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The House of Eliott (1991–1994)
Rewarding, uplifting, 1920s Drama
9 August 2005
The House Of Eliott, set in Britian in the 1920s, follows the drama of the two Eliott sisters in their journey from being poor relations with no position or future in society to being amongst the most celebrated fashion designers in London.

There is much motivating drama as the sisters are held back by the cruel legacy of their father and their condescending relatives. Through their determination and by meeting creative and Bohemian members of society they begin to express their creative talents and break free of the constrictive life they were intended to live.

The 1920s period setting is dressed up well and is played out as a time of change in attitude to clothing and the way women could express themselves. Of course the cruel English class system, as always, provides a good background to the drama, where the aristocracy are still ruling and putting others in their place. But the signs of the change in society, post World War I, are evident. The characters are bound by their reputation and many reputations are all ready established, newly made and destroyed during the series.

Stella Gonet plays Beatrice, the elder Eliott sister who suffered greatly under her fathers stern hand and who determinedly finds her lost freedom. Louise Lombard, plays Evagaline, younger by twelve years to Beatrice, who begins naively venturing into the world after her sheltered childhood and blossoms into a sophisticated, individual and unconventional women in society. Both actresses are well cast and develop their characters well as the series progresses.

Aden Gillet as Jack Maddox, the society photographer and eventual love interest in the show is another regular character. Barbara Jefford is a favourite as their snobby, stern but somehow sympathetic character of Aunt Lydia - constantly reminding the "girls" that reputation is everything. The sub-plots(particularly in series 1) are also very well developed. As well as Aunt Lydia, their is the charity worker Penelope Maddox and her attempts help the poor and bring justice and the some of the stories of the employees in the fashion house.Other characters develop as the series progresses and some are more effective than others.

Developed by the creators of Upstairs Downstairs(well known actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins) The House Of Elliot has good writing mostly good direction and acting and the journey of the Eliott sisters is a rewarding one to watch and re-watch.
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Remains A Lively And Delicious Favourite Treat
31 July 2005
The screen version of Agatha Christie's Death On The Nile would be one of the definitive adaptions of the very old fashioned(but still strangely popular) murder mystery genre. After twenty-seven years the movie holds up very well.

The most was made of the Egyption setting of the film as it was filmed mostly on location and the stunning ancient sites of Egypt are filmed beautifully. Tourism in Egypt apparently increased significanlty after the film's release. Not surprising.

Also making the film a treat is the wonderful cast. Peter Ustinov stepped into the role of Hercule Poirot for the first time and despite no resemblance to Christie's descriptions of Poirot, made the role his own for the next decade. Ustinov gives a stern but comic portrayal of Poirot which is balanced with the casting of Ustinov's close friend David Niven as Colonal Race, Poirot's sidekick.

Heading the feast of suspects is the legendary Bette Davis as a grand dame with a sour Maggie Smith as her paid nurse/companion. There bickering scenes together are a hilarious highlight of the movie. Angela Lansbury is also a scene stealer as a tipsy, uninhibited novelist who does a hilarious tango with David Niven. Mia Farrow delivers a very good dramatic performance, as the women scorned which almost steers away from the usual cardboard stereotype characterisations of Agatha Christie.

Director John Guillerman let his great cast have fun with their characters partly because veteran thriller writer Anthony Shaffer wrote the screenplay. Although the murder mystery is a clever one and played out very well Shaffer injected the script with more wit and spice than the original novel had. (The Bette Davis and Maggie Smith scenes being the best example) The soundtrack of the film is an underrated gem with veteran composer Nino Rota producing a grand, sumptuous, inviting and mysterious soundtrack which perfectly complements the setting and the drama. Also his arrangement of the tango tune "Jealousy" is the best I've ever heard.

All this makes for a fun, lively old fashioned treat of a film that can be returned to from time to time.
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Limelight (1952)
Indulgent, sentimental, but very uplifting
20 July 2005
Chaplin plays Calvero, the washed up music hall clown, who saves the life and attempts to restore the hope of a distraught ballerina, Terry, played by Claire Bloom.

If ever there was a movie to give you hope and lift spirits in dark times, this is it. Calvero's monologues and scenes to help encourage Terry back on her feet(literally) are a perfect remedy for the times (like the ones we live in) when it easy to lose hope. Courage, imagination and a little dough, he tells her is all that is needed to get by.

In Limelight Chaplin also gives great insight into the highs and the devastating lows an of artist's career. Calvero expresses his love\hate relationship towards the theatre, his audience and his almost spent life.

Chaplin, as usual gives a suave, nimble, moving and funny performance and he allows Claire Bloom to totally blossom in the role of Terry.The films is even more special by featuring the only appearance together of Chaplin and Buster Keaton in a brief comedy routine. Their time together on screen is priceless and the routine, very funny

The rest of the considerable supporting cast(including Nigel Bruce and Norman Lloyd) do their best but are bound by Chaplin's constricting direction. As is usually noticeable in a Chaplin talkie, the other actors only mechanically express what their director has instructed them to do.

Even Keaton's character is only referred to as "Calvero's partner" and never even given a name. The brief time Keaton appears on screen Chaplin hardly acknowledges the character's precense. (One can't help feeling the cameo was a condescending piece of charity on Chaplin's part to his more humble screen rival.) Also; has any director ever granted themselves more self-glorifying and self-pitying close ups than Chaplin in this movie?

But all this(and the fact that the movie runs way too long) is totally forgivable as only Chaplin could produce such a giant movie of inspiration and uplifting spirit.
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The Sum of Us (1994)
A Movie With Big Loving Heart
10 July 2005
Watching this movie for the first time in nearly ten years I was reminded of how it was very much window of its time but also a movie with universal themes of love that will always keep it relevant and involving.

The narration to camera by the two main characters can take a bit of time to adjust to but once the movie settles in the main story between the father and son is very moving as it is the story of unconditional family love and loyalty. The movie is also about the search for love and growth in life as both characters are there for each other in the sometimes troubled journey.

The son in the story is gay and this becomes a primary focus in the story. The father is not only tolerant but encouraging of his son finding a male lover.

Jack Thompson and Russell Crowe are both terrific in their roles. Both actors are known and play their roles as "typical, masculine" Aussie blokes. (Warning: you will have to allow for some very coarse Australian humour between the male characters)In this scenario, though, that Aussie bloke persona has different dimensions. The son although a "blokey" plumber who plays football, is gay; the father is well read and has an enlightened view of life as he passionately encourages his son to not only find love but to read more, to dream big and discover the world.

Jack Thompson's Harry is a wonderful character to journey with as he merrily goes forward in life, determined to find love and fulfillment, despite the blows that life has dealt him. Harry also comes across as an ideal if slightly overbearing father figure to Jeff. Russel Crowe's Jeff is a character that anyone, gay or straight, will identify with who wants to find love but is cautious not to be hurt and rejected again.

The movie was released in 1994, a time in Australia when the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras(featured in a scene in the movie) was arguably at it's peak, in terms of crowd attendance and media exposure and the nation was very progressive towards equal rights for gay and lesbian people in Australia. Eleven years later the movie can be viewed partly as window to that time that now seems bygone as the nation is currently in a large conservative grip.

But no matter what what the political climate the film's universal themes, star quality as well as the beautiful sunny shots of Sydney will guarantee it will be around and viewed for many years to come.
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Totally charming, lovable, very funny and moving old favourite!
6 July 2005
Having just purchased the DVD of this movie, and not having seen it for more than ten years, I feared perhaps it would too antiquated and dated to still be worthwhile owning. This was certainly not the case.

Lovers And Other Strangers is totally charming and lovable movie that despite the emphasis on the year it was made(there are many references to 1970) is still very relevant and moving. I admit to being close to tears at one scene, between a father and son, towards the end. I was also laughing out loud at many other scenes such as the hysterical Italian parents trying to scare their son into remaining in his unhappy marriage(a classic scene with hilarious dialogue you won't ever forget) and the furtive passionate embraces with the bride's father and his mistress in every available bathroom.

The themes that are relevant to today is the search for love in an increasingly uncertain age. The film opens with an outpouring from the groom to be, about all his fears of the future of the world and his doubts about marriage. Today all those fears are still there plus many many more. There is also power struggles between the genders, casual sex, extra-marital affairs and the dilemma of staying in an unhappy relationship. Some of these were very new themes explored in movies at the time it was made.

Having said that there are elements of the film that are charmingly dated which obviously include the music, the clothes and some of the social attitudes(it was at a time when divorce was still a disgraceful scandal for many families, particularly Catholic families). These dated elements though give it more of a nostalgic feel rather deter any enjoyment.

Michael Brandon and Bonnie Bedilia are lovable as the newly weds and Bea Arthur and Richard Castellano are the hilarious parents of the groom. The whole of the ensemble cast is great and watch for Dianne Keaton's film debut as the estranged daughter-in-law.
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Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Revisiting A Masterpiece.
28 March 2002
After reading Wilder Times, one of the many biographies of Billy Wilder, just recently, I naturally revisted many of his films in the last few weeks. And today, I have just read of the death of the great Billy Wilder. This has prompted me to write my first review, on the IMDB, of my favourite of this man's long series of great films and screenplays.

Sunset Blvd is suspenseful, witty, and tragic. Brilliantly written and directed, it is a classic for many reasons, but most notably that it is possible to like the movie more each time with each viewing. It may not be possible to appreciate such a detailed and rich film in one viewing. Whether it be the real Hollywood stars in cameos(Buster Keaton, Cecil B. Demille etc), or the skillful casting of Gloria Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim, that adds such a grim reality to their, all ready, well written roles, to just how frank and bleakly honest this movie was for it's time, in it's portrayal of Hollywood.

For William Holden, a very handsome Hollywood leading man, to take on the role of a poor bitter writer,Joe Gillis, was, I consider a brave role, even by many of todays leading man standards. Gloria Swanson prevents the character of Norma becoming a ridiculous caricature and keeps her real and therefore tragic.(None the less, Ms Swanson also gives a famously delicious performance in this feisty role) And Nancy Olsen, who plays a very grounded and honest, Betty Schaefer, perfectly matches the unreality of the world of Norma Desmond.

Goodbye, Billy Wilder. You will be missed.
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