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The Bridges of Madison County

Beautiful scenery does not make a beautiful romance
While I don't condone infidelity, affairs can make for great cinema. However, not in this movie despite featuring two stars, Meryl Steep and Clint Eastwood, whose talents are wasted here. Streep's at times compelling performance is expended on a film which manipulates viewer emotions so they don't see this affair for what it is. It shouldn't be considered a great love story just because it's the wife who is cheating on the husband, not the reverse. It is not poignant, sensitive, and romantic (as often described) but instead involves boredom, lust, and naive schoolgirl thinking far more than genuine love. Yes, it does have wonderful cinematography but viewers shouldn't confuse the beauty of the Iowa scenery as indicating that this illicit relationship was in any way beautiful. When you get past the acting and the scenery...

Here we have a housewife, Francesca, longing to travel and bored with her faithful, hard working, and decent but dull farmer husband and unexciting country life. While her husband is off at the State Fair with their teenage children, she has an affair with a stranger who chances her way, a ruggedly handsome, world traveling photographer named Robert. She foolishly concludes, after a few conversations and sexual encounters (some of which occur in the marital bed she shares with her husband, not exactly endearing), that her new man, a charismatic wanderer, is her true love. Of course her husband 'doesn't understand her' but her lover, who has known her for a few days, is her soul mate who understands her completely. (Would viewers be as sympathetic to a man whose wife didn't understand him, who had an affair because he suddenly found his soul mate and contemplated leaving his family so he could go off with his lover to follow his dreams???)

From the onset Francesca is miserable living in a house in the middle of nowhere but she has only herself to blame. Wasn't she aware when she married him that her husband was a farmer, that they would be living in the country?? There would have been hobbies and interests she could have pursued, even living in the country, where she might have found some degree of fulfillment and which wouldn't have upset her husband, especially given that her children were getting older all the time so likely to permit her more freedom.

Francesca should have discussed her needs, wants, and dreams WITH HER HUSBAND! Admittedly he wasn't exactly sensitive but neither did he appear to be a monster who would have cared nothing about his wife's unhappiness, had she made him aware of the full extent of it. She never really made much effort to open her heart up to him. While she did remain with her family, playing the self sacrificing martyr and suffering for years in silence are not admirable, IMO. She stoically 'did her duty' but never attempted to make anything better of her marriage.

Who is to say that if she had gone off with Robert, he wouldn't have dumped her when she started to bore him? Having one failed marriage behind him and a history of reluctance to commit, he didn't come across to me as a very promising life partner. If Robert had really loved Francesca, he would have thought of her best interests instead of selfishly encouraging her to abandon her children. The dancing scene where they end up in bed comes across as a cliché seduction, nothing original or memorable. The truck scene in the rain is supposedly so moving but how can anyone sympathize with a woman even considering leaving her teenage children for her lover of four days?

Unwisely, Francesca chooses to write a tell-all journal about the affair to be read by her adult children after her death, requesting that her ashes be scattered off a particular covered bridge to join her lover's ashes. I found this neither romantic nor touching but selfish and pointless, serving only to upset and potentially hurt her adult children. If she and Robert genuinely had this great love, surely it wouldn't have required some grand romantic mingling of their ashes off that bridge to prove it. Of course these children, a rather uninspiring pair who contributed nothing positive to this movie, quickly become understanding and are not (as would be more believable) devastated about their mother's infidelity and especially learning that their father wasn't her true love. In fact, we're to believe this revelation actually helped them sort out their own romantic messes. The modern Hollywood message, I guess.

Had she not chosen to risk hurting her children with her after-death revelations, I might have felt some sympathy for Francesca wasting so much of her life based on four days of the romantic, exciting, passionate early phase of a new relationship, foolishly pining for a man who likely would have brought her unhappiness even if she had been free.

Those who want a truly moving film about an affair should watch the 1945 Brief Encounter. It has class. Much the same idea -- bored middle-aged housewife has short term liaison with exciting new man but unlike this film, the wife realizes what she does have in her husband and, contrary to the cliché about not being understood, relates her tale as though addressing her husband, the only person in the world who would understand. It perfectly contrasts committed married love versus the excitement of a new romance. And its heroine, a very sympathetic character, would NEVER have deliberately hurt her adult children for such a pointless whim as the ashes. Alas, Bridges is no Brief Encounter.

12 Angry Men

THE classic jury drama, compelling but not without flaws
This is surely the most famous film jury drama, quite riveting in its dialogue, its claustrophobic jury deliberation room setting, its brilliantly depicted characters, its atmosphere of oppressive heat and tension between these jurors. The twelve angry men are admittedly largely one dimensional stereotypes but they are brought vividly to life by a star studded cast including Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall, Leo J. Cobb, and Jack Klugman.

The jurors include an arrogant stockbroker, a stressed out man from a poor social background, a wise and endearing old gentleman, a quiet and respectful immigrant, an extreme bigot, a loud and pushy businessman with son issues, an advertising executive who sees everything in terms of sales, and a sports fan interested only in getting out in time to see his ballgame. The jury foreman tries to keep the group organized but isn't a particularly bright or thoughtful man himself and seems in over his depth. The (supposed at least) hero of the piece is the intelligent juror number 8, an architect, who appears to take his responsibilities seriously. He encourages full discussion of the evidence when others seem happy to return an immediate Guilty verdict for a young Hispanic defendant accused of fatally stabbing his abusive father. As a result of this juror's persuasive powers, the vote changes from 11-1 for Guilty to a unanimous final Not Guilty verdict.

No one would be interested in watching a movie about twelve calm jurors politely and rationally debating the evidence. Thus we have this drama which makes for compelling viewing but isn't for those preferring some degree of subtlety. The case itself is ultra dramatic 'all or nothing', acquittal or the death penalty with no possibility of life imprisonment. Juror 8 has illegally purchased a duplicate knife to the murder weapon and slams it dramatically on the table. These jurors are constantly bickering. One juror threatens to kill another. Eventually the other jurors all turn their backs one by one on the bigot.

Surely this must be a textbook example of everything a jury should NOT be! While real life jurors do bring their prejudices and life experiences into the jury room, some of these jurors were simply too unbelievable. For example, 'the bigot' seemed to flaunt his bigotry at every turn rather than, as would be much more realistic, making some effort to conceal it. I believe one would need to look far and wide to find a juror with so little regard for human life that he would happily send a possibly innocent kid off to the electric chair rather than miss his ballgame.

As for juror number 8, at first I admired his sense of responsibility and calm, reasoned questioning. However, by the end of the movie, after he had raised doubts (whether reasonable or not is up to individual interpretation) about every single piece of evidence and testimony, I no longer saw him as the heroic champion of justice we're manipulated into believing, but almost felt as though he had some agenda of his own to acquit and would never convict anyone of any crime, whatever the evidence! This jury didn't rationally debate the case at all but as juror 8 would raise some 'doubt', one or other juror would suddenly change his vote, ignoring all the other evidence. A good case could be made that this jury let a murderer go free because they lost sight of the cumulative nature of the evidence as a whole.

While this movie is often classed as a character study, a psychological drama, or a study in small group dynamics, it's also considered a commentary on the American jury system. As such, I feel that the writers should have 'done their homework' and had these jurors follow standard jury instructions rather than the gross jury misconduct they displayed -- juror 8 doing his own independent research by purchasing that knife, their questionable little experiment with the old man's rate of walking, their improper acceptance of one of their number as a switchblade 'expert' and taking his opinion of stabbing techniques as gospel. If all this had become known to court officials in real life, this grievous misconduct would almost certainly have resulted in a mistrial.

I also felt the movie quite manipulative in casting a defendant who could hardly be more sympathetic, a young kid with poor social opportunities, the victim of bigotry and paternal abuse. What viewer would ever want this boy to receive the death penalty? This film would have packed a greater punch for me if the defendant had been a rather despicable character (or at least neutral in terms of sympathy factor), yet the jury been able to acquit him anyway due to finding reasonable doubt.

Therefore, while this film is a 'must see' classic, a thoroughly engaging way to spend an hour and a half, and a masterpiece by comparison with most modern movies, I don't consider it flawless. At least in my case, it hasn't held up well during subsequent viewings and further scrutiny. Entertaining, yes, but I have a big problem with its clearly intended message that this jury, which I see as a lynch mob-turned-group of pushovers, has ultimately served the cause of justice.

A Christmas Carol

Short length and low budget but faithful to Dickens
Considering the short length and limited budget, this BBC production is an excellent version. It does appear like a theatrical production that's been put on video and some of the sets are simply painted backgrounds. However, none of this bothered me and I actually prefer it to some higher budget versions. I agree with another reviewer here who claimed you could feel the cold in Scrooge's office when Cratchit is warming his hands at the candle!

Michael Hordern certainly looks the part of Scrooge. However, he is not compelling in the role, no match for Alastair Sim who really draws the viewer in. There seems no emotional engagement with Scrooge, little of the warmth that some actors bring to the role. It's Scrooge himself who drives the story and the attachment a viewer should feel to the character simply wasn't there. This may be partly due to the short length and the fact that the older, present day Scrooge isn't very involved in the storytelling. The spirits present their flashbacks and glimpses with little input from him.

The major problem with this adaptation is length, it being impossible to do the story justice in one hour. Either vital characters and scenes must be omitted and/or there's a rushed feeling. Here the major characters are present -- even debtors Caroline and her husband showing relief at Scrooge's death (not shown in most versions). The main scenes are also depicted though sometimes quite abbreviated. There is a rushed feeling to the production, especially at the end. For instance, when Scrooge joins Fred and his wife for Christmas dinner, barely do they exchange greetings. The scene is simply too hurried to get the proper dramatic sense of the joy these relatives feel in connecting.

This production features an excellent supporting cast. This is one of only two versions I've seen (the other being the 1999 Patrick Stewart) where Christmas Present ages during the course of his visit, as he does according to Dickens. I loved nephew Fred and found Bob Cratchit one of the most compelling I've seen. The Cratchit children are reduced from six in number to four -- budget constraints perhaps!

One aspect I appreciated, despite its deviation from the original, was Fred's 'scaled down' dinner party. Instead of the large gathering typically shown, there's only a foursome -- Fred, his wife, and one other couple sitting in the parlour. This gives the scene what I've aptly heard described as a charming intimacy. Another notable deviation from the novelette is the children Ignorance and Want appearing apart from the Spirit of Christmas Present rather than underneath his robe.

The primary attraction of this adaptation is its faithfulness to Dickens, apart from these minor exceptions mentioned. Almost all the dialogue is verbatim, albeit Scrooge fails to mention 'smoking bishop' in his final conversation with Bob! For all true fans of the Carol, I consider this a 'must see' version, if only to watch 'Marley' from the famous 1951 Alastair Sim version himself playing Scrooge!

Shower of Stars: A Christmas Carol
Episode 4, Season 1

An interesting old musical interpretation for Carol fans
I bought the Bing Crosby / Kate Smith Christmas DVD specifically for the inclusion of this 1954 Frederic March version of A Christmas Carol as a bonus. For those who are real Carol fans and simply must see every version, naturally this shouldn't be missed. However, if this were the only adaptation available to me, I'd feel quite deprived!

Frederic March makes a fairly good Scrooge, in my opinion. The rest of the cast didn't much stand out with me one way or the other except that I didn't really like them 'doubling up' on roles. The same actress played both the Ghost of Christmas Past and Belle, and the same actor both nephew Fred and the Ghost of Christmas Present. I suppose it must have been fairly low budget and this was cheaper.

I found odd and objectionable the writers having Marley's ghost repeatedly moaning "Oh God!" The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was ridiculous -- some sort of blackbird! Even the Ghost of Christmas Present was miscast. Instead of a cheery, benevolent, bare chested giant clothed in a green robe, he wore tunic and pants and seemed rather slovenly, lolling about on the floor singing! They modernized or Americanized the story a bit, having one of the songs refer to Santa and the Cratchits trim a Christmas tree.

The movie seemed to start out better than it ended. I found the first scenes preferable to later sequences, mainly because less seemed to be omitted early on! I prefer non-musical versions to musical ones anyway but find it especially irritating when they find time for several songs but omit crucial characters such as Ebenezer's sister Fan and eliminate numerous vital scenes. This version is short anyway, only about 50 minutes, and the story is pretty bare bones. Most of the details that enrich the tale are simply left out.

The music was pleasant enough and seemed to fit in suitably but for most of the numbers, I found they contributed little and I merely wanted them to get on with the story! Unlike the 1970 Albert Finney musical which did boast some truly catchy tunes, none of these songs were the least bit memorable. However, I did enjoy the carolers at the beginning of the movie. Also, Tiny Tim sings a song at the end which, if I heard correctly, tells the Christmas story (religious context) and it appeared as though Scrooge was truly moved.

Lest I appear too critical, this adaptation is a fairly traditional (if summarized) telling of Dickens' story and certainly maintains the original spirit. Again, I enjoyed March in the role and really loved some of the sets, especially the street scenes with the carolers and the drawing room with Fezziwig's party. I'd certainly recommend it to any Carol enthusiasts. Just keep an open mind and you'll enjoy it, but don't get your hopes up too high because you'll probably be disappointed!

Take Home Chef

Chef with Aussie charm provides a highly entertaining show
Although I have seen this on several occasions, I'm writing this mainly on behalf of my husband who loves this show! From my few viewings, I can see how the program effectively combines humour, romance, and drama with great cooking.

For those who have not seen this show, a little introduction --- The young male chef named Curtis visits a market where he chooses a female shopper, explaining to her that he would like to cook a gourmet meal for her and her husband/boyfriend or sometimes a female friend. He then pays for all the culinary ingredients, goes home with her and proceeds to prepare the feast, in the process providing her (and viewers) with his cooking tips. The woman generally sees to it via telephone that her husband's return is delayed until dinner is ready. Naturally this unsuspecting male receives the surprise of his life when he arrives home, and the couple is then wined and dined in style, compliments of this 'take home chef'.

I note complaints here that the entire show is a setup, but it wouldn't be practical to have a truly random selection. Some complain that the girls selected for his surprise dinner preparations are too pretty and others that they aren't pretty enough! However, the selections seem to me quite reasonable, and the little scenarios where they surprise the men in their lives with this gourmet feast are cute. It's always fun to watch the man opening his door to discover this good looking chef and his television crew!

I've also noted complaints about the kitchens being generally quite luxurious and while I haven't watched that many episodes personally, my husband claims that such is definitely not the case. I recall him remarking to me at the time that one kitchen was really very modest, and he actually felt quite sympathetic for the female guest in that episode because of it.

The cooking is always intriguing with no question as to this chef's considerable skills! Curtis himself is handsome (my own opinion here!) and unquestionably charismatic but also seems like 'just a really nice guy' -- not phony but truly personable, highly skilled yet modest, loves his work, shows genuine interest in the people on his show, and has a relaxed and refreshing air. Sometimes the women flirt a tad with him but he never reciprocates -- nothing is ever offensive.

I'm not much of a fan of cooking programs myself but of all the ones I've seen, this one with its little story in every episode most appeals to me, and my husband watches it faithfully every day. Great show, Curtis, I'd love to see you in MY kitchen!

My Fair Lady

Wonderful songs and costumes, a fair lady indeed and a deliciously insufferable tutor
I'm not an expert on the subject, having never read Shaw's play Pygmalion and being quite unfamiliar with any stage production of My Fair Lady. However, while I'm not normally a tremendous fan of musicals, I found this a wonderfully entertaining film adaptation.

Of course this movie tells the tale of the English phonetics expert, Dr. Henry Higgins, who wagers with his colleague, Colonel Pickering, that he can transform the gritty Cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, into a sophisticated lady simply by improving her diction, and pass her off as a Duchess at the upcoming Embassy Ball.

Professor Higgins must be the most outrageous, most insufferable character ever to grace the silver screen, yet I loved this absurd champion of the Queen's English! Rex Harrison is so perfect, so hilariously entertaining in the role that I can imagine no one else filling it. I'd also sing the praises of Wilfrid Hyde-White as Higgins' kind, gentlemanly academic cohort, Colonel Pickering. Likewise, Stanley Holloway is brilliant as Eliza's ne'er do well father, that spirited scoundrel Alfred P. Doolittle.

Regarding Eliza herself, there has been much controversy as to who should have been given the role, Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews, and I can thoroughly understand supporters of both these lovely ladies. Certainly Andrews had the voice and it has been argued, might have played the Cockney flower seller Eliza more convincingly. I feel that her career is one she can justifiably be proud of without having any regrets for missing out on the role she apparently captured so well on the stage.

However, I found Hepburn perfect as Eliza and personally had no objections to her casting or any problem with the dubbing. I found her transformation from flower seller to elegant lady completely believable, her appearance stunning and demeanour impeccable at the Embassy Ball, her underlying intelligence, kindness, and wit frequently apparent, her original plight and later her unrecognized feelings for Higgins poignantly portrayed.

The costumes are of course incredible, with the highlight surely being those atrocious, highly exaggerated hats at the Ascot races! In terms of the sets, I personally loved Professor Higgins' library with that spiral staircase! For me, the highlight of this film is the magnificent musical score by Lerner and Loewe. I like to leave the theatre after a musical humming one of its tunes, and there's barely a number in this one that didn't remain with me long afterward.

In "Wouldn't it be Loverly", we glimpse the hardships of Eliza's life and her longing for the simple comforts and a good man to share them with, while "I Could Have Danced All Night", gives us an inkling of her burgeoning feelings for her woefully inconsiderate tutor. Where else in the musical world is there such a celebration of triumph as in the ridiculous "The Rain in Spain"? And...sigh...the light seems to finally dawn upon our Professor in his musing "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". However, perhaps my favourites are Alfred P's lively "With A little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time", both perfect for singing in the shower!

Perhaps My Fair Lady has its flaws as some claim, but I found it to be a stunning production and a timeless musical classic with unforgettable characters, gorgeous costuming, and incredibly catchy tunes. Of course there's also Audrey Hepburn, who was always such a radiant and gracious fair lady, whether on screen or off.

Breaking Away

Endearing hero, fabulous music, heartwarming coming of age film
This is my absolute favourite coming of age movie! It has an endearing teenage hero, an engaging story, a touching theme, an amazing musical score, and an abundance of humour. The story revolves around Dave Stoller and his three buddies, four misfits who have just graduated from high school.

Dave recently received a bicycle as a gift, has become a good racer locally, and his heroes are the Italian Cinzano racing team. To the consternation of some, his life begins to revolve around his dreams of becoming a racing champion, to the extent that he basically tries to turn himself into an Italian. He learns the language, absorbs the culture, listens to its operas, and gives his cat an Italian name Fellini! He even pretends to be an Italian exchange student in order to impress a pretty sorority girl named Katherine, whom he calls Caterina and feels would otherwise be beyond his reach.

Dave makes an appealing hero, wonderfully portrayed by Dennis Christopher, vulnerable but with an amazing joie de vivre. His hilarious attempts at becoming Italian, for example shaving his legs like their men but not their women, proved one of the highlights of the movie. The scene where he serenades his Caterina at her sorority house has to be one of the most charming in all filmdom. I was also bowled over by his endearing enthusiasm when he discovers "The Italians are coming!", that his racing heroes will soon be arriving in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana where the entire tale is set, culminating in the Indiana Little 500 cycling race.

Dave is a kid who doesn't think he is good enough for college, lives in a fantasy world of Italian cycling, and wants to break away from his own aimless, mundane life. This is a typical coming of age movie in that he learns a lot about himself and the realities of life, especially from the behaviour of his heroes, the Cinzano racing team. His three sidekicks are a sympathetic bunch -- the rebellious, angry Mike, the short, feisty Moocher, and the goofy, appealing Cyril who seems to have no family. Through competing against the college crowd in the Little 500, they learn lessons in self esteem and team spirit, believing in yourself and striving toward reachable goals.

Breaking Away is a movie with obvious social class themes. Dave and his friends are "townies" called Cutters, named for the stonecutters from the town's quarries. The students at the nearby college campus look down their noses at these Cutters. However, Dave's father, who is a car salesman lacking a college education himself, teaches his son to take pride in the name, that it was stonecutters who built these impressive college buildings.

The film is refreshingly unusual in having a major sympathetic role played by Dave's parents. I absolutely loved the father, portrayed by Paul Dooley, the source of much of the film's humour, announcing for example that he doesn't want anything in his house that ends with 'ini'! Mr. Stoller despairs of his son's Italian phase, fearing verbally that Dave is going to wind up an Italian bum! Both the marital relationship between Dave's parents and the bond between father and son are captured with poignancy as well as humour.

When I first saw this movie after its original release, the thing that remained with me besides the charming joie de vivre of its hero was the wonderful Italian music, from Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and a Rossini opera. This musical score provides magnificent accompaniment to the bicycle racing sequences, especially one in which Dave is racing the Cinzano truck on a highway heading toward Bloomington!

This is a heartwarming movie that no one should miss. It may be almost thirty years old but its characters and story are as engaging as the day it was released. I won't give it away, but that last scene is priceless!

Petticoat Junction

Folksy & heartwarming shenanigans at the Shady Rest
This is a mindless, entertaining series from the 1960's that baby boomers such as myself grew up on. Petitcoat Junction is something of a first cousin to The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. The series portrays the goings on at the Shady Rest Hotel, which is located on the outskirts of the little village of Hooterville. The hotel is run by the widowed Kate Bradley and her three lovely young daughters, Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Betty Jo...all without much assistance from their lazy but protective Ol' Uncle Joe. Much of hotel life revolves around the local steam train, the Cannonball, operated by Floyd and Charlie, who make regular stops during their runs to Sam Drucker's little country store.

The two main stars wonderful, with Bea Benadaret playing the widow, Kate, and Edgar Buchanan Uncle Joe, who's mainly seen concocting get rich quick schemes while lazing about on the hotel's porch in his rocking chair. Yes, he's a-movin' kinda slow at the Junction. The three beautiful daughters are adequately cast, though with various actress changes mid way through the series.

The show gets its name from the three daughters at the Shady Rest. Naturally many of the plot lines revolve around the suitors of these lovely young ladies. Betty Jo, the youngest, is the one given the most character portrayal, initially something of a tomboy but eventually growing up to wed sweetheart Steve, the first Bradley sister to marry. Unlike some viewers, I don't recall her two sisters having very distinctive personalities, except for Billie Jo being starstruck. In my opinion, they mainly seem to look pretty, banter a bit with each other & their mom, and attract beaux. Assorted guests come & go from the Shady Rest, and it's all a leisurely, amusing tale of their various misadventures. All in all, it's a cute, fun, and harmless little series.

Rob Roy

Powerful portrait of an ordinary but honourable Scottish clansman
This is the moving tale of Scotland's legendary hero, Rob Roy, and his battles with the feudal landowners. Like Braveheart to which it is frequently compared, it is not very historical. Despite their primarily fictional nature, I rate both of these movies highly and would be hard pressed to choose between the two. The 13 Century William Wallace is, as others have noted, a larger than life national figure, while the early 18th Century Rob Roy comes across as an honourable but ordinary Scotsman.

The story revolves around a clan chieftain, Robert Roy McGregor, who lives in a Scottish highland cottage with his wife Mary and their two young sons. As the movie begins, he and his fellow clansmen are hunting down some thieves who have stolen the local lord's cattle. Rob Roy then wishes to improve the living conditions of his people so arranges to borrow one thousand Scottish pounds from a local noble, the Marquis of Montrose, in order to buy cattle to herd to market. He temporarily entrusts this money to his friend, Alan McDonald. When both McDonald and the money turn up missing, Rob Roy finds himself in conflict with Montrose as well as his despicable protégé, Archibald Cunningham, and his sleazy factor, Killearn. Rob Roy's honour is also tested when Montrose seeks to involve him in false testimony against his rival, the Duke of Argyle, whom he wishes to accuse of being a Jacobite.

The charismatic Liam Leeson is brilliant as the kilted highlander Rob Roy, an intelligent, virile, and noble hero and a man whose sense of honour is pivotal to this tale. Personally, I feel that this is Neeson's best performance, his brogue (albeit Irish) adding authenticity for the average viewer. Rob Roy is a stubborn, proud, courageous, and honest man whose word can be trusted. He is a loving husband & father, and also touchingly loyal to his friend, McDonald, who is accused of robbing him.

Tim Roth masterfully portrays his major adversary and surely one of the most heinous and sadistic cinematic villains, Archibald Cunningham, an egotistical, ruthless strutting peacock. He is very effeminate for someone who makes it his major business to ravish the local women, whether willing or otherwise. The pathetic Cunningham himself constantly refers to the fact that he is a bastard unaware of his own father's identity, though this hardly justifies his horrendous misdeeds of murder, rape, and thievery. Also, he mercilessly casts aside the young servant girl, Betty, after she becomes pregnant with his child, resulting in her suicide. John Hurt plays the arrogant and foppish Montrose, who is eventually implied to be Cunningham's father.

The movie is essentially the very believable love story between an ordinary man and his wife, beautifully depicting the passionate relationship between Rob Roy and Mary. Those who question the presence of passion within marriage should watch this husband and wife! I think the phrase used by this pair, 'How fine you are to me...' is surely one of the most beautiful expressions of love in all cinema.

The most compelling performance is possibly by Jessica Lange as Rob's wife, Mary McGregor. Lacking make up, she has the pretty but natural look of a sturdy peasant wife and mother. The actress brings great courage and dignity to her role when she is brutally raped by the despicable Cunningham, while the disgusting Killearn looks on. Her dialogue is plain spoken but filled with pride and grace. I give Hollywood its due that for once they showed just enough in the rape scene to reveal its cruelty as well as Mary's pain and humiliation, but nothing intended to sensationalize. Their kinsman, Alastair McGregor, shows emotional anguish when he learns of Mary's rape, and further torment when she swears him to secrecy never to reveal to her husband her violation by Cunningham.

Of course this film features the beautiful scenery of the Scottish highlands, also lavish period costumes and appropriate musical scoring. There are no grand battle scenes as in Braveheart, but continuous engaging action and a particularly gripping sword fight in the final duel between Rob Roy and Cunningham. This is a captivating movie featuring both tense action and a beautiful love tale.

Somewhere in Time

Lovely old fashioned romance, though not believable
I admit to being somewhat disappointed in this movie as I'd had great expectations, considering its cast with three of my favorite stars, Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. The old fashioned love tale is beautiful, but I felt that the context of time travel should have been managed more skillfully.

The story centers around a Chicago playwright, Richard Collier, who is approached on the opening night of his first play by an old lady who begs him "Come back to me", and presses into his hand a classic pocket watch. Several years later he discovers that this lady is Elise McKenna, a famous stage actress from the early 1900's, whose vintage portrait hangs in the Grand Hotel. Through self hypnosis, he manages to travel back in time to that era, where he meets the beautiful Elise and they fall in love, despite the objections of her manager. Also, despite the difficulties of being separated by almost a century in time.

The actors are all wonderful in their roles, the handsome and charming Christopher Reeve playing Richard, with Jane Seymour as Elise, absolutely beautiful, elegant, and radiant in every scene. Christopher Plummer is cast in the part of the overbearing, overprotective, mean spirited, and possessive manager, William Fawcett Robinson. Though Plummer's role isn't intended to be sympathetic, his acting is of course impeccable, and he's such a favorite of mine that I can never quite picture him as the villain of the piece. Personally...don't get angry with me...but I kind of wished he'd ended up settling down himself with this lovely actress for which he obviously has unrequited feelings.

My main problem lies with the time travel. This is definitely NOT a science fiction movie. While I wouldn't have expected technical scientific methods in a romance movie, surely the screenwriters could have come up with something a bit more believable than this silly self hypnosis. Though I'm quite a romantic myself, this really made the whole plot seem a little foolish. Also, there are just so many loose ends in connecting the 1912 Elise and the late 20th Century Richard. By the end, I wondered whether I had missed something along the way, so was a bit relieved to discover that a few others had the same problem. With such sloppy screen writing, I felt the producers were relying a little too much on the famous name stars and the dramatic High Romance of it all.

It's all pure dreamy romance, fantasy, and fairy tale throughout. Wonderful cinematography, beautiful scenes of Michigan's Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel, and lavish Oscar nominated turn of the century period costumes. If you can just suspend all critical thought processes, you can enjoy this movie as a haunting fairy tale, an escapist romantic fantasy.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Flawless and poignant portrait of racism, integrity, and childhood
While I must confess to not having read Harper Lee's novel, this movie might possibly rank with me as the greatest cinematic drama ever. It paints a vivid picture of the incredible injustice of racism in the 1930's South, a character study of a very principled lawyer, and a bittersweet view of childhood's innocence.

The film relates the story of a widowed Southern lawyer named Atticus Finch, as seen through the eyes of his tomboyish young daughter, Scout. Together with her older brother Jem and their sidekick Dill, the children explore the goings on of their local neighbourhood in Macon, Georgia. They also witness the South's entrenched racism in their own hometown when their father takes on the case of defending an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a local white girl. Of course the jury is all male & all white, and many of the prejudiced townsfolk do not take kindly to Robinson's defending lawyer, even extending their outrage to Atticus's children. Meanwhile, the youngsters are inquisitive about their reclusive neighbour Boo Bradley, rumoured to be a dangerous madman.

It would be difficult to imagine a more compelling and personal depiction of racism than this false accusation laid against the harmless, kind hearted Tom Robinson. These trumped up charges in fact result from the victim Mayella's own sense of guilt. Brock Peters perfectly captures the quiet humanity of this utterly sympathetic, despairing defendant who faces a predictable verdict from jury members who see all black people as liars. The scene where he breaks down on the witness stand will haunt you forever. Robinson's humble home and anguished family round out the portrait of this travesty of justice.

Atticus Finch is surely the most principled, gentlemanly fictional character ever conceived, masterfully portrayed here by Gregory Peck, himself such an endearing gentleman. He brilliantly captures Atticus's sense of justice and morality as he takes on the unpopular and even potentially dangerous task of defending Robinson. This is a kind and modest man who treats everyone with equal and white, rich and poor...the white Sheriff, his black housekeeper, his unjustly accused client, his children, his neighbours, the poverty stricken but proud farmer who pays him with vegetables for past legal services. Atticus never appears more dignified than during his controlled response to a churl who spits upon him. He displays patience and understanding with his two motherless children, as he quietly tries to teach them true values of fairness and decency. If only every child had a father with the integrity of Atticus Finch to emulate, this world would surely be a wonderful place.

The three children are engagingly portrayed by marvelous, perfectly cast young stars, the entire story depicted through their eyes. Scout is a feisty tomboy, unwillingly forced to don a dress for her school debut and later prone to fighting with any schoolboy who offends her. Her older brother Jem is fiercely protective of his father, displays endless curiosity about neighbour Boo, and mockingly accuses his sister of 'becoming more like a girl every day'. Their chum Dill, a funny looking and comical fellow, describes himself as 'little but old'. What an appealing and amusing trio they make! Atticus's black housekeeper, Calpurnia, is a concerned and respected mother figure, who takes Scout severely to task for her rude manners toward her young lunch guest!

The 1930's Southern small town neighbourhood is perfectly captured. Many of the scenes occur on the porches and in the yards, with the kids up to their assorted shenanigans. Their tree house and tire swing bring back childhood memories, and I can still hear those crickets. Unfolding events compel these innocent youngsters to face the sad adult realities of racism and injustice. Boo teaches the children a valuable lesson about the dangers of preconceptions, and gives the adults an unforgettable sense of true justice. Unexpectedly, he proves to be part of the title's mockingbird allusion.

The atmosphere in the small town courtroom is brought vividly to life as the spectators fan themselves against the stifling Georgia heat. William Windom (from Murder She Wrote) portrays the smirking prosecutor. The trial is itself gripping and Atticus's concluding remarks riveting and inspiring. During the final courtroom scene, the local black townsfolk reveal with great dignity their respect and appreciation for Atticus. This film is a moving tribute to those who fought against the evils of racial discrimination and an incredible masterpiece that no one should miss. Though tragic, it proves ultimately uplifting.

The Waltons

Wonderful, nostalgic series of family warmth and closeness
This is a delightful series with wholesome values that my own family often watched together during my son's earlier growing up years. It chronicles the ongoing story of a Depression Era family living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia...often seen though the eyes of the oldest son John Boy, a budding author, who relates his family's experiences in a journal. The series follows the Walton family through both the Depression and World War II. It also portrays the career paths, courtships, & marriages of many of the children, the births of new grandchildren, and the illnesses, aging, & deaths of some of the characters.

The mother, Olivia, is a devout Baptist who must deal with an extended stay in hospital as she suffers from tuberculosis. The father, John, though perhaps a little lapsed in his own faith, runs a saw mill and is a hard working man of integrity. The couple have seven children. John Boy eventually goes off to Richmond for college, Boatwright University, and later embarks upon a journalistic career in New York. Mary Ellen, a feisty tomboy, grows up to become a nurse and marries a doctor, Curtis Willard, sent to Pearl Harbour just prior to the Japanese attack. Jason is the family's budding musician, sometimes providing lively entertainment at the local Dew Drop Inn. Ben marries at a young age the pretty Cindy, and the two are set up with charming little accommodations adjacent to the main Walton house. Erin, the pretty one with her various beaux, is employed at the local telephone switchboard and later by G.W. Haines. Jim Bob is a mechanical tinkerer, and Elizabeth the rather spoiled and generally irritating baby of the family.

Also living under the same roof are John's parents, the devilish but wise old Grandpa Zebulun and the strict & proper but feisty Grandma Esther. Years ago, it became a family chuckle that if Grandma Walton wouldn't have approved of the language, then it just wasn't acceptable! The banter between these grandparents is absolutely precious. I liked the multi generational aspects of the program with eventually four generations of Waltons. An ongoing storyline involved the stroke suffered by Grandma (and actress Ellen Corby), which restricted her movement and left her with a severe speech impediment. Also, actor Will Greer passed away, so the family was forced to grieve the loss of Grandpa.

The likable country store keeper, Ike Godsey, and his prim & snooty wife, Corabeth, appear regularly on the show. Other local characters are featured, including Yancy Tucker and a succession of various parsons (one was portrayed by actor John Ritter). Of course my favourites are the charming, elderly Baldwin sisters with their legendary Recipe inherited from their dearly departed father! Olivia and Grandma were strongly opposed to alcohol, but Grandpa would sometimes stop by at the Baldwins for a wee nip of the Recipe, actually moonshine whiskey. Some episodes also featured interactions with 'outsiders', including circus acrobats and gypsies.

Most of the individual episodes are quite engaging, and the family's interactions even during conflict show an underlying warmth. Their famous extended calls of Good Night are of course legendary! Many plot lines revolve around their various financial struggles to live a decent life during the Great Depression. The marital relationship between John & Olivia is well captured, as well as the siblings' interactions and their relationship with their parents & grandparents.

Sadly, I am not surprised that this heartwarming series is receiving a few disparaging reviews these days. Perhaps life wasn't all rosy and moral back in the 1930's with issues of poverty, racism and so forth. However, its values were generally preferable to the decaying ones of today, where materialism reigns supreme, parents & offspring alike feel entitled to their self absorbed attitude, rudeness is the norm in human interactions, the nuclear family and moral absolutes are becoming obsolete, and faith is mocked everywhere. This series represents the very antithesis of all such modern views, but thankfully, the vast majority of reviewers here still seem to appreciate it. Yes, better the Waltons than the Simpsons. My son is now a college sophomore, but admits to looking back fondly upon the series.

Indeed, these Walton characters are almost like family members in many homes, including my own. My compliments to actors Ralph Waite (John), Michael Learned (Olivia), Richard Thomas (John Boy), and all the others who brought them so vividly to life. Yes, the series can be sappy at times and may not always be realistic, but it is really not overly sentimental as some claim. Rather it is a depiction of the way we should ALL treat each other and the love, closeness, concern, warmth, and often unselfish giving that should be found in ALL our homes. Pity there aren't more TV programs nowadays that give us something worthy to aspire to.


Marvelous, if not quite faithful, adaptation of du Maurier's thriller
This black and white classic is generally a wonderful adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel, and despite a number of liberties taken, I compliment Hitchcock on this brilliant thriller. The story revolves around a shy young woman who, having no family herself, is forced to serve as a paid companion to an obnoxious socialite named Mrs. Van Hopper, vacationing in Monte Carlo. While there, she meets a handsome but abrupt English widower named Maxim de Winter, who is staying at the same hotel and escorts her about. The innocent young woman is swept away by this mature and mysterious man, though she dares not reveal her emotions, given her lowly social position. Though there is strangely little romance involved, Maxim unexpectedly proposes marriage. The two wed and honeymoon abroad, then Maxim brings his bride home to his grand English country estate, Manderley.

At Manderley the insecure, nameless second Mrs. de Winter is emotionally haunted by Maxim's first wife, the beautiful and accomplished Rebecca. Though Rebecca drowned many months earlier in a boating accident, her memory seems all too fresh in the minds of Maxim's sister Beatrice, his servants, and indeed Maxim himself. The haunting R's are everywhere...on the table linens, the lacy handkerchief, the address book, the dressing gown case. We never see so much as a photograph of the mysterious Rebecca, but her lingering presence is felt through both her possessions and the recollections of others. The domineering and foreboding housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was personally devoted to Rebecca and exhibits unconcealed disdain for the new intruding and inadequate mistress of Manderley. When Danny shows Maxim's new bride the bizarre West Wing shrine she keeps to her former mistress, it seems as though Rebecca herself might walk in at any moment and use the nightgown and hairbrushes meticulously laid out for her.

For me, the quality of any adaptation of this novel depends upon the persona of the second Mrs. de Winter. Joan Fontaine is sympathetic and endearing in the role, suitably shy and bewildered, but this actress is far too pretty! Maxim's new bride should be unglamorous, even plain and dowdy. Primarily for this reason, I prefer the 1979 serial version which has a perfectly cast Mrs. de Winter. However, Laurence Olivier is superb as the mature, sophisticated, often brooding, and occasionally rather nasty Maxim de Winter. The most masterful performance is definitely given by Judith Anderson as the dark, sinister, and menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, whose chilling stare dominates much of the tale.

Maxim's business agent and friend, Frank Crawley, is faithfully portrayed as a quiet, kind, and competent individual who is unfailingly loyal to Maxim. Beatrice is suitably forthright, Giles foolish and chubby, the servants appropriately formal, and Jack Favell utterly despicable. Mrs. Van Hopper is wonderfully captured as the rude, chattering, condescending, and altogether obnoxious socialite of the novel, fawning over the aristocracy. Her character is necessary in order to cement sympathy for her paid companion and her social situation. I found the Monte Carlo scenes well presented, though could hardly picture du Maurier's gauche heroine so comfortably at ease dancing with Maxim.

The sets especially are brilliantly done, depicting Maxim's grand English country manor. I felt that I was literally standing in Manderley's grand hall with its incredible staircase. Library, morning room, dining room, upstairs galleries, Rebecca's bedroom, and boathouse are all perfectly captured. The Cornish coastal scenes with the haunting fog enshrouded sea are portrayed in typical eerie Hitchcock fashion. Even Jasper the spaniel is perfect!


According to the Hays Code, no movie could depict a murderer in a sympathetic light so the screenwriters were forced to cast Rebecca's death as an accident. Fortunately, I was aware of this in advance so managed the altered portrayal of events quite well. However, it certainly changed the flavour of this sinister tale.

As appealing as the dewy eyed Joan Fontaine is, Hitchcock falls short in capturing Mrs. de Winter. He changes completely her role in the Manderley costume ball preparations by indicating that SHE herself is taking charge. In the book, Mrs. de Winter feels utterly inadequate and useless in these preparations as the domineering Mrs. Danvers organizes menus, flowers, music, and invitations. The worst outrage is his failure to depict the complete transformation of this awkward, insecure young woman, initially so ill at ease as mistress of Manderley and timid with the servants. Once she is assured of Maxim's love and no longer haunted by Rebecca, the novel's Mrs. de Winter immediately becomes a confident lady of the manor, scolding a maid and even taking on Mrs. Danvers. Yes, there IS one movie scene where she DOES defy the housekeeper, declaring, 'I am Mrs. de Winter now'. However, it's ALL WRONG, defeating its purpose by occurring BEFORE Maxim reveals the truth. Hitchcock is certainly a master of the thriller but totally missed the point here.

The ball scenes are shortened due to time constraints, some of the later settings altered, and liberties taken with the conclusion. The novel's Mrs. de Winter is driving home from London with Maxim, rather than remaining behind at Manderley during the fire. The lovey dovey embrace with the implied 'happily ever after' ending is unfaithful to the book. Neither at the beginning nor elsewhere is the viewer ever informed that the de Winters are currently living abroad in obscure hotels on the Continent in self imposed exile. However, for those less concerned with accuracy to the novel, this movie is a haunting and engrossing romantic thriller with an extremely sympathetic heroine.

Road to Avonlea

Charming, heartwarming rural adventures on Prince Edward Island
This is a lovely, touching series revolving around the old fashioned adventures of a group of rural villagers in early 1900's Prince Edward Island. With characters and events very loosely based on L.M. Montgomery's books, the program makes for entertaining and heartwarming family viewing.

The series revolves around an 11 year old Montreal girl, Sara Stanley, who is sent by her wealthy father to live at Rose Cottage with her maiden aunts, Hetty and Olivia King, in the PEI village of Avonlea. The show chronicles the experiences of this young girl, who has been accustomed to city ways, as she adapts to her newfound rural relatives and simple village life. It also portrays Sara's various misadventures with her young cousins, the King offspring.

Sara's Aunt Hetty is a strait laced, humourless spinster schoolteacher. Olivia is Sara's more affectionate, younger aunt who works as a reporter for the local newspaper. Later Olivia marries Jasper Dale, a shy, stammering photographer and inventor. The King cousins, who live next door to Rose Cottage and share Sara's adventures, are the offspring of the loving & motherly but independent minded Janet and her farming husband Alec King, who is Hetty and Olivia's younger brother. The three King children include 13 year old Felicity, with her superior demeanor and later her beaux, mischievous 10 year old Felix, and the quiet, younger Cecily, who later suffers from tuberculosis and must go to a sanitarium. During the course of the series, the three King siblings are joined baby Daniel while all these other children grow up. Felicity attends medical school and Felix works in the White Sands Hotel, while the independent Sara herself travels abroad and seeks a literary career in Paris.

The roles all seem well cast. Sara Poley wonderfully portrayed the adventurous, feisty blonde Sara Stanley. Jackie Burroughs is especially magnificent depicting the strict spinster Aunt Hetty. Some of the characters from Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables also appear, including the local busybody Rachel Lynde, her more reserved best friend Marilla Cuthbert, and the schoolteacher Miss Stacey, Hetty's rival and polar opposite.

Personally, I watched more of the earlier episodes with the focus on Sara, so am less familiar with the later tales relating more to the blossoming Felicity and her romance with Gus Pike. There's an interesting life lesson from these two girls. As another has also noted here, it warns us of the dangers of false assumptions. Felicity assumes that the rich urban Sara will be the snobbish stuck up one, but it is actually the rural Felicity herself who puts on airs.

I forget many of the episode details as it's been awhile, but just happened lately to stumble upon the TV channel where it's shown in re runs so will certainly tune in again. The episode I recently watched revolves around Janet's frail, elderly Great Aunt Eliza, a critical and opinionated spinster guest who has worn out her welcome in the King household. The episode also incorporates a storyline about a school science fair project for these youngsters, all tied in with harsh weather conditions that are threatening the King farm's lambing. Just one example of the type of stories in this series.

The adventures and regular everyday experiences of these Island villagers make for a touching, engaging, and addicting series. The program features lovely rural scenery, unfortunately filmed in Ontario rather than on PEI itself. There's also all the outdated domestic touches one would expect, the pre electricity oil lamps and so forth. Wonderful family viewing with good values, certainly vastly superior to the majority of modern TV offerings for young people these days.

The Untouchables

Gripping Chicago gangster thriller depicts touching bond between four law enforcers
Although liberally laced with violence and profanity, this movie provides a gripping depiction of the monumental effort involved by a handful of men in bringing to justice the gangster, Al Capone. It features an authentic 1930's Chicago atmosphere, the styles and automobiles of that era. While perhaps the story isn't totally historical, I always found the reality amazing that this ruthless murderer was finally nailed by authorities on the comparatively trivial charge of income tax evasion.

The movie is set in Prohibition Era Chicago. Crime lord Al Capone rules the city and even controls the police force, where corruption is rampant. Unlike most of his fellow law enforcement officers, Federal Agent Elliot Ness, cannot turn a blind eye to the criminal underworld and resolves to take Capone down by indicting him on income tax charges. To achieve this goal, he assembles a team consisting of a veteran cop Jim Malone, a rookie sharpshooter George Stone, and a Treasury accountant Oscar Wallace. Together this band of very disparate individuals sets out to bring Capone down.

The film features a stellar cast. Kevin Costner imparts the right touch to Ness, who is originally innocent and honourable, but later finds himself involved in an increasingly dirty war. At first he is a fresh faced do gooder in a three piece suit, determined to do everything strictly by the book. As events unfold, he realizes that he must resort to a few less noble means to achieve his worthy goal.

Sean Connery shines in his performance as the tough, old fashioned, Irish-American beat cop Malone, for which he fully deserved his Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He displays humour, charm, and unfailing no nonsense wisdom in the ways of both Chicago's criminals and crooked cops. The other team members are well portrayed here by Andy Garcia as the sharpshooter Agent Stone, fresh out of the police academy, and Charles Martin Smith as the bookish accountant, Oscar Wallace. There's a cute and amusing scene in which the scholarly, bespectacled Wallace takes to horseback in a 'yee haw' fashion during one of their shootouts with the illegal alcohol dealers.

Always the quintessential expert at mobster roles, Robert DeNiro is perfect as Capone. Some claim he gives too warm and fuzzy an image to this ruthless gangster. However, I believe he portrays perfectly this cocky, cold blooded killer. Even Capone's barber is terrified when he inadvertently cuts him while shaving. The tuxedo clad Capone's tears during a sad scene at the opera failed to elicit much compassion from me, instead merely inspiring a sense of outrage and disgust.

Ness's family life is portrayed briefly here. We see his wife's little notes in his lunch bag, Ness at his young daughter's bedside as she says her prayers, and him visiting his new baby son in hospital. His family must of course be hustled off to safety after they are threatened by Capone's hoodlums. My only complaint is the dewy eyed, unrealistically innocent and naive wife. Her cheerful nonchalance strains credulity, as in reality one would predict her to be distraught with concern over her husband's safety.

This cops and robbers thriller is engrossing but also troubling with so much violence. There are certainly gripping action sequences and shoot outs, especially the masterful train station scene. Personally, I would check with reliable sources before taking any of it as historical fact. However, the movie brilliantly captures the touching bond that develops between these four highly motivated and personally endangered Untouchables.

Forever Young

Old fashioned sweet and gentle tale of enduring love
This is a lovely sentimental love story that is refreshingly suitable for family viewing. Though not a plausible tale and despite its rather slow start, it does have an engaging plot and sympathetic characters.

The tale, begun in 1939, revolves around a test pilot, Daniel, who is in love with a pretty young woman named Helen. He discovers himself alas, too tongue tied to pop the matrimony question to her in a restaurant as planned. Unfortunately it appears to have been an opportunity forever lost, as Helen is immediately afterward run down by a truck. Unable to bear the ongoing pain of watching his beloved in a coma, he begs his scientist friend, Harry, to use him as a guinea pig in his risky cryogenic experiments and place him in a frozen state until Helen awakens. However, World War II begins, Harry is killed, and plans go awry such that Daniel is not awakened until 1992 when a young boy, Nat Cooper, and is friend inadvertently discover his metal cryogenic tube and pretend it's a submarine. Nat and his mom, Claire, become Daniel's friends in his newly awakened life.

Mel Gibson is very endearing in the role of Daniel, who must try to untangle his regenerated life, adjust to modern times, find Harry, and cope with ongoing grief over Helen... all while living with his new friends, the Coopers. Elija Wood is suitably appealing as the young Nat, and Jamie Lee Curtis gives a sympathetic portrayal of the single mom, Claire, whom Daniel gallantly rescues from an abusive former boyfriend. Daniel and Claire have some interesting scenes together, with her cast as a possible new love interest. Actually Helen, Daniel's old love from the 30's, makes only brief appearances in this film.

There are a number of cute scenes in the movie, such as Daniel gobbling down blueberry pie in a diner booth while trying to summon the nerve to propose to Helen. It's quite amusing when Nat & his pal stumble upon Daniel's cryogenic tube and believe this 'cold man' is a regenerated dead guy whose intent is to do them harm! Nat has an adorable tree house where Daniel later gives his young protégé flying lessons.

Yes, it has a sappy, sentimental ending although I personally loved it! It's so moving when Daniel is reunited with his long lost love, now elderly but still lovely, in a dramatic scene with a seaside background. He gets the chance to propose to her that he missed 50 years earlier, and they can finally live happily ever after...however long (or short) a time that may be. The movie teaches us a lesson to seize the moment and never leave words left unsaid to loved ones, especially in affairs of the heart.

School Ties

Compelling boarding school tale of anti Semitism
I'm a real sucker for boarding school stories. Dead Poets Society and The Emperor's Club are two of my favorite movies ever, and I liked the school plot line from Scent of a Woman. Thus I also enjoyed this movie, though perhaps not as much as I'd hoped. It explores various themes including anti Semitic prejudice, interfaith romance, friendship, class snobbery, honor, and so on.

The story is set in the 1950's at an expensive boys' prep school. David Green, is at the school to help its football team win, replacing former quarterback, Charlie, who is naturally jealous. David fears rejection because he is from a working class family. Not only that, but he is Jewish and is encouraged to hide the fact due to anti Semitic sentiments among the students, faculty, and parents. Further complications arise when David becomes involved with a pretty girl named Sally, whom Charlie claims as his own girlfriend.

The entire issue of anti Semitic prejudice is well explored. When it is discovered that the previously well liked David is Jewish, he is harassed with Charlie as ringleader. Not only that, but his religion taints his peer's perception of him such that, despite his earlier popularity, it becomes easy for the jealous, vengeful Charlie to push off his own cheating on an exam onto David, after crib notes are discovered by the teacher. Actually, perhaps most distressing is the Jewish ethnic jokes that are told in front of David and considered quite acceptable early in the movie, before his fellow students realize that he is in fact Jewish.

The superficial Sally does appear to be simply a bigot, I admit, when she no longer wishes to continue dating David once she discovers that he is Jewish. However, a girl in her situation might not be the villain of the piece, but genuinely anguished at having to make such a painful decision for legitimate rather than racist reasons. Dating often naturally progresses to marriage, and in reality, interfaith marriages are fraught with difficulties, especially if the couple has children. A Christian / Jewish marriage would certainly have its challenges. I applaud this movie's general anti bigotry theme, but take exception to its message that inter faith dating is just all warm and fuzzy.

The young actors acquit themselves well in this movie. Chris O'Donnell, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon went on to become famous stars. All in all, this is generally quite an engaging movie that makes a point of supposed friends proving otherwise because of racial issues.

The Hunt for Red October

Gripping Cold War submarine thriller with an enigmatic Soviet captain
Although I never read the Tom Clancy novel on which it is based, this is an engrossing submarine thriller with a Cold War storyline.

The plot follows the gripping maiden voyage of the new Soviet typhoon class submarine Red October. This new sub is intended as a first strike weapon, equipped with propulsion systems that enable it to travel silently and undetected. It is skippered by the most respected Russian naval commander, Captain Marco Ramius. His plans to defect result in the entire Russian navy seeking to destroy the Red October. Meanwhile, the Americans fear that Ramius has become a rogue captain intending to launch his sub's nuclear missiles on the cities of the American Eastern Seaboard. Only CIA officer, Jack Ryan, believes that Ramius' intent is defection, and he has very little time indeed to persuade the American navy that his assumptions are correct.

For me the movie is made by the masterful performance of Sean Connery in the role of Captain Ramius, the widowed submarine captain born and raised in Lithuania. Nicknamed the Vilnius Schoolmaster, Ramius has trained many Soviet naval officers during his years of teaching at the Vilnius naval academy. Connery ages like a fine wine and has never looked more appealing than in the naval uniform of the USSR. He depicts the character of Ramius well, a commanding officer at ease with his authority, both unfailingly competent and unflinchingly cool under pressure. He appears to be a man of integrity with a conscience regarding the USSR's new first strike weapon submarine. However, he's also an enigmatic character that keeps the viewer a little unsure as to his intent, whether it is defecting or launching missiles. What exactly is that Ramius up to?

The other roles are also well cast. Alec Baldwin with his boyish charm is convincing as Jack Ryan, a CIA officer leery of flying. Sam Neill especially gives a brilliant and sympathetic performance as Captain Vasily Borodin, the second in command of the Red October. Scott Glenn plays the gruff Commander Mancuso of the American submarine Dallas. My only complaint is the disappointing minor role of James Earl Jones (normally one of my favourites) as the authoritative CIA director Admiral James Greer. With his magnificent deep voice, it's a shame his dialogue seems to consist of barking orders, unfortunately often swearing as he does so.

All the underwater submarine cinematography and the Oscar winning sound effects make for a convincing tale. I loved the dramatic launch sequence of the Red October at the beginning of the movie when it puts out to sea from Murmask in northern Russia. Also, the accompanying musical scoring is fabulous, the rousing Russian background music. It's quite touching when at one point the submarine crew breaks into the majestic Russian National Anthem. The language issue is well addressed, usually English but at appropriate times Russian with subtitles. The Soviet captain's Scottish brogue didn't bother me in the least!

The submarine tension here is a little reminiscent of Das Boot, but interspersed with international intrigue. Throughout the movie but especially during the closing submarine battle scenes, there is gripping action to keep you on the edge of your seat. It's an intense Cold War thriller unlikely to disappoint.

The Brady Bunch

Light hearted misadventures of an idealized Big Happy Family
This is a sitcom from the 1970's that is based on an unlikely premise but nevertheless makes good family, heartwarming, and entertaining escapist drivel. The story revolves around a blended family originating when the widowed California architect, Mike Brady, marries a lovely lady, Carol, who is herself a single mom raising three daughters. Mike's three boys, Greg, Peter, & Bobby, originally range in age from 7 to 13. Carol's girls, Marcia, Jan, & Cindy, vary from age 6 to 12. By the series' end all the kids are basically teenagers. Meanwhile, the six offspring in this new combined family together experience assorted growing up trials, sibling rivalry, school issues, dating woes, and family vacations. Also included in the Brady family is their comical live-in housekeeper named Alice.

Of course it isn't exactly a likely scenario, the blending of so many children (including teenagers) more probably fraught with major serious challenges. Here the family is both relatively affluent and very functional, with any difficulties quite trivial and always amusingly solved within the half hour. Not only do these six kids have a stay at home mom but also the benefit of the affable & amusing Alice to help sort things out for them. Furthermore, the former spouses prove to be no problem. The boys experience no prolonged grief for their birth mother, Mike's first wife. It isn't clear whether Carol is divorced but in any case, her first husband seems conveniently out of the picture. The kids immediately assume all appropriate parental and fraternal bonds with their step people.

However, the show's essential positive values more than compensate for all these inadequacies, with sitcoms generally not intended to be unduly realistic anyway. True, the Bradys live a prosperous California lifestyle in a Los Angeles suburb, the parents are invariably patient and caring, and the kids sometimes even get to choose their own punishments. Nevertheless, these Brady kids are respectful of their parents, who are assumed to know more than their children (not the reverse). They are disciplined when they go astray, taught concepts of right and wrong, and generally expected to live up to them. All in sharp contrast to prevailing modern TV standards.

I haven't really watched the show in re runs though would still tune in now and then, if given the opportunity. Therefore it's been awhile, so I don't recall many specific episodes. The Bradys are definitely an idealized average American middle class family. However, it's a carefree, innocent, and light hearted program, improbable but with good values.

The Moon-Spinners

Exotic romantic thriller deviates disappointingly from the novel
While I was a great Hayley Mills fan during that era, I found this dumbed down Disney adaptation of Mary Stewart's engrossing novel disappointing. The story revolves around a young girl, Nikki Ferris, who travels with her aunt to the Greek island of Crete. While there, Nikki and a handsome young love interest named Mark become involved in unearthing a case of jewel theft and murder, all in connection with the hotel's surly, unwelcoming owner and her villainous brother, Stratos.

My complaints are numerous. For starters, Stewart's heroine is supposed to be a young woman in her early 20', independent, and competent though ultimately vulnerable to the unfolding events. Hayley Mills, much as I like this actress, just seemed totally wrong for the role. Stewart's Nicola simply isn't intended to be the perky, whiny, fresh faced teenager, Nikki, that is portrayed here by Mills. Also, although there is a budding romance involved, the novel is essentially a mystery thriller. This movie seems more a teen romantic comedy with a few mystery / suspense elements thrown in. Some have aptly described Nikki's relationship with Mark as puppy love. In the novel Nicola is older and it's a genuine romance.

I loved the book which I read as a teenager myself and really admired Nicola, who's such an intelligent heroine. It was so difficult for me to get past her age & character transformation and the different genre given to the tale that I failed to enjoy this movie. Really, the entire plot of this Disney flick deviates so much from the novel that most of the time, I would hardly have recognized it.

However, there is lovely Greek scenery and it's undoubtedly an entertaining film for those who haven't read the book. I don't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of it. Hayley gets her first screen kiss here from Peter McEnery who portrays Mark. Also, I'd definitely recommend this movie for viewing by young people, as it's a whole lot more inspiring than most of what's out there these days. Just whatever you do, don't read the novel first! I repeat...DO NOT READ THE BOOK FIRST.


Fun and heartwarming fare with everyone's favourite dolphin
I was rather appalled to see the low rating this movie received here, personally considering it fun family fare. It revolves around a young teenager, Sandy Ricks, who is sent by his mom to Coral Key to spend the summer with his Uncle Porter. While there he befriends a dolphin named Flipper. Lots of adventures ensue amid the predictable nephew / uncle bonding as well as a little romance for Sandy with a local girl.

I'm a great Crocodile Dundee fan myself so absolutely loved Paul Hogan in his role as crusty and comical Uncle Porter. For starters, he keeps an endless stock of Spaghetti-O's in his house to serve as his usual meal, heated with a blowtorch! Elija Wood, Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, appeared quite competent playing the young Sandy, a boy at first none too fond of his forced summer vacation locale.

Of course the dolphin is magnificent and there are some wonderful underwater scenes. Set in the Florida Keys, it was apparently filmed in the Bahamas. This adaptation of Flipper makes great family entertainment, a sweet, sentimental, and fun movie that is infinitely superior to many of the cinematic offerings for youngsters nowadays.

Air Force One

Tense action thriller features a magnetic and heroic President
While not particularly believable, this is certainly an entertaining and suspenseful action thriller. The improbable tale revolves around the fictional U.S. President Marshall who is returning via Air Force One to the States after giving a speech in Moscow. After Russian hijackers seize the plane, they threaten to execute one hostage every half hour until their demands are met for release of a Russian terrorist, General Raddack. They believe the President himself has left the plane on an escape pod. However, he has stayed behind, hiding and employing various tactics to rescue his wife and daughter who are still aboard. A former soldier himself and Medal of Honour winner from the Vietnam War, he proves himself an adversary to be reckoned with.

For me, this movie is all about two factors. First its setting aboard the Presidential jet Air Force One naturally engrosses the viewer. Everyone is captivated by the details of the Presidential airplane and the horrific prospect of a hijacking.

Second, the magnetic Harrison Ford is perfect in the role of President Marshall, a compelling figure who is outraged at the seizure of his plane. This devoted family man is faced with the wrenching choice of giving in to terrorist demands or endangering the lives of his wife and daughter. He refuses to compromise but proves himself willing to undergo any risks involved in order to protect his family. Other stars include Gary Odman as the head Russian terrorist and Glenn Close as the Vice President.

This exciting movie features suitably dramatic and patriotic musical scoring by the wonderfully talented late Jerry Goldsmith. My only complaints are the considerable violence as well as some profanity. However, it certainly has non stop action and tense drama to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are truly evil villains but also a compelling hero who's dedicated to both his country and his family. Overall this movie is simply a lot of fun to watch.

Top Gun

Entertaining macho tale of airborne acrobatics and dogfight daredeviltry
Maybe this is something of a U.S. military naval recruitment film but if taken not too seriously, this testosterone laced movie actually makes for quite entertaining viewing. The jet maneuvers shown are both impressive & exciting and might tend to increase the viewer's respect (as it certainly did mine) for the amazing skill and incredible nerve of real life fighter pilots.

The story revolves around a bold, daring, and overconfident navy fighter pilot, Lieutenant Pete Mitchell (call name 'Maverick'), who is sent to the Top Gun Naval Flying School along with his close pal, Goose. Maverick strives to prove himself the best pilot in this demanding course, but faces both stiff competition from a fellow pilot named Iceman as well as personal conflict dealing with his own haunting demons following the mysterious death of his father, also an air ace pilot. Meanwhile, he falls for a lovely civilian astrophysics instructor, Charlotte (Charlie) Blackwood.

Tom Cruise is well cast in the role of the hotshot pilot...the cocky, audacious, fearless, but ultimately conflicted and anguished Maverick. Kelly McGillis portrays his often antagonistic love interest, Charlie, who's as smart as she is pretty. Other stars include Tom Skerrit as a real top gun flight instructor, Commander Metcalf (Viper), who proves to be both a skilled and professional pilot but also a compassionate individual. Meg Ryan appears in her screen debut as Goose's perky, fun loving young wife, Carole Bradshaw, a minor role and one which I personally found rather irritating.

I half expected that I'd find this movie just all too macho, but it's actually quite engaging to watch. Maverick's personal story, his inner strife, and his romance with Charlie prove less riveting than the incredible airborne stunts with these jets. Yes, they have to be among the best aerial shots ever. This film was made during the Cold War era with its USSR enmity so there are appearances by enemy Russian MiG fighters, naturally cast as the intrusive villains of the piece. The film also does a great job at depicting all the male bonding between these pilots...the camaraderie, rivalry, banter, inter dependency, and genuine close friendship.

Maverick is a fighter pilot who, according to Charlie, is only happy when he's 'going Mach Two with his hair on fire'. He's heard to remark just prior to climbing into the cockpit, 'I feel the need for speed'. He also takes great delight in unexpected and forbidden fly byes next to the control tower, scaring the living daylights out of his colleagues and causing them to spill their coffee. I love the little paper airplane touch with Charlie! Guess how Maverick transports himself around the city while on the ground...that's right, zipping about on a motorcycle!

The movie features highly effective cinematography of these jets taking off from the aircraft carrier, all accompanied by a fabulous racy musical soundtrack. The romantic scenes are of course to the Oscar winning song 'Take My Breath Away'. Although it certainly features its sad moments, Top Gun is on the whole simply a lively and fun movie to watch.

Sense and Sensibility

Subtle & romantic period piece, though one heroine is rather despicable
This is a beautifully photographed and costumed period piece that reflects 18th Century English attitudes toward romance. Matches were often made based on financial constraints, less financially secure young ladies being at the mercy of their charms in attracting a husband with suitable prospects. The movie also features an absolutely stellar Oscar nominated performance by Emma Thompson. Although I didn't read Jane Austen's novel, I generally love films depicting this more genteel and subtle period with its gracious manners, formal methods of address, and undeclared emotions. However, I must admit that this particular story is not my favourite. I found the tale a trifle plodding at times especially near the beginning, and actually found the character of the second sister downright despicable!

The story revolves around around the family of the rich Mr. Dashwood, who has died and left his estate to the son his first wife. His second wife and her three daughters (Elinor, Marianne, and the young Margaret) are placed in considerable financial difficulty, forcing them to live with a cousin who has kindly agreed to take them in. The two marriageable but penniless sisters are polar opposites, Elinor being restrained and practical while Marianne is demonstrative and romantic. Elinor's budding relationship with the wealthy and kind Edward Ferrars faces unexpected obstacles while Marianne is courted by two very different suitors, the dashing young Mr. Willoughby and the rich & worthy but much older Colonel Brandon.

The highlight of this tale is the magnificent performance by Emma Thompson as the restrained Elinor. As the only practical lady of the family, she must manage the difficult accounts and see to both the spirited Marianne and the difficult young Margaret. Personally, I did not find this actress too old for the role as she is cast as the spinster of the piece with marriage past due. It makes her story more compelling that she has waited so long for romance. Elinor suffers in silence from unrequited love, all the while enduring the incessant whining, weeping, and cruel & mocking barbs of the middle sister, Marianne.

Though portrayed well by the lovely Kate Winslet, the spoiled Marianne made me absolutely want to slap her throughout the movie. Although she does perhaps mature a trifle as events unfold, I could hardly picture any viewer caring a hoot whether or not this totally self absorbed girl lives happily ever after with her true love. Throughout the tale she exhibits an unfortunate tendency to run off into the countryside during rainstorms, requiring gallant rescue efforts by heroic gentlemen on horseback, clad in splendid black top coats & hats, all resulting in much strife for herself and her poor family.

As for the gentlemen in question, Alan Rickman plays the magnificent Colonel Brandon, who is everything a hero of that era should be. Not a 'pretty boy' but a chiselled and compelling mature figure that is the very essence of kindness. As for Willoughby, from first sight I detested this handsome creature with his Shakespearean sonnets. Hugh Grant is perfect in his typical stammering, bumbling role as Edward, the object of Elinor's affections, but I wished he had been featured in more scenes. For at least 90 minutes of the film, he simply doesn't appear.

Other notable characters include the girls' nasty sister-in-law, Fanny Dashwood, the irritating Lucy Steele with her mysterious connections, and Edward's rather foolish brother, Robert. The youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret, is an endearing little nuisance, exhibiting a fondness for geography, her tree house, and telling tales her sisters might have preferred left untold! Edward seems to have a touching rapport with this challenging young minx.

The green English country scenery is lovely, the period costumes magnificent, the horse drawn carriages elegant, the lavishly furnished manors grand, the balls splendid, and so forth. There's an interesting glimpse into one of the more bizarre medical procedures of that era as well as all the usual courtly practices of calling cards and bowing politely to guests being received. It's escapist entertainment watching it all, and quite refreshing to enjoy a movie totally lacking in sex, profanity, and violence. Also, the selfless Elinor's heartbreaking venture into the romantic realm is indeed extremely touching. However, I would have preferred a more sympathetic second heroine to cheer for as well, in keeping with Jane Austen's other famous tale, Pride and Prejudice.

Legends of the Fall

Moving masterpiece of family bonds ripped asunder
When I tuned in to this movie, I fully expected to see Hollywood trash, having heard that the story revolves around three brothers who all have relationships with the same woman. Much to my surprise, I found a captivating epic well presented and a very moving depiction of the close father / son and brother bonds torn apart by the unfolding emotions involving this woman.

The legend begins with Colonel Ludlow, who is disgusted with the government and chooses to raise his three sons (Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel) in the Rocky Mountain wilderness of Montana. His wife and the boys' mother, Isabel, has retreated off to civilized city life, having no fondness for the wilds. The three brothers enjoy very close and loyal fraternal bonds until the youngest, Samuel, brings his fiancé, Susannah Fincannon, back from college with him to meet his family. The oldest brother, Alfred, falls in love with his brother's fiancé, while Susanna herself develops passionate feelings for the middle brother, Tristan. Meanwhile, World War I has begun and all three brothers enlist to go off overseas into battle, with the disapproval but blessing of their father.

This movie is notable partly for its absolutely spectacular and majestic mountain wilderness scenery, filmed in the Canadian Rockies not far from Calgary. You can really see what they mean by the phrase "big sky". I love the bear scenes! Also, it features beautiful musical scoring, totally appropriate to the dramatic and heartbreaking events.

The brothers are very disparate individuals, each a sympathetic and tragic figure with his own unique virtues. Samuel, the youngest, is innocent & naive but also tender & idealistic. As the baby of the family, his two older siblings seem especially protective of him even during war. The eldest, Alfred, is a responsible and honourable man of integrity who 'follows all the rules, man's and God's'. He later pursues a political career for worthy and noble reasons, though incurs his father's estrangement for doing so. The middle brother, Tristan, is wild and passionate, very tuned in to nature with a Native American foster father. His own father's favourite, he is a tempestuous and troubled individual who is haunted by his own personal demons but has many amazing strengths. Alhough Tristan is admittedly the obvious hero of the piece, I actually prefer and identify more with his two brothers.

All three Ludlow brothers are well cast. The handsome Brad Pitt, though he doesn't make me swoon personally, nevertheless gives a compelling performance as the long haired, wild, and tormented Tristan. Aidan Quinn plays the much less exciting but reliable Alfred, while Samuel is portrayed by Henry Thomas, who (to my surprise) is the ET kid all grown up. As always, Anthony Hopkins is masterful as the boys' father, Colonel Ludlow. It is especially touching later in the tale when he exhibits the infirmities of old age.

The lovely, well spoken Julia Ormond plays Susannah, the woman who unwillingly causes so much grief in the Ludlow family. Before watching this movie, I anticipated finding her a reprehensible character with loose morals and no concept whatsoever of loyalty. However, this beautiful & spirited young woman with no family roots of her own (her parents both having died), comes across as a very sympathetic character. I personally wouldn't judge her, seeing the way events unfold in her relationships with these brothers. Susannah herself certainly suffers greatly for any mistakes she makes.

Two of the brothers' different attitudes are revealed quite dramatically in a scene early in the movie where Samuel confides in Tristan his fears of being unable to satisfy his future bride. Note the different phrases employed by these two young men for sex with Susannah, I think it reflects their underlying different emotions and values, not merely wording. As for Alfred, he genuinely cares deeply for Susannah and wants to see her treated respectfully. Upon realizing that Tristan has been intimate with her, he demands that his brother marry this lady he himself loves in order to make an 'honest woman' of her. As I see it, Susannah's tragic flaw lies in falling for the wrong brother. The unsettled Tristan is unable to return her love in the stable & committed way she seeks, especially at such a traumatic period in his life. After Tristan's abandonment, Susannah marries Alfred, whom she (alas) does not love, because he can offer this stability and commitment.

Other interesting characters in these legends include the Native American One Stab.The viewer cheers for Tristan's dramatic defense of his friend's rights when a bigoted bar owner refuses to serve him. There's also the cute and endearing young half native Isabel Two, who blossoms into such a beautiful young woman.

The threatened family ties are brilliantly depicted in this epic, the interactions between father & sons and especially between the brothers riveting and wrenching. It is a tragic and heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting tale of war, loyalty, love, betrayal, grief, and especially the unshakable bonds of brotherhood.

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