Our first-ever T/F guest viewer agreed with Katy that the movie was sad and hard to watch. Seals, dolphins and swans, rescued and released by British + Irish orgs. Some delightful seal/swan antics, less-direct wounded animal shots than Bird Island. Per Paste, “a story of slow, tiring disaster.”
Wolfwalkers (2020, Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart)
Okay, Soul had its moments, but it’s almost a shame that just a few days later we watched this movie which so thoroughly blew it away. Such intricate illustration and character design, fun perspective tricks, it all looks so handcrafted and amazing.
No shocker after Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea that the plot concerns Irish mythology, and as in Kells there’s a supernatural girl on the outskirts of a besieged town. This time the girl is leading the wolf army they’re all afraid of, and new girl Robyn’s dad is hired to trap and kill them, but Robyn (with her cool pet falcon, oh my heart) ventures into the woods, meets the red-haired wolf girl, and accidentally becomes a wolfwalker herself. Later her dad will become one, and they’ll turn on the wolf-hating tyrant who rules the town. Not a grim, doomsy movie at all – the baddie is the only death, and there’s nearly as much friendly romping as there is story.
The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018, Mark Cousins)
“The world has become more Wellesian… things seem exaggerated.” The narration is written as a letter to the late Orson, and I thought this might get too cutesy, then I recalled that I never get tired of listening to Mark Cousins. He emulates Welles’ camera moves as he did in The Story of Film. Welles took a trip to Ireland to paint in the early 1930’s, then Morocco, and Cousins shows the evolution of his sketches, travels to these places himself and films them in the present day. He ties the films to the radio plays, to the paintings, to international politics. It’s a cradle-to-grave career bio-doc like I’ve never seen, integrating the life with the art, half a rich analysis and half a love poem.
Odd Man Out (1947, Carol Reed)
Kathy (Kathleen Ryan of The Sound of Fury) likes Johnny (James Mason, before The Reckless Moment). He is just out of prison, planning a new heist with his boys. They’re worried that Johnny can’t handle it, but after Johnny is wounded fighting with a guard (whom he kills), his compatriots prove jumpy and incompetent, losing Johnny then hiding at the wrong woman’s house (she turns them into the cops). Now a bloody and delirious Johnny staggers about the city at night during a police manhunt, while Kathy and Robert Beatty (2001: A Space Odyssey) search for him.
Current Letterboxd one-sheet proclaims this “the most exciting motion picture ever made!”, which is not just hyperbole but essentially the antithesis of how the film actually works. Mason was already Britain’s top star at the time, yet Odd Man Out incapacitates him almost immediately, leaving him mostly or entirely unconscious for the duration; he’s the passive fulcrum around which a bevy of reactive dramas pivot, collectively providing a portrait of an entire community.
That the movie never specifies the I.R.A., referring only to “the Organization,” in no way renders it any less politically charged, opening disclaimer notwithstanding — there’s a world of bitter truth in the cab driver’s parting admonition “If you get back to your friends, you’ll tell ’em I helped you. Me, Gin Jimmy. But if the police get you, you won’t mention my name, huh?”
Priests and cabbies and passers-by and concerned citizens get involved, and finally Johnny ends up part of a drunken artists’ circus. He’s taken to a pub by parakeet lover Shell (F.J. McCormick, who died a few months after the film’s release) whose crazed painter friend (second-billed Robert Newton, a David Lean regular) insists on painting the dying man. Kathy finds Mason in the end – but so do the police.
Shell (left) and the mad painter:
Features a bunch of Reed’s trademarked sharp wall shadows. Oscar-nominated (for editing) same year as The Bishop’s Wife, Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Black Narcissus and Song of the South, a weird oscar year.
the Story of Film bubbles of influence, times five:
The contemporary Film Quarterly review was written by Force of Evil writer/director Abraham Polonsky. He’s not a huge fan, especially calling out the inspecific nature of Mason’s organization, as if the film could’ve been made if he’d been named a IRA leader.
The closer we examine Odd Man Out, its confusions of motive, its drift from facing out toward what conditions morality to the inner world which denies it, the more adequately we estimate our own reactions, the clearer it becomes that the film, although invested with all the trappings of realism, is nothing more than an enormous fantasy, a fantasy of the unconscious, a confession, a private dream. Odd Man Out is actually a stereotype of realism in the literary form of melodrama. Its content, as differentiated from its mechanical form, is essentially antirealistic, a consideration of a metaphysical and not a social struggle. In treating social events it is necessary to know their precise historical conditions in order to evalute the operation of moral choices. In a metaphysical inquiry we are mainly interested in defining the abstract terms for logical manipulation. Nowadays a whole literary school has arisen, antirealistic in nature, which is devoted to deciding whether organization-as-such is evil (not whether this organization is evil or not), and whether man’s inner agony is a condition of physical existence (not whether this social existence or that creates terror and anxiety in his spirit). Such questions are not considered useful from the point of view of reality.
He contrasts it with Monsieur Verdoux, “a free film, made with an artist’s freedom from censorship, freely invented, and always brought into relation to a living social condition.”
Song of the Sea (2014, Tomm Moore)
One of those Totoro/Coraline stories where the kids move to a new place and discover wonders there…kind of… but also one of the kids is a mermaid-seal, and so was her mom, and the girl needs to recover the seal pelt her dad chucked into the ocean or else all the mythological creatures in the land will be turned to stone.
Triumph of animation and design, as foretold by The Secret of Kells. It’s Irish, so Brendan Gleeson is in it (as the dad). I loved it despite the fact that owls were the villains.
Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Miniscule and Princess Kaguya took most of the awards this was nominated for. Admittedly it was a great year for animation, also with Boxtrolls and Cheatin’ and The Lego Movie but I’m surprised this didn’t get more love.
Brooklyn (2015, John Crowley)
Last film watched in 2015, and it’s a good one. Impossibly gorgeous and perfectly-lit Saoirse Ronan is in every scene, which should be enough of a recommendation, but it’s also a good story – a small-scale immigrant drama and minor love triangle given epic scale through grand filmmaking.
Eilis (which looks like Ellis, as in the island, now that I see it written) is sent abroad to New York by beneveolent priest Jim Broadbent, leaving her mother and sister Rose behind in Ireland. After a rough ship ride she settles in at her department store job with Parker Posey doppelganger Jessica Paré and a boarding house run by Julie Walters with other girls (incl. Arrow star Emily Rickards) who are looking for men and enjoying the night life. Quiet Eilis manages to attract a serious guy – an Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen of Afterschool) with big dreams of a family housing business. After her sister’s sudden death she returns to Ireland to see her mom and friends, starts hanging out with Domhnall Gleeson, locally considered a major catch. Will she abandon her Tony and her golden dreams of America to stay comfortably at home with Gleeson? No!
Novel by Colm Tóibín, adapted by Nick Hornby, directed by Crowley (Boy A, Closed Circuit). Up for three oscars, but not everyone loved it.
… feels weirdly sanitized, like somebody’s pseudo-nostalgic conception of the ’50s based on movies from that era. (Compare and contrast with Carol, which admittedly inhabits a different milieu but is unmistakably grounded in lived experience.)
The Uninvited (1944, Lewis Allen)
Apparently-wealthy London music critic Ray Milland (with The X-Ray Eyes) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey, photographer in The Philadelphia Story) spontaneously buy a haunted house on the cliffs of Ireland from Commander Donald Crisp (a DW Griffith silent actor). The commander’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell, who’d drink herself to death at age 36) has a ghostly obsession with the house, keeps wanting to visit and then almost committing suicide on the cliffs. Ray’s got a thing for the girl, who is way too young for him (he even mentions this once) so they keep allowing her to come over, and Pamela tries to figure out the ghostly presence in the house, but the commander is unhelpful with family history.
Stella and Ray – lot of nice candlelight in this movie:
Turns out he had reason to be unhelpful, since Stella’s real mom isn’t his dead daughter but a model named Carmel hired by Stella’s philandering dad. Ghost-mom is trying to murder the girl, while ghost-bio-mom Carmel wants her protected. The ghosts are mostly conveyed by Pamela looking intense and commenting on some odor or sound in the room, but we get some light visuals at the end when Ray sees them with his x-ray eyes.
The whole mystery gang:
A seance is faked with the help of old doctor Scott (Alan Napier, also appearing with Ray in Ministry of Fear), who I suspect isn’t the best doctor, in order to convince Stella to stay away from the house (or something). This doesn’t work, and Stella keeps running towards the cliff (maybe they should build a guard rail). The Commander takes drastic action, has the girl committed to a nuthouse run by ghost-mom’s nut friend Holloway (famed writer Cornelia Skinner, with Ray again in Girl in the Red Velvet Swing). Escapes and rescues ensue, Ray ends up with Stella, and Pamela with the doctor (I didn’t see that coming).
L-R: Stella, her dead mom, her dead mom’s obsessive girlfriend:
“From the Most Popular Mystery Romance since Rebecca” – the book must have been racier than the movie since there was hardly any romance to be found here. IMDB says it reused sets from I Married a Witch, and F.S. Nehme says the censorship boards and decency leagues of the time decried the implied romantic affair between evil-ghost-mom and her evil madhouse friend.
The Secret of Kells (2009, Tomm Moore)
Based on the poster I thought it was a Bug’s Life legend, but no that’s a human ghost girl hiding behind leaves. No-fun ol’ Abbot (Brendan Gleeson) thinks only about defending the town of Kells from viking invaders, but his nephew Brendan would rather follow the illustrator Aidan who comes to town hoping to complete a treasured book. Brendan gets help in the forest from the fairy Aisling, gathering berries for ink and a magnifying crystal from a cave creature (for drawing fine detail) and feathers from a goose’s butt. Turns out the Abbot’s defense plans weren’t all that, and the town gets sacked and nearly everyone dies, but Brendan completes the book, and so Irish culture lives on, I suppose. After a rewatch of Once, this was #2 in our Ireland Films Series.
Terrific design and compositions in this movie – some of it presumably based on Irish art and the real Book of Kells. Similar in ways to The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a simple/ancient folk tale animated with a singular style, and with one breathless centerpiece scene. In this one, it’s Aisling’s song, when she gives Aidan’s cat the power to retrieve a key to free the imprisoned Brendan. The real Book is an illustrated bible, but the movie avoids (almost?) any talk of bibles or religion, despite taking place in an abbey.
Also watched a 2001 short called Pitch n Putt with Beckett and Joyce, in which a tempermental, foul-mouthed, eyepatched James Joyce attempts to play mini-golf with an unresponsive Sam Beckett. Made Katy laugh, therefore good short.
The Guard (2011, John Michael McDonagh)
Another Brendan Gleeson action/comedy written/directed by a man named McDonagh – but this isn’t the guy who made In Bruges, it’s his brother. You see how that could be confusing.
There’s a serial killer on the loose, perhaps, and Gleeson is the local cop on the scene. Or it’s a drug crew faking the serial-killer thing to throw people off their scent. A young cop disappears and his wife is bugging Gleeson to find him. And FBI agent Don Cheadle (his character is from Atlanta, yay) shows up but finds his fancy training is no match for Gleeson’s down-homey knowledge and instincts. Also, Gleeson is a huge racist and thief, but that’s all played for laughs.
Our mismatched team takes on the druggies (incl. Liam Cunningham, priest in the super long-shot of Hunger, and Mark Strong, dude who lives in a trailer for most of Tinker Tailor) by themselves at the end. Gleeson blows up. Or he swims away with a half-billion in cash, depending who you believe. Anyway, it’s a diverting-enough picture, but my favorite bit was an excerpt from The Shout, which Gleeson sits at home watching between murders.