Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Town Like Alice

David Stephens, 1980 (9.5*)
A group of British women are taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya during WW2, and, as it's against their honor to imprison them, they force them on an endless march to nowhere. Jean Paget, wonderfully played by Helen Morse, takes charge and provides the strength that keeps some alive, while many die as not all are fit enough for a forced march.

At one point, they meet a young Australian soldier, Joe Harman (Bryan Brown in a star-making performance), and the two become friends. He tries to help the women, and as a result they are separated by their brutal captors and the man is tortured for showing simple human compassion.

After the war, the two seek each other out to continue to explore the feelings they once had that were sparked during a time of crisis, which they were unable to explore due to the wartime situation. This time, they are separated by half the globe, as Jean is back in civilized England, and Joe is ranching in the middle of the Australian outback.

This is based on a popular best-seller by author Nevil Shute (On the Beach), and that novel was based on true events. This is a romance of epic proportions, beautifully filmed by the BBC (for Masterpiece Theater) in a five-hour mini-series in six parts, which gave the novel the proper amount of length and detail. This is much better seen in one sitting than broken up over weeks. Winner of 6 awards

For my money, this is a much better (and less soapy) romance than Gone With the Wind; this is about self-sacrifice for others, not self-centered gratification. The only other romantic epic that's even comparable is the BBC (Masterpiece Theater) miniseries Brideshead Revisited, from the Evelyn Waugh novel, ironically released the same year, winner of 11 awards, 28 nominations, seven BAFTAs. You should also enjoy the underrated epic romance Australia, from Baz Luhrmann, starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, a film so large that it's a western and a war film.

Note: The title refers to the desert oasis of Alice Springs , the only green spot in the middle of the huge Australian desert due to a natural spring. This has a rating of 8.1 at IMDB (good enough for the all-time top 250), but only has 452 user ratings - that's unreal for one of the best films ever made, and one of the best 10 miniseries ever made for tv.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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