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Tolkien (2019)
An exquisite masterpiece - ignore the critics!
17 June 2019
Tolkien is a wonderful film, I venture to say it is close to a masterpiece. Derided by some critics, who seem to have expected Tolkien's life would be full of the kind of fantastical adventures that populate his novels, this is a subtle, beautiful and deeply moving film about the genesis of creation. I knew little of Tolkien's life, so the film was full of refreshing discoveries for me. It's about how the deep friendship between four young men, who were all thrust into the horrors of World War 1, created the heart of the Fellowship of the Ring; how a real life platonic love, that overcame the deeply entrenched English class system, inspired the fantastical adventure at the centre of one of the Twentieth Century's greatest literary works; how real life acts of bravery, sometimes quite small, helped create in the mind of one person a story that would en-trance millions of people. Nicholas Hoult is one of the finest young actors working today and he cements that reputation here - a whole world comes alive in his eyes. Lily Collins glows as the great love of his life. The other seven young actors who portray Tolkien and his friends at various ages are all outstanding and there are sublime cameos from the great Derek Jacobi and Australian actor Genevieve O'Reilly. You wouldn't expect this quintessential English story to be directed by a Finnish director of Cypriot heritage, but that's exactly who Dome Karukoski is - he does a gorgeously delicate job here, helped by a fine screenplay, beautiful cinematography and an exquisite music score by Thomas Newman. There are some truly sublime moments of beauty, sometimes merged with moments of great horror, in this film, with expressionist battlefield images that really linger in the mind - special effects that really are special. Above all this is a deeply moving film that will ensure you will never look at Tolkien's work in the same way again.
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Lively melodrama, edited by Frank Capra, with a fine central performance.
5 February 2017
Frank Capra was learning his trade when he took on editing and title-writing duties on this low budget San Francisco production. At its heart this melodrama features a glowing performance from Ora Carew as a wealthy young woman who springs into action when the lives of her father and fiancé are threatened by a mysterious rajah, played with eye-rolling menace by Hal Stephens. It's great to see a woman taking charge here as the men flounder. Interesting also to see that America's suspicion of Muslims was very much alive back in the 1920s. Helen Lowell, who Capra would marry, is also effective as the Rajah's lustful slave-girl. Capra does some nice editing tricks and keeps the action rolling at a brisk pace. Exteriors include the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, substituting for the Middle East! This is not a great silent film but it is a fun and lively one, and an interesting recent re-discovery for the Capra canon.
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Combat!: Finest Hour (1965)
Season 4, Episode 15
Extraordinary performances from two Hollywood greats!!
6 January 2015
It must have been quite an occasion in 1965 when two of MGM's greatest pre-war stars returned to the MGM lot to film this episode of 'Combat'. Ramon Novarro, who MGM had dumped thirty years earlier after 14 years, and Luise Rainer, who had dumped MGM in 1938 after winning two Oscars, were both outstanding actors and they throw their full star-power into this little war-time drama.

They play a French Count and Countess who find themselves sheltering a couple of American soldiers while their château is being occupied by Nazi officers. The total emotional control these two great artists exhibit here is extraordinary and they make the episode deeply moving and completely engrossing, despite conventional plotting and over-the-top direction.

Novarro's final scene is particularly fine and seeing Rainer and him perform scenes in extreme close-up, you cannot help but be impressed by their total emotional honesty and their extreme physical beauty (although Novarro was in his mid-sixties and Rainer in her mid-fifties).

Hollywood was spoilt for choice in the mid-sixties, and these two great stars should have worked a lot more at this time. So it is a rare privilege to be able to see them in this aptly titled episode 'Finest Hour'. It is certainly one of the finest hours of television you will ever see.
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War Story (2001)
An overlooked silent gem, made ten years before "The Artist".
11 March 2012
"War Story" (2001), like "The Artist" (2011), is a beautifully realised homage to silent cinema - this time the silent comedy one-reelers of people like Charles Chaplin. John Baumgartner does a truly amazing job in writing, directing, producing and starring in the film, creating a charming on-screen character, and some beautifully timed slapstick routines. Like Chaplin, Baumgartner also adds some serious themes, and pathos, to the comedy, because, somewhat surprisingly, the film centres on a romance between two men, one a soldier, the other a waiter, in 1918.The romance is so sweet, that it makes the often violent reactions of the other characters to it, seem absurd. This is an absolute gem and I am surprised at its lack of profile - I hope this is not because of the gay themes, but I suspect it is. "War Story" is, in its way, as fine a work as "The Artist", and well worth seeking out.
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The Iron Lady (2011)
Brilliant Meryl, disappointing film.
24 January 2012
Something of a missed opportunity, this is a film not worthy of its brilliant leading lady. Meryl Streep is astonishing as Margaret Thatcher but director Phyllida Lloyd (who also directed Meryl in "Mamma Mia") seems uncertain about what she wants to say about the women. Evidently hampered by an inadequate budget, the big events of Thatcher's life are depicted with an awkward cobbling together of real news footage and re-enactment, while in other scenes Lloyd tries to disguise the lack of budget by using more crazy camera angles than an episode of "Batman". The low budget also might account for us seeing more of the elderly dementia ridden Thatcher than the Prime Minister Thatcher. Nonetheless Meryl makes this film unmissable - it is sometimes hard to believe we are not looking at Thatcher herself! Maybe she could play the part again in another, better film!
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Stunning combination of debauchery and drama!
9 December 2011
How did DeMille do it? How did he make a film that is wildly decadent, revelling in the debaucheries of Ancient Rome, while still making it a moving tribute to the Christian martyrs of the time? The way he balances spectacle, comedy, drama, moralising and debauchery is pure genius! If you've never seen a pre-Hollywood-production-code movie before you may be surprised to see a glimpse of Claudette Colbert's nipples as she's bathing in milk, to see an erotic lesbian dance sequence, to see a naked young man sitting next to the very gay Nero of Charles Laughton! And then DeMille joyously recreates a whole day of gruesome spectacles in the arena in all their gruesome detail. But then, somehow, he switches the whole mood and, thanks to excellent performances from Fredric March, Elissa Landi and young Tommy Conlon, creates a deeply moving finale, that tragically anticipates the horrors of the Holocaust. An amazing film in every way, and so much better than "Quo Vadis"!
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Caligula (1979)
It's a shame they couldn't sack the producer!
8 December 2011
As a kind of antidote to "Quo Vadis" I watched this fascinating film last night. It's probably a more realistic depiction of Ancient Rome and its debauchery, which is shown in explicit detail. There is the kernel of a great film here, with stunning sets and costumes, Oscar calibre performances from Peter O'Toole and Malcolm McDowell, and a script by Gore Vidal. Sadly the director was replaced by Bob Guccione from Penthouse, who was producing the film, because the film wasn't explicit enough for Bob's taste. So he re-edited it, and added some completely gratuitous hard-core porn sequences. The result is something of a mess (if you excuse the pun), but the controversy ensured the film's big box-office success. This is the first time I've seen the uncensored version and it is pretty full-on! Sad really because this could have been a great film instead of just being an infamous one.
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Quo Vadis (1951)
Grand Spectacle but Poor Drama!
7 December 2011
I watched this last night on blu-ray, and greatly admired the restoration work. But it's really not a very good movie. Despite moments of grand spectacle, and the gloriously camp performances of Peter Ustinov and Patricia Laffan as Nero and his wife, the film takes itself way too seriously to be enjoyable. Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr play such boringly pious characters that you can't care for them, but Leo Genn as a clever senator is excellent. Ultimately the film is also too historically inaccurate to forgive. It exaggerates the importance of Christianity during Nero's reign, it was still just a tiny sect and certainly never blamed for the fire that destroyed Rome. Nero didn't light the fire either, and apparently acted quite bravely during it, saving thousands of lives by opening up his private gardens to the fleeing citizens. His downfall, and death (murder or suicide), only followed, years later, after his grandiose rebuilding plans nearly bankrupted the Empire. The film also leaves out, understandably for 1951, the fact that, after Nero murdered his wife, he had one of his slave-boys castrated and made him impersonate her for years!
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The Great Lie (1941)
The quintessential Warner Bros melodrama.
6 January 2010
To my mind this film is perfect - a classic example of what the studio system of the golden years of Hollywood could achieve. Strong direction, witty dialogue, beautiful music, sublime cinematography, crisp editing, gorgeous production design and costuming, brilliant performances - every element of this film is perfect.

Add to all that the daring (for its day) story-line, Bette Davis at the height of her dramatic powers and at her most beautiful, and Mary Astor delivering what I think is one of the great screen performances of all time, and you have a very special film indeed.

Although the film may seem to have dated elements, especially in the depiction of the African-American characters, if you let yourself watch the film with 1941 eyes you will be richly rewarded. Besides which the wonderful Hattie McDaniel brings so much depth to what could have been a simple stereotype.

As you can tell, I love this film. I understand Bette Davis and Mary Astor loved working together - and you can see that on the screen. The scenes between the two of them are electric, with so much being said beyond the words. Thank God Astor won an Oscar for her work here. She truly deserved it.
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Bonanza: The Brass Box (1965)
Season 7, Episode 3
Ramon Novarro makes this episode a must-see.
20 December 2009
Ever wanted to hear Pavarotti sing "Baby One More Time", or see Gordon Ramsay make a hamburger, well that's what it's like watching the great silent film star Ramon Novarro act his heart out in this episode of "Bonanza". It is extraordinary to see him playing his scenes with such an intensity of emotion that you could swear his dialogue was written by Shakespeare. More than anything his performance reveals what a wasted talent he was in Hollywood. It is sadly ironic too that his character is physically tortured in one scene, given the terrible nature of his murder just three years later.

To give the episode its due, it is actually pretty good. The story of an elderly Spanish man who claims his family legally own the Ponderosa, and a large part of the land around it, has resonance with the the land rights claims of indigenous people all over the world today, and Novarro manages to capture the dignified humiliation of a once great family reduced to being an object of ridicule living on the fringes of society. Perhaps he was drawing on his own fall from being a major Hollywood star. In any case he gives his scenes a greater depth than they perhaps deserve, and makes this episode unforgettable. Lorne Greene especially seems to pick up on this and matches him well in their scenes together.

This episode is a must-see for all actors.
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Blessed (I) (2009)
A genuine masterpiece.
23 September 2009
Ana Kokkinos' Blessed is a heartbreaking tale of the love between mothers and their children, and is one of the finest achievements of Australian cinema. The flawless screenplay follows a number of characters through a single day, deftly telling their stories from different points of view until we develop a full understanding of the day's events. Geoff Burton's stunning cinematography focuses on unexpected things – a pattern on a wall, a flash of fabric – and then moves in close to the characters, creating a rich visual texture. The music of Cezary Skubiszewski is one of the finest movie scores of recent years, gently enhancing the drama and the brilliant performances of the actors. The entire cast is superb, but I must make special mention of Frances O'Connor, who gives the performance of her life, and the splendid Monica Maughan, whose brief appearance in the film is truly unforgettable. Blessed represents a triumphant return to form for Kokkinos, after the disappointing Book of Revelation, proving that the astonishing Head On was no fluke. Her uncompromising, insightful, deeply humanist eye makes her one of the most exciting directors working today. Blessed is a deeply moving film that you will never forget, and deserves to be showered with awards.
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In Bruges (2008)
Quite simply, the best film of the year (so far)!
15 July 2008
The wittiest script since "All About Eve", combined with deep insights, magnificent performances, brilliant scenery, fine cinematography, excellent music - it's hard to fault this great film. At its core is the superb performance by Colin Farrell, proving yet again that he is one of the finest actors of his generation (check him out in Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" as well and you'll see what I mean). A perfect blend of comic timing, rough charm and vulnerability - it's a knockout performance. And that's not to diminish the work of Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes or any of the other cast members - even the bit part players are terrific. Best not to say too much about the plot, as it's better to see it with fresh eyes - but Martin McDonagh deserves to be showered with awards for his work as both writer and director (and it's his first feature!). And it's not a bad tourist ad for Bruges either! I hope this film comes up at Oscar time - it truly deserves to.
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Glory Alley (1952)
MGM enters the Fifties in a state of confusion!
22 March 2008
GLORY ALLEY is one of the films that signaled the end of the golden age of MGM. Set in a silly back-lot New Orleans, the drama centers on a prizefighter who inexplicably flees a championship bout just as it is about to begin. We have to wait the whole movie to find out why - and when we do the reason is so silly that it makes the whole movie seem like a complete waste of time. Ralph Meeker, a good-looking but rather genteel actor, struggles to play the street-wise boxer. It's the sort of part John Garfield played so well, but Meeker, lovingly filmed by William Daniels, just seems too pretty. The ludicrous 'on-the-skids' montage hardly helps - nor does the fact that his character is called "Socks"!

Then we have Leslie Caron as his love interest. It looks like this part was hurriedly re-written for her after her triumph in AN American IN Paris. She performs ridiculous ballet routines in a seedy bar (you know the patrons would have booed her off immediately). You see she wanted to be a ballerina, but she gave it all up to support her blind father. He's played by Kurt Kaszner - an actor still in his thirties but donned with silly silver hair to make him look ancient and wise.

Then there's Louis Armstrong, sadly named "Shadow", and seemingly the only African-American in New Orleans. He's supposed to be Meeker's trainer, but he spends the whole movie playing his trumpet and leading absurd sing-a-longs at the local bar. He does have a couple of good acting scenes though. The excellent Gilbert Roland floats around the film's edges with nothing to do, while John McIntire adds pseudo profound narration to the story - told in flashback like a film noir.

Probably the worst sequence in the film, and that's saying something, is the ludicrous Korean War scene, with some stock footage, four soldiers, some sort of pine forest and a rear projected bridge deemed sufficient to portray a major world conflict.

So we have a boxing picture, a musical, a film noir, a war film, and a pseudo-Freudian psychological study all rolled into one! What more could you ask for?

It's hard to believe a fine hard-boiled director like Raoul Walsh oversaw this mess - he probably wanted to run straight back to Warner Bros afterwards.
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Any old accent will do!
28 August 2005
This enjoyable minor noir boasts a top cast, and many memorable scenes. The big distraction is the complete disregard for authentic accents. The Spanish characters in the film are played by a Frenchman (Boyer), a Belgian (Francen), a Greek (Paxinou) and a Hungarian (Lorre)! And to top it all off Bacall is supposed to be an English aristocrat! Despite these absurdities, the performances are all very good - especially those of Paxinou and Lorre. But the scene in which Boyer, Paxinou and Lorre meet, and talk in wildly different accents, is a real hoot! And I guess, seeing as how they were alone, that they should actually have been speaking in Spanish anyway! It seems pretty weird that the Brothers Warner couldn't find any Spanish speaking actors in Los Angeles! Of course Hollywood has often had an "any old accent will do" policy - my other favorite is Greta Garbo (Swedish) as Mata Hari (Dutch), who falls in love with a Russian soldier played by a Mexican (Ramon Novarro). Maybe they should have got Novarro for "Confidential Agent" - he would have been great in Boyer's role or at least in Francen's (which would have saved greatly on the dark make-up budget).
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The Love of Lionel's Life (2000 TV Movie)
Who renamed this one OPEN CUT?
25 August 2005
When I caught this Aussie telemovie on Pay-TV, unfortunately renamed OPEN CUT, I was surprised not to have heard of it before. The cast is excellent and the director has a distinguished background, so I wondered why the movie had such a low profile. I was even more surprised by this as I watched it, because the first half of the movie is a very charming romantic comedy with great performances by Matt Day and Nadine Garner. The concept of a big city girl being won over by the sense of community in a small country town, and the honest charm of a country boy, is hardly an original one, but it is very well realised in this movie - although it is a shame, given the Jim Carrey movie, that the cinema which plays an important part in the plot is called THE MAJESTIC.

But then the whole movie falls apart in the second half. Seeming not to trust the delightful simplicity of the story, the film-makers take the film into a completely unbelievable melodramatic direction. The criminal act committed is so extreme, that the small motivation for it seems ridiculously out of proportion, despite the best efforts of that fine actor Alex Dimitriades. And then things just get sillier, and more unpleasant, until the charm of the first half is completely destroyed. What a shame - because this could have been a genuine Aussie classic. What remains in my mind though is the excellent performance of Matt Day, whose emotionally true work almost makes the silly second half believable.

But who renamed this OPEN CUT? The original title was bad enough, but the new one, which has ugly sexual connotations (especially in a movie involving a rape), is just plain tacky.
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The Outriders (1950)
Ramon Novarro steals the show!
13 May 2003
THE OUTRIDERS is a good workmanlike Western. There are no real surprises in the story, but there are some very strong performances. Joel McCrea gives his usual conviction to the hero role, with Barry Sullivan nicely devious as his comrade/rival. Arlene Dahl looks great, but tends to pout a bit much, James Whitmore lends sturdy support in the type of role normally played by Walter Brennan, Claude Jarman Jr. plays another of his doomed youths, and Jeff Corey is quite extraordinary as the villain (with almost expressionist make-up, and did he intend to imitate Kirk Douglas?).

But the movie is stolen by silent screen legend Ramon Novarro in one of his more substantial later roles. He essays his character perfectly, giving it much more depth than was in the screenplay. He also lends the part style, grace, dignity and humor (that "Pagan" sparkle never left his eye, despite his rather sad life).

In short, definitely worth seeing for the performances, and the gorgeous technicolor. What a shame the script and direction don't match them.
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The screen's first gay love scene??
26 April 2003
In this marvellous Melies fantasy, an eccentric astronomer is overwhelmed by excitement at the approaching eclipse. His students make fun of him initially but then become excited too as the moon approaches the sun.

Through the astronomer's telescope we see the man in the moon winking at the man in the sun. Both begin to lick their lips and wriggle their tongues with excitement as they draw closer together. Finally the sun goes behind the moon, and the man in the moon's face suggests orgasm!!

Finally they part again looking exhausted and satisfied. And the sky explodes in an orgy of sperm-like stars, each one carrying a scantily clad woman or man.

Surely this must be the first gay love scene ever put on film. It's hard to believe it's happening in a 1907 movie. You've gotta see it to believe it.

Great mix of gorgeous special effects, slapstick comedy and eroticism. One of Melies best!
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Laughing Boy (1934)
MGM shows what not to do with Mexican talent.
26 April 2003
The combination of the two dynamic Mexican actors Ramon Novarro and Lupe Velez should have guaranteed a dynamite movie.

But someone at MGM, in their wisdom, cast them as Native Americans - a disastrous decision that doomed this film to failure even before it was begun.

Both struggle to make their characters even slightly believable, as they try to curb their Mexican passion into some sort of wise aboriginal spirituality. The spitfire in Lupe just can't help but surface, and all Ramon can do is try to maintain some dignity under that terrible wig. His singing is nice but anachronistic, and there is far too much of it.

Hard to believe this disaster was directed by Woody Van Dyke, who had made one of Ramon's best silent movies "The Pagan". Novarro was deeply ashamed of this film, and it's no wonder. What is saddest of all about it though is the way it wastes what could have been one of the most exciting star combinations of all time. Just imagine if Novarro and Velez were playing a pair of violently passionate Mexican lovers - what fireworks we would have seen!

Shame, MGM, Shame!
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Luminous Leatrice too good for this tripe!
13 February 2003
Hollywood wasted many talents, including, sadly, most of the wonderful stars of the silent era. In this cheap and shoddy production, the excellent Leatrice Joy, former leading lady of Cecil B. De Mille, shines, in a deeply moving performance - a performance that eclipses the maudlin and sentimental script. She plays a single mother in a small country town, who can't afford to send her talented son to school, and fears that this will prevent him achieving his ambition to be a doctor. She's also in love with the local doctor, and he loves her, but they have never revealed their love to each other. In the scenes Leatrice has with the doctor, she conveys a tenderness that is rare to see on the screen. All her scenes are vividly real, but she also has that mischievous twinkle in her eye, that made her one of the best comediennes of the silent era.

It is only her performance that makes this film worth seeing. All the other performances are forced and labored, especially those of the young people, who play "cute" in a very self conscious way. It doesn't help that, like so many films of the 1940s, the film is patronising in its treatment of the emotions of young people. At times it even ridicules them. No wonder youth would soon rebel and embrace James Dean as their hero.

Overall this is a B-grade attempt to make an Andy Hardy-like "all-American, apple-pie" type comedy/drama about young people and "real" values. It fails on every level, except that it allowed the magical Leatrice Joy to light up the screen once more.
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Liz learns that a woman's place is in the home.
12 January 2003
In this loathsome piece of 1950's propaganda, a luminously beautiful Elizabeth Taylor learns that striving for adventure and excitement in life is a mistake. A woman can't really be happy flying around the world with a handsome Latin lover, what she really wants to do is stay home, have babies, and darn her husband's socks! Furthermore Lorenzo Lamas learns that if you're born in the gutter then that is where you should stay. Striving to rise above your station, especially if you are not an Anglo-Saxon male, is not to be encouraged in any way.

What such intelligent and gifted actors as William Powell, Gig Young and James Whitmore are doing in this rubbish is hard to fathom. The scenes set in a Senate inquiry into Lamas' business operations are reminiscent of the real House Un-American Activities inquiries that were happening at the time, but in this movie I think we are supposed to be on the racist senators' side! Sexist, racist garbage - I wonder what Liz thinks of it now!
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Secrets (1933)
Mary shines in her final role!
8 December 2002
SECRETS was the last movie Mary Pickford would appear in as an actress. In it she displays a much greater ease with the microphone than she did in her earlier talkies. Her performance is really quite superb, and should have paved the way for a long career as a character actress. She was 40 when she made this film, and it does stretch credulity a little to see her playing a virginal debutante in the early scenes - however, as the film goes on, and her character ages, she displays a tremendous range as an actress. And she's beautifully matched by Leslie Howard, who gives a very charming performance as her lover/husband.

Under the skilful direction of Frank Borzage, Mary is allowed many moments to do what a silent screen actor could do better than any other actor - express emotion without words. There is one scene, involving the death of a child, that is amongst the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed - and it is virtually a silent scene. All the emotion comes from Mary. All actors should watch this scene and learn what great screen acting is all about.

The screenplay is a little meandering, and peculiarly episodic. Based on a stage play, I get the impression that the film follows the three act play structure - First Act:light romantic comedy, Second Act:Western melodrama, Third Act:relationship drama - and finally an epilogue to tie-up all the loose ends. It's not an unentertaining structure, but it does seem a little odd. Through it all Pickford, Howard and Borzage stride with great skill, to create a memorable film, and a triumphant farewell to one of Hollywood's greatest stars.
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A real winner!
24 September 2002
This true story of Australian swimmer Tony Fingleton is not your typical "inspirational" tale of rising above the odds to become a champion, it is rather a tale about the real meaning of success. Success is about realising yourself, not the deeds you do or the medals you win. For Tony this was a tough lesson to learn.

The film is brilliantly directed by Russell Mulcahy, who shows unusual restraint, without losing his dynamic and unique style. Some of his direction here reminded me of his work on "Queer As Folk", as he manages to stylise the action without sacrificing the emotional integrity of the screenplay (which was written by Fingleton himself). Although the film is set in the 1950s and 1960s, Mulcahy refuses to become a slave to the period, instead he utilises 21st century editing styles, including the truly thrilling use of split-screens for the race sequences, and a terrific electronic music score, to make this period tale utterly contemporary.

The performances are nothing short of spectacular. Jesse Spencer, who plays Tony, seems set for international stardom. With the face of an angel, and the body of a god, he can hardly fail to make an impression - but he can really act as well! He is ably supported by two of the greatest actors in the world today, and they're both Aussies - Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush, who play Tony's parents. The story focuses on Tony's relationship with his father, a very strained and complex relationship. Rush's performance is probably his best screen work to date (yes, even better than "Shine"!), as he creates a multi-dimensional being out of what could have been a cliched villain. And Davis just keeps getting better and better as an actress. As the long-suffering mother, she completely avoids cliche, and invests the character with zest, warmth, love and anger. She is dynamite! Tim Draxl is also impressive as Tony's brother John - at once jealous and proud, and Mitchell Dellevergin is perfect as the young Tony. All the performances are excellent, although I could have done without the comic cameo by Dawn Fraser, which harms the emotional intensity of one very important scene.

Perhaps the film hammers its themes a little too relentlessly, but it's easy to forgive a film that has this much heart. Given the right distribution I think this film will go on to great international acclaim, and strong box-office. Another Aussie classic to treasure!
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A work of comic genius from Fairbanks and Fleming!
12 August 2002
What a miracle this film is! Designed as a "cheer 'em up film" following the dark days of World War 1, this is a wildly energetic and fanciful comedy, that is truly life-affirming.

Doug is his usual cheerful self, performing some amazing stunts, and lighting up the screen with his ebullient personality. Under the sure direction of Victor Fleming - making his debut as a director - the film never misses a beat, and is full of surprises.

There are a couple of moments of pure fantasy, including an insane dream sequence, and scenes set in Doug's brain and in his stomach! And the whole thing comes to a wild special effects climax when a dam bursts!

This gem is truly a neglected classic and deserves to be restored and released on DVD, so that we may all enjoy the cyclone of energy that was Douglas Fairbanks. 10 out of 10.
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Utterly charming.
29 July 2002
Although it's hard not to make comparisons with the Ernst Lubitsch/Ramon Novarro masterpiece of 1927, this much earlier silent version of "The Student Prince" has a special charm all its own. With a running time of just over 30 minutes, it's a very compact telling of the tale. The early scenes, with the prince as a boy, are excellent and given extra impact by the menacing presence of Erich Von Stroheim as the prince's valet. His performance is almost expressionistic in style.

Later the prince is played by the excellent Wallace Reid, and his great love by the disarmingly innocent Dorothy Gish. They make a great team, and the scenes of fun and love-making at Heidelberg are terrific.

Standing in stark contrast are the brutal, and sometimes spectacular, scenes of war (though I suspect some of the long shots were stolen from "Birth Of A Nation" - D.W. Griffith produced "Old Heidelberg" too). What is especially notable is the anti-war sentiment, expressed at a time when World War 1 was raging in Europe. Two years later, when America entered the war, such sentiment would not have been allowed.

All in all this is a vivid little gem from the early days of cinema, that is well worth a look.
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A Modern Hero (1934)
Barthelmess and Pabst in a winning collaboration.
11 July 2002
This is not a great film, but it has much to recommend it. With the great G.W. Pabst at the helm, there is much of visual interest, and with one of the best actors of his generation, Richard Barthelmess, in the lead role, there is much of dramatic interest too. Although both men were at their height in the silent era, they were both still great cinema artists in 1934.

In the Barthelmess films of the early 1930s, there was a tendency toward a kind of tragic masochism, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the Barthelmess character. And we see it here again. Twenty years later we'd see another great actor being attracted to such roles - Marlon Brando. But Pabst steers the character's suffering (perhaps a symbol for a rather innocent USA suffering through a terrible war and the great depression) toward enlightenment. And the ending is both profound and a little subversive politically.

All the supporting performances are excellent, but Marjorie Rambeau stands out as Barthelmess' mother. The film is also quite risque for its day - with Richard obviously sleeping with rich older women for money, and fathering a love child. Pabst was bringing a real European sensibility to American cinema here - something that would soon become impossible with the Hollywood production code. It's a shame that Hollywood lost such a great artist, and even sadder that he chose to work in Nazi Germany instead.
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