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The Duchess of Duke Street (1976)
Something from the Golden Age of the Miniseries
Yup, it was the seventies that was the golden age of the miniseries, and it was the British who ruled, with PBS acting as as kind of Prince Regent, offering up such televisual feasts as Upstairs Downstairs, Poldark, and the Duchess of Duke Street.
To people over a certain age, Gemma Jones will be forever remembered as Louisa Trotter, the plucky lower middle class girl, practically sold into service by her selfish mother, who works her way up in the world to become the proprietress of the best gentle-person's hotel in London, the lover of the Prince of Wales, and a legend in her own time.
The Duchess of Duke Street is an artifact of a crossroads of two very special times - the 1960's, when there was a serious interest in the not-too-distant past (the Belle Epoque, the Edwardian Period, the Roaring Twenties, etc.), and the 1980's when the interest in the past had more to do with escapism and romanticism and produced some of the most beautiful visuals in film history. Because of this, The Dutchess is a treat, full of historical detail, with wonderful fictionalizations of Edwardian fact (Prince Edwards practice of taking mistresses for example).
The series paved the way for some of the great miniseries to come - including Brideshead Revisited, the 1980's production of Love in a Cold Climate, Flickers, and To Serve Them All My Days - and ensured that a certain segment of television viewers had grand images of Edwardian London and Art Nouveau imprinted in its memory.
Me Without You (2001)
Charming, and deeper than some might think
Me Without You is a charming movie with considerable depth. It explores the pathology of long-term friendships, when people grow apart, and one of the friends is forced to become the giver, peacemaker, bearer of burdens caused by conflict and divergent ideals.
Friel and Williams are compelling as two friends who, even as children, had little in common. As they become adults their differences turn into jealously, suspicion, and inevitable confrontation. Their lives completely entwined by the time they realize that their differences are often unbearable irritants, the two eventually reach a kind of strained truce.
The story is a distinctly female one; men are far less likely to have such long-term or intimate friendships, and not at all likely to remain friends with someone after betrayals and unrestrained confrontation. However, this should not stop men from viewing the film. It is full of insight about women, relationships, and family dynamics. And if none of that interests you, it offers some great depictions of the 1970's and 80's (the club scenes and wardrobe from the university years, are nice contrasts to American depictions of the New Wave era).
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Proof that the movie need not be faithful to the novel
With both the novel and the movie so popular, one need not go into great detail regarding the plot, or differences in the story lines. The fact is that both were great works and wonderfully of their time. And those involved in the movie exploited the fact that film is a visual medium, and piled on the styling, adding to Updike's tale and perfectly catching the over-stylized, romantic feel of the mid-to-late eighties. The movie and book are a pairing though, and I believe that one should really not experience one and not the other. Certainly one should not just see the movie, as it does lack the depth and significance of the novel. But then that is usually the case with an adaption.
Gilmore Girls (2000)
Another Guy Who Loved This Show
Yup, I am yet another guy who loved this show. I was in my mid-thirties when it premiered, and I took to it instantly. One of the main reasons for this was the wit, dialog and repartee, which was quite unusual for American television, particularly drama or dramedy series. I liked hearing zippy and smart conversations between people - Rory and Lorelei, Lorelei and Luke, etc. - who were all reading off the same page in terms of culture, pop culture, etc.
Yes, in some ways the appeal of The Gilmore Girls was the fantasy aspect of it. You had a wonderful charming small town filled with quirky but harmless characters, and a collection of main characters who were smart, ethical and caring. And generally the conflicts, though serious, were real and dealt with in a mature and earnest manner.
toward the end of the run the show threatened to derail. The writers started to move into night-time soap territory with story-lines about infidelity, and over-the-top plot twists (Rory's relationship with her rich boyfriend was grating at times, as was Paris' neuroses). However, the show managed to stay on track to the end, delivering a very satisfying conclusion to the Gilmore tale.
The Mother (2003)
Just like Broccoli: Good and Good for You, But You May Not Like It
The Mother is one of those films that you know is good, maybe even great, but it is like eating vegetables or doing math homework is to a kid - too much work and a whole lot of pain to get invested in.
The story is potentially distasteful in many ways: the death of a character within the first half hour, the December-May romance, the idea of a man cheating on his wife and then cheating on his lover with her mother, the collection of weak and rather unpleasant thirty-something characters, the apparent indifference of the adults to the children in their lives. This movie was made in the 2002 or 2003, but is a throw back to a collection of British (usually made-for-TV) movies from the late 1980's - it has a moral severity that never lets up, which produces an enveloping throbbing angst.
The Mother is flawless, but that is in part the problem; if a film dealing with so many sensitive issues has some flaws - inconsistencies of script, some lesser actors - it takes the edge off, but if such a film is so pitch perfect, the experience of watching it is raw and painful. Even the technical qualities - lighting, editing, etc. - make the viewer ache; the London in this movie is bright and open, filled with harsh, cutting light.
If you are tough as nails, or are one of those super-sensitive people who likes to torture themselves with gut-wrenching sad movies or novels, then you will enjoy The Mother. Anyone in between, give it a miss, or be prepared to squirm. And be warned: as tough as the movie is from beginning to near-end, the worst is to come.
Toward the end of the movie, the mother asks her daughter what she can do to make up for it (for having slept with her boyfriend), and the daughter calmly says that she has thought about it and would like to hit her. The mother agrees to this, they both stand up, and - instead of a well primed slap - the daughter clenches her fist and delivers a boxer's blow. Argh!!!
A Hidden Gem
I discovered this film tucked away in the DVD rental shop. I cannot say why I bothered to rent it - I am not a sports fan, and have no knowledge of soccer. I suppose I thought, hey, it is British, and Carlyle is in it, so it cannot be all bad. Once I sat down and watched it, I was blown away.
This film is one of those hidden gems, a movie with a great script, a talented cast, a wonderfully unique setting, but no buzz. My feelings about such films are mixed. On the one hand I am elated to have stumbled upon such a treat. On the other, I am deeply saddened to think of all the people out there who may have loved such a movie, but will never see it. And it depresses me to think that there are many more films out there that I will miss.
I would urge anyone reading these reviews, who has not seen Jimmy Grimble, to rent or buy it ASAP, and anyone who has only seen it once to see it at least one more time. And spread the word about this, and other great, but largely-ignored, movies. Haven't we had enough of movie adaptations of bad sitcoms and comic books, films inspired by "lifestyle", and terrible movie franchises? Aren't we tired of clichés and feature-length commercials. Fight for quality with your viewing habits, and word of mouth.
Rich Kids (1979)
Watch This Film for Its Intelligence and Sensitivity, and to See Trini Alvarado at Her Best
Rich Kids is a wonderful movie, in so many ways. It depicts a time (the late 70's), a class, New York City, and divorce (which was then becoming a social phenomena) perfectly. However, the main reason to watch this film may very well be to see the then adolescent Trini Alvarado at her best.
The Cast is full of great actors, including John Lithgow and Canada's own Roberta Maxwell, but the standout is Alvarado. Her guileless and tender performance is so brilliant that one is almost hypnotized. Alvarado plays Franny as your typical adolescent girl - curious, too smart for her own good, a little daring - but lets her own qualities poke through, and makes her Franny seem somewhat frail, potentially tragic.
There is always a sense that Franny will crumble under the weight of bad news (like the announcement of her parents divorce), and in some scenes this sense fills the room. The other actors are electrified by this, and give wonderful performances. The scene in the Chinese restaurant - when Franny's parents finally break the news - is heart-breaking...and a little funny.
This is one of two Alvarado movies that are absolute Must See's. The other is Times Square, in which Alvarado once again plays a variation of the seemingly-emotionally-frail poor little rich girl. Once one sees both these movies, one realizes what a rare quality Alvarado had at the time. The only actress to compare is a young Sarah Jessica Parker, but by the time Parker was an adolescent she was too much of a board-trodding, song-belting, Broadway-trouper type to be able to let go and open herself up the way Alvarado could.
Watch Rich Kids with this in mind: you are watching a brilliant, unencumbered, child actor at work. Pure acting from an adult is rare enough, but from a child actor, it is priceless.
Harry and Tonto (1974)
If This Movie Doesn't Make You Cry, or at least Tear up, Nothing Will
I generally dislike movies with animals in them, because, usually they are manipulative. Have the main character interact with a cuddly pet, and you make him instantly sympathetic. Pull at the audiences heart strings by putting the animal in peril, or, for a big bang, killing it off. It is very rare to find a movie that uses an animal properly as a real character in the story. Harry and Tonto is just such a film.
Art Carney plays Harry the widower who, even though his life is full of friends and neighbors, has one true devoted companion - Tonto his cat. And when a series of life changes prompts Harry to move out west, and take a road trip in the process, he naturally takes Tonto along.
Tonto tags along with Harry like a loyal dog, through a number of unusual situations. He is a constant presence of calm and stability, serving to accentuate Carney's portrayal of Harry as consistently noble. The cat speaks volumes about his owner. He walks on a lead, is almost never spooked, is affectionate and accepting of people, all this suggesting his owner to be solid, stable, patient.
As one watches the film, one cannot help but appreciate the work that went into training this cat, who is always calm and steady on camera. And one cannot help assume that the relationship Carney has with the cat is testimony to his professionalism and generosity.
This film is full of pure, touching moments, as Harry comes to terms with his life, reestablishes contact with his family, and lets himself be drawn into the lives of many wonderful characters. However, the most touching moment is the death of Tonto.
After reaching L.A. Tonto becomes sick and dies, or is (it is suggested) put to sleep. Harry and Tonto's parting is warm and sweet, but not at all maudlin. The scene when Harry sings to Tonto, then walks off, is pitch perfect. Harry loved his cat, is sad by his parting, but is an old-fashioned guy full of life experience, and he does not treat a cat's passing with the same seriousness with which he would have treated his wife's.
Harry and Tonto is one of those great films that is so organic that watching it is like breathing. Carney - best known as the loopy neighbor in the Honeymooners - deserved his Oscar, deserved two. And this film is probably one of 100 best films ever made.
All Rise for Julian Clary (1996)
A Good Laugh and a Great Distraction
I caught this show when it appeared on a Canadian specialty channel, and became an instant fan. Clary looked liked Nick Rhodes (of Duran Duran) and sounded like Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served? The concept was great - a twist on Judge Judy and similar courtroom shows - and the humor was panto-plus, with Clary never missing a chance to pounce on a double-entendre or insert some saucy innuendo. Clary could easily have carried the show on his own, but his supporting cast provided some well placed gags, asides and repartee.
All Rise is one of those shows that could only have happened in the 90's. It took advantage of all the ground-breaking that occurred in the 80's and made its mark before the shallowness and simple-mindedness that would define that 90's could take hold.
Anything But Love (1989)
Warm and Fuzzy
I agree with the other commentators, this was a really good series. It hearkened back to old Hollywood in so many ways - the repartee, the light touches of comedy, the modern sense of romance. It also seemed to tip its hat to the gentler, more genteel Britcoms of the late 70's. Jamie Lee Curtis was utterly charming, and Richard Lewis - with his neurosis and inability to let anything drop -was her perfect match. And the show really caught that feel of the turn of the decade, post-garish-80's, but pre-slacker-90's.
It says something when a TV show is so well constructed but all one initially remembers is a warm and fuzzy feeling. It means that the show has wormed its way into your heart. This is the case with Anything But Love.
I only have two complaints about the series. First, ABC treated it badly, first in not keeping it in a good time slot, permanently (this was the late 80's, early 90's, when the big three ruled, and a large contributor to a shows success was keeping it in the public's mind by delivering it regularly at a set time), and - having worn down its viewer-ship - canceling the show way too soon. Second, after the first or second season there was a reworking of the show. As with These Friends of Mine/Ellen, this destroyed much of the initial simple charm.
This is one American sitcom I would definitely get on DVD, for I know that I would watch the series over and over again.