A loser mom in Scotland dreams of being a country singer – it’s not the worst premise, but then her extremely well-meaning employer Sophie Okonedo wants to help this dream come true, as fiery Jessie Buckley undermines her own success at every opportunity, and the movie becomes an overly-smiley, Disney version of a John Carney plot (so, it becomes Begin Again).

Jessie is a loser because she gives up on everything, including her own family, as long-suffering mom Julie Walters reminds her, but when Jessie finally goes to Nashville assuming she’s be dramatically discovered by talent scouts within a couple days, sees the sad reality of the open-mic scene there, and gives up on this dream to return home, it’s a triumph. Anyway, the climactic Mary Steenburgen song is sure to get nominated, and Jessie (Chernobyl, Michael Pearce’s Beast) is already winning things. Director Tom Harper has already followed up with The Aeronauts (LWL: “the longest 100 minutes you’ll spend in a cinema this year”).

Honestly, even just a month after watching 78/52, Vivian Leigh did not look familiar here. I have a Vivan Leigh facial recognition problem. We both enjoyed seeing the young, fiery, sexy version of Rex Harrison, who plays an extremely principled reporter who falls for the daughter of the mayor he’s attacking in print. The mayor is the sort of cartoonishly blinkered rich asshole who finally gets in trouble for ordering the death of a poor woman’s dog. Codirector Dalrymple was better known for his writing, for which he got two oscar nominations the following year.

Poor dogless Sara Allgood, in montage-dissolve against a raging storm:

Rex and Viv:

Mayor Cecil Parker gives his big speech… have I mentioned this is set in Scotland?

Starring the lovely, ever-suffering Agyness Deyn, who recently played Aphrodite, as Chris. It’s more recognizably a Davies movie than The Deep Blue Sea was, because it centers around a piece of shit domineering father (Peter Mullan of War Horse, Children of Men) for the first half, then he’s dead (a la Distant Voices, Still Lives) so we focus on a husband Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) who might become a piece of shit domineering father – but doesn’t, because he’s shot for cowardice while at war. Opens with Chris’s mom poisoning herself and her young twins because she’s become pregnant again. So it’s basically a domestic horror movie.

Beautiful lighting, and per Davies tradition, some terrific crossfades. I turned on the subtitles half the time to make out the accents… and even then I sometimes have trouble. “I’m going to live on at Blawearie a while and not roup the gear at once. Could you see to that with the factor?”

I’m on M. D’Angelo’s side here, and I’ll add that the juxtaposition mentioned below was already done very well in Distant Voices, Still Lives:

Whatever Gibbons’ novel means to Davies — and it must mean a lot, as he reportedly spent many years struggling to get this film made — it doesn’t come across, except perhaps in the occasional juxtaposition of brutality and joyous group song. A few stray moments of piercing beauty toward the end (which also complicate what had previously seemed like the tediously downbeat trajectory of Chris’ marriage) can’t redeem the unrewarding slog that precedes them.

As far as beautifully shot but disappointing Davies films I watched this year go, I preferred The Deep Blue Sea, and as far as films I watched this month where soldiers get shot for cowardice in World War One, I’ll take Paths of Glory.

Always difficult to adapt poetry to the screen, so including words from the book as narration is nice. “So that was her marriage – not like waking from a dream, but like going into one. And she wasn’t sure, not for days, what things she had dreamt and what actually done.” Previously filmed as a 1971 miniseries, by the same director who shot Testament of Youth, which was also remade last year.

A unexpectedly cheerful Scotland fantasy from Mr. Loach. He sets up the grim realism: new dad Robbie is a habitual fuckup living out a cycle of violence and poverty – but then over the credits we get a semi-comic montage of other young fuckups being assigned community service, including hilariously dense baldie Albert, compulsive shoplifter Mo, and less-distinguishable Rhino (William Ruane of Loach’s Sweet Sixteen). The four end up in a work program under whiskey enthusiast Harry (John Henshaw of Red Riding), and Robbie (Paul Brannigan, whom Katy thinks is hot, soon to appear in Jonathan Glazer’s first film since Birth) proves to have a fine nose for whisky.

Harry is full of empathy for his young charges, especially Robbie, and Robbie also has his girl Leonie (and, to a much lesser extent, her dad) on his side, so we’re all set for a heartwarming story where Robbie grows away from his violent past and gets a whiskey-related job with collector Roger Allam (Peter Mannion in The Thick of It season 2; Katy says he looks too much like Christopher Hitchens). And we get that, but after one last heist, as the four pilfer some of the rarest whisky in the world from a recently-discovered cask on its eve of auction. Movie might be giving its hopeless protag too easy of a ride out of the slums, too many side characters willing to spend their time, love and money on him, but for a director whose work is usually called “miserablism,” it’s forgiveable.

Princess Merida, with the most awesome red hair I’ve seen in any movie, doesn’t want to be won in a contest by the first-born sons of the tribal leaders, so she competes to win her own freedom. That night, as the good-natured annual party (led by her father the Bear King) threatens to devolve into full-on war, Merida creeps away and asks a witch to change her controlling mother. So mom is changed into a bear. Now Merida has to save her mom from her bear-hunting father, and break the spell, and figure out what to do about the marriage thing before war breaks out.

Katy called it “rambunctious” and said she likes at least ten other Pixar features more than this one. We both felt a bit chastised for not recognizing the film’s full greatness after reading L. Loofbourow’s brilliant article Just Another Princess Movie.

Late director Mark Andrews helmed Pixar’s One Man Band and co-wrote John Carter of Mars, replacing original writer/director Brenda Chapman (co-dir. of Prince of Egypt).

La Luna (2011, Enrico Casarosa)

The moon is covered with tiny shooting stars, and as it rises each night, a couple of boatmen lean a ladder against it, climb up and sweep them into place to form the proper crescent shape. More golden light and wide-eyed wonder than is typical for Pixar. Writer/director Casarosa was an artist on Ratatouille and Up. Too-big music by Michael Giacchino (Super 8, Cars 2). Katy and I liked it.

Perfect example of a movie that works in theory, but lacks something essential. Strong performances by good comic actors (I was happily surprised by Andy Serkis), funny situations and dialogue, strong historical interest, and good energy. So why is it such an average movie? Blame Landis?

Simon “Burke” Pegg tries to buy the favor of feminist actress Isla Fisher, while Hare is content with his wife Lucky (Spaced star Jessica Hynes). The intrigue revolves around head doctors at competing medical schools – old-school Tim Curry, who gets the law on his side, and Tom Wilkinson, who resorts to hiring our heroes to provide him bodies on which to experiment (leading to the undignified death of poor Christopher Lee). Bill Bailey plays a narrating executioner and David Hayman is a gangster who wants protection money but ends up dead in the operating theater. Movie closes on a present-day shot of Burke’s skeleton, still preserved in Edinburgh – perfect ending to a historical black comedy.

I haven’t much to say, so thought I’d end by stealing a native Edinburgh perspective from Shadowplay, but damn it, they haven’t watched this one yet.

49th Parallel (1941)

The Archers wouldn’t exist as a production company and Pressburger wouldn’t get a co-director credit until the following year’s One of Our Aircraft is Missing – he just contributed the story for this Powell-directed piece of WWII propaganda. Movie hammers home its points (nazis are bad; Canada is great) with a series of episodes, each of which further weakens the nazi force which is inexplicably (I was spacing out during the first ten minutes) invading Canada and making their way south to the USA.

The first, last and most effective attacks are made by our valiant troops, who kick off the fun by bombing the nazi sub which has just landed six advance soldiers to secure a trading post. Now these six guys (led by hardass Eric Portman, kindly given a role the next year as a loyal allied copilot as payback from P&P for being such an effective nazi) constitute the entire german force in Canada – if they can cause some damage and make it to neutral USA they’ll be hailed at home as heroes, so it’s of moral importance to stop them. Seems perverse to me that my flag-swingin’ nazi-hatin’ country was considered a legal safe haven for german troops in ’41.

There I am in Canada, right between Carberry and ASSMNBOINE:
image

First stop: the outpost. They hang out there for a while, steal some gear and shoot a whole pile of eskimos. Meanwhile, horror of horrors, who should be at the outpost but Lawrence Olivier playing a French-Canadian trapper just returned from a year expedition (so unaware that Canada’s at war). F-C Olivier joins Japanese Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Blackface Bing Crosby from Holiday Inn in the Casting Mistakes Hall of Fame. If the movie was meant as a love letter to Canada, I can’t figure why Powell would want to start off with such a loud, ridiculous caricature of a Canadian. Maybe Olivier, recently in Rebecca, brought great publicity to the project so nobody wanted to risk insult by having him tone down the accent. Anyway, he quickly gets up to speed, decides what side he needs to be on, and makes a grab for the radio, getting himself killed. The nazis hail a plane, then kill the pilots and take off, getting one man shot by an eskimo.

What’s the only thing hammier than Laurence Olivier as a French Canadian? Laurence Olivier as a dying French Canadian. “Let me axe you one kestion.”
image

Plane crashes in the water – that’s another nazi down, four to go. They stumble into a group of religious commie idealists with german roots led by noble Anton Walbrook (ballet instructor in The Red Shoes), and thinking they’ve found kindred souls, Portman makes a big hitler speech which falls flat. Time to move on, but one nazi (Niall MacGinnis – not a very german sounding name – of The Edge of the World, later Zeus in Jason and the Argonauts) is inspired by the freedom of this community, decides to stay on and be a baker and be in love with hot local chick (Glynis Johns of The Sundowners, The Cabinet of Caligari), so other dudes execute him. Harsh segment, but also the most beautiful part of the film, visually and idealistically.

Germans always heil each other before going to bed:
image

Big city parade, the authorities are closing in on our men. They make an announcement describing the three germans – one cracks under pressure and gets captured. Last two nazis hide out in the woods, bust in on a society escapee, pacifist writer Leslie Howard in his teepee, enjoy his hospitality then tie him up and break all his stuff to settle a political disagreement. Our pacifist escapes, chases the guys down, and beats the shit out of one of ’em. I see Leslie Howard played Henry Higgins in Pygmalion – makes sense, he seems the Higgins type. He was killed in the war a couple years after this came out.

This was meant to be inspirational:
image

Last guy (Portman, natch) makes it to the border on a freight train, runs into an AWOL soldier (Raymond Massey of The Fountainhead, East of Eden) and takes his uniform. Soldier wakes up, realizes they’ve made it to the states, but convinces the train dudes to send ’em back over the border (still locked in their freight car) with the excuse that Eric Portman wasn’t on the manifest. Massey advances on Portman, giving one of the best final lines in cinema history: “I’m not asking for those pants… I’m just taking ’em.”

Edited by David Lean (which is why it’s over two hours long, ha) who’d start directing the following year, and shot by the future D.P. of Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Movie is too talky and obvious, but then, it’s a government-funded piece of propaganda. Given that fact, and the problems of filming during wartime, the movie is almost impossibly good – and at the very least it’s a nice tour through Canada.


I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)

Whew, a wonderful poem of a film, foggy and deadly romantic. Wendy Hiller (Eliza in that same Pygmalion with Leslie Howard, which now I must see; in Lynch’s The Elephant Man 35 years later) meets dashing Roger Livesey (the fat man in Colonel Blimp…!) on her way to meet her fiancee and falls in love with him instead.

Title is well explained in the elegant opening credits segment. Joan (Hiller) is obsessed with wealth and manages to climb higher and higher, finally gets engaged to super-wealthy guy who lives on a remote Scottish isle. One of my favorite-ever scene transitions, a puff of smoke from a top hat turns into the smokestack of a train engine, and she’s off to be married.

image

After a nuts dream sequence aboard the train (see above), Joan finds that she can’t cross to the island because of the fog, nor can anyone cross from there to pick her up. Stranded, she tries not to make friends with Torquil MacNeil (Livesey) but can’t seem to help it… hangs out on the mainland with him, his welcoming friend Catriona (Pamela Brown, Hoffmann’s silent companion), and local falconer Col. Barnstaple (an actual falconer, does a hilarious job in his only acting role).

Livesey and Pamela:
image

Barnstaple and Hiller:
image

Conflict arises because Joan is starting to like Livesey (an awfully likeable guy – friendly and handsome and a good dancer, plus it turns out, the laird of the island where her man lives). No longer knowing where she’s going (!), she panics, decides she must get to the island immediately. Praying for wind to lift the fog didn’t work, since now the wind is too high to sail, but she bribes the boatman’s son into taking her. That doesn’t work out, ship is almost wrecked, saved by brave Roger. The next day, she’s finally headed for the island, Roger staying behind. Roger strolls into an ancient castle to which his family has been forbidden entry for generations and, well, the ending is too wonderful to retell.

image

Adding to the spooky atmosphere is music by Allan Gray (protagonist of Vampyr). There’s more: falcons, a whirlpool, and a phone booth by a waterfall, plus glorious location photography, but I’ll be watching it all again soon.

Finally, since it’s awards season in the movie world, one of my three known readers David Cairns has awarded this site a Premio Dardos. David writes the only film blog I read, the tremendously entertaining Shadowplay, and he still finds time to contribute articles to The Auteurs. The Premio Dardos is a JPEG image of unknown origin (unless I bother to google it) that comes with a series of rules I might not follow, but it’s sorta like if your shitty local band gets paid a compliment by a nationally-touring rock act – still an honor.

image