s Triangle instead or something sounding vicariously like a real organization.)

The trailer goes from kind of “family-friendly” to the non-stop action read: violent mode with Trinity and Croft going berserk, but one thinks this kind of death and destruction isn’t adventure.

The reference to death not being an adventure is quite apt here—this trailer of action violence and death and destruction isn’t much of an adventure here.


Star Wars music today–is it any good?

In 1977, the Star Wars theme music cemented unmistakably in pop culture. Everyone or almost everyone knows it although the others are in denial or have never seen the film.

The Star Wars main theme is not the only remarkable, memorable moment of Star Wars music.

The entire film scoring of the original Star Wars—which includes every section of music in the film—was brilliant.

To add to its unanimous two thumbs up in the popular consciousness, it was voted the American Film Institute’s top film score in 2005 and won the Oscar.

In 1980 and 1983, Star Wars continued its resonance in popular culture.

“The Imperial March”, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, is resounding and powerful…utterly memorable. The Imperial March is now an iconic part of popular culture.

“The Asteroid Field” is palpitatingly good, the music accompaniment to the asteroid field scene in The Empire Strikes Back.

There were many other resonate moments. Return of the Jedi boasted “Into the Trap”, “The Emperor”, “Return of the Jedi” and “The Forest Battle”, and more.

John Williams’ musical soundtrack to 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens starts off like the old days. It’s compelling as the Main Title and “The Attack on Jakku Village” recalls the old days of the smooth transition between opening music and what follows.

These transitions are delightful in all the original Star Wars films as the booming main title smooths subtly into the evocative tones of the first scenes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the musical soundtrack to The Force Awakens made me think about the good old days when Star Wars music was original, lively, and resonant. Or it was unshakably memorable, music you wouldn’t forget–The Force Awakens has little that compels or resonates in that vein. It seems rather lackadaisical and repetitive.

All this soundtrack does is sit in my CD rack as a necessary addition to my collection, but not a very liked one. It’s hard to recapture a little of the old magic of. Done once, but not again. Perhaps watch the film instead.

Perilous undertaking to save Middle Earth

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) ***** Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm. Director: Peter Jackson. I watched this film at the 171min length (DVD Widescreen Edition) Originally 178 minutes There are also the 208min length (Special DVD Extended Edition) and the 228min length (Blu Ray Extended Edition).

At school, we had to listen to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings being read. I never liked the book much. It was a bit unusual and strange with its epic themes somehow devoid of reality and a cast of strange characters of elves, hobbits and conjurers. The Lord of the Rings is now a film and a blockbuster at that. This makes all the difference to someone feeling foreign to the book.

The journey through Middle Earth could have felt like tedium, arduous for viewer. Yet the first part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy works and progressively ups the stakes.

The story is set in the world of Middle Earth which is undergoing a seismic upheaval as Sauron’s denizens the Ringwraiths seek a ring that in Sauron’s possession will control Middle Earth under an oppressive spiritual darkness.

A diminutive hobbit, the earnest, honourable Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), gets possession of the ring and on the advice of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), a wisely, well-beared wizard, Frodo must take the ring out of his homeland, the Shire. If he does not leave, the Ringwraiths will track Frodo down to the Shire and kill Frodo and take possession of the ring.

Frodo and fellow hobbit, the faithful, good-humoured Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) embark on an escape, without knowing anything much of the details of their journey onward. Yet with a mental road map of where to go next and one thing in mind: don’t let Sauron get possession of the ring.

Keep away from the roads, says Gandalf. Frodo will take the country. The Ringwraiths, dark and foreboding, who succumbed to evil but were once men, are tracking Frodo down on horseback and the danger makes for action, suspense and excitement.

Writer and director Peter Jackson doesn’t make it look easy for the hobbits. Even so there are some things that require one to suspend disbelief.

The film may get one thinking about the deeper meaning.

Like when Arwen (Liv Tyler) appears “out of nowhere” to assist Frodo, I thought that’s hard to believe because Frodo should have died. But thinking about it more, Arwen helps Frodo despite the dark or sinful influences, the “poison”.

The outcomes of Gandalf’s hopeless plight on a tower in Mordor will also make you think twice, in unbelief, but also awe.

The powerful scene of Gandalf trying to escape the demonic clutches of Sauron’s right-hand man Saruman (a deeply resonant Christopher Lee) leads up to it.

The middle breaks at Rivendale for the introduction of the fellowship of the ring, where representatives of the tribes of Middle Earth meet and join Frodo on his quest to eliminate the ring.

At Rivendale, there is time to explore, in this very long movie at almost three hours, the characters. Not necessarily a bad thing in slowing down the action, as the moments with the characters are rich, but may be aloof nevertheless.

I think The Fellowship of the Ring is better when it moves along with the action and creates meaning out of those actions, out of miracles, daring escapes, and facing conflict and evil.

The Fellowship of the Ring gets better and keeps on getting better, making this a vivid, panoramic tale where it is indeed a perilous undertaking to journey Middle Earth to save it.

The end of this episode

In the novelization of Return of the Jedi, the Empire’s end felt a little underwhelming as if it should have felt more resonate, more grave, more underlined. But the next trilogy of books, the Aftermath, carry on the Empire’s story. I suppose someone thought like I did. Something’s a little amiss in the delivery and the end of the Empire needs a better send off.

Apparently, in terms of story (rather than tone or feel) there were loose ends to the Empire’s end that needed to be done up. That wasn’t apparent in the book version of Return of the Jedi. In the book there is no moment allowing for the possibility of a sequel. There is not a moment in Return of the Jedi that sets up the Aftermath trilogy. However, we were given a sketch of what has happened following Return of the Jedi in the marketing of Aftermath and I guess fans have speculated on it for a long time before.

So I’m getting around to seriously read Aftermath soon. In the meantime, I think back to what I liked about the final chapters of Return of the Jedi. Again there is sentiment which I felt was overdone when Luke’s father is dying and he tastes Luke’s tears and is pleased by them. But what I liked is that the battle scenes at the end of Return of the Jedi is exciting and Luke and Vader’s confrontation echoes. But, as I said earlier, that in the novel of Return of the Jedi, the gravitas is missing at the end, but the Empire’s end deserved a tone of gravitas because the Empire’s end is profound. However, the tone of the Empire’s end has been left to the Aftermath trilogy.


I cottoned onto why I didn’t find Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi as involving as the previous films in the trilogy, while reading the book version of the film.

I didn’t find the movie Return of the Jedi that involving, but I was able to see why by reading the book version of the film.

I thought it may have been just me, but there was usually a distance between me and the movie. Perhaps once I felt better about it.

I pinned the problem on a lack of tension in proceedings. I find the book version of the events better, particularly at the end. This is probably because the book creates more tension, by setting up the reader nicely. Luke’s confrontation in the Emperor’s throne room and the offensive on the Death Star in space and on Endor feels more exciting.

Swells to a drama that is riveting

A Passage to India (1984) ***** Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft. Director: David Lean.

A Passage to India is a fine film. One becomes immersed in the grand sweep. One surrenders to it and hopes it doesn’t become spoiled by some off-putting scene that ruined the lot. The characters, their lives in the old British India, the roles the actors play, and the handsome production swells to a drama that is riveting.

Central to it is young British woman Adela (Judy Davis) who is meeting up with her fiancé in India, who is a magistrate. Along with Adela is his mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). Adela is caught up in the romanticism of the country and is keen to discover more—details like this are so natural and true to life that one can immediately relate.

The Indian country is keenly observed and wanting to be discovered by Westerners. Adela and Mrs. Moore are immensely involved in the search. They are not proud that they are English and don’t look down on the locals. They don’t consider their privileged place in India because of her son being a magistrate as much to be boasted about.

The young woman is distraught, though, when she claims rape by an Indian guide, in a moment that seems uncertain and vague. The guide, Aziz (Victor Banerjee), who is a respected doctor, has the Indian people behind him who are upset by the claims.

East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash–the doctor is caught up in a scandal and controversy erupts, casting a blight on the British. The result of the scandal is grief and soul searching with a more abstract issue to consider, but also quite real: forgiveness.

A holiday which turned dramatic and where no one wanted it to. The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is underlying prejudice and fear of the unknown.

A Passage to India is based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same name, which was published in 1924 during the days of colonial England. The film is beautiful and grand, wonderfully acted, and larger than life-like characters engage vividly and vitally. It is especially recommended for thoughtful audiences and fine film aficionados.

More sentimental than the book

Sentiment appears to be easier at the movies: just add music to intimate material

In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker is about to reveal a family secret to Princess Leia. This is a warm hearted family scene, a scene of family connection. It is naturally warm and sentimental scene.

The scene couldn’t have a tone of gravitas. That would be too grave. There was no other way to tackle this warm hearted family scene.

Can the sense of breadth of warmth and sentiment that’s in the movie be in the book?

I did get the sense in the book of family connection, which is the point of the scene, but not up to the same level of emotional tone that’s in the movie.

Books and movies do the same content of the same scene quite differently.

Keeps one off-kilter

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

Frantz is not a straightforward film, from beginning to end, one is more off-balance at the end than how it started. The premise is instantly off-balancing, but the progression of the story more so.

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

This refreshingly good black and white, sometimes colourised film from France is essentially about finding forgiveness post-World War I, but keeps one subtly off-kilter, like the characters in the story.

The off-kilter effect infuses the theme of the consequences of guilt and what it does to people.

Edouard Manet’s painting Le Suicide, which depicts suicide, is referenced in the film, quite uncomfortably in a sense, but also thoughtfully in the resolution, which doesn’t appear to condone suicide.

Frantz may put some off because it is by nature not straight forward and is disorientating. But the dramatic tension builds, and the performances are memorable.


That special one

I’ve been musing on what Star Wars film I like best, while reading the original trilogy based on the films. This is not a review of any particular film or book in the Star Wars lexicon. I still rate them the same. But I wondered, on reading Return of the Jedi, which was better? The Empire Strikes Back was a better story. But there’s something special about the original, A New Hope. It seemed everything else in Star Wars was supplementary and not even necessary compared to the first one. For years I thought The Empire Strikes Back was the best one. But although it’s very good, it has that supplementary or add-on feel to the original. Star Wars A New Hope is, for me, that special film and story, the one that no one needed to add to.