Friday, April 17, 2015
( 1:40 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Of all the movies that have been shot in Scotland there may be few prettier than 1955's Geordie. Made by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, filmmakers I normally associate with broader comedy, Geordie comes off a bit like Scotland's answer to The Quiet Man, a charming vision of a small, rural community living among fantastic hills of heather, unabashedly presenting the ideal Scotland. The story itself lacks the complexity of The Quiet Man but it's easy to love Geordie.
We meet the title character as an undersized youngster, teased relentlessly by his classmates. After a dangerous trip up a mountain with his friend, Jean, ends with him unable to peer over the edge of the bird's nest that had been the object of their journey, he decides finally to do something about his height. He spots an advertisement for a body building correspondence course in his father's newspaper.
One expects the poor kid to be scammed but I love the fact that the course actually works and we watch wee Geordie grow up into a giant young man, now played by Bill Travers.
He follows in his father's footsteps to be come gamekeeper for Alastair Sim, who's credited only as "The Laird". Sim was a Scot so it must have been nice for him to play one for once. He cautions Geordie never to shoot kestrels somehow under the belief that kestrels never harm chickens, despite Geordie presenting him with clear evidence to the contrary.
The movie loses its way a little bit when Geordie competes at hammer throwing in the summer Olympics in Australia but I love the scenes of Geordie in the hot weather intercut with the people back home in the snow where the Laird is trying to put Johnnie Walker in everyone's tea.
Twitter Sonnet #737
Ostrich leg legions topple mountain stills.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
( 3:55 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Is marriage a good idea? Seems an innocent question but it's enough to cause chaos in Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's 1953 film Folly to Be Wise, an entertaining though not brilliantly hilarious comedy. It does have the virtue of not doing anything wrong.
Alastair Sim plays the anxious and fastidious Captain William Paris, an army chaplain put in charge of entertainment. Finding the usual engagements of local string quartets and choirs have failed to draw the uniformed men and women away from the pubs, Paris hatches an idea to hold a Brain Trust--a panel of educated and knowledgeable volunteers who will take questions from an audience. The always wary of scandal Paris recruits a local children's author, Angela (Elizabeth Allan), her painter husband, George (Roland Culver), an announcer from the BBC named James Mutch (Colin Gordon), an M.P. (Edward Chapman), a viscountess (Martita Hunt), and the local doctor (Miles Malleson). It seems like a conservative enough selection (despite the M.P. being Labour) so what could go wrong? As a precaution, Paris forbids questions relating to politics or religion anyway.
He probably ought to have had misgivings from the moment he mistook Mutch for Angela's husband because he came upon them kissing. At first congratulating the two on "carrying their courtship into marriage" he seems to blot out what he'd witnessed by means of sheer mortification when he learns the man's real identity.
Perhaps he ought to have had further misgivings when, having asked the volunteers to join him for a sherry before the show, he saw George going straight for the Johnnie Walker.
Added to this the fact that the doctor is all but deaf and turns out to enjoy telling graphic medical anecdotes and the M.P. of course tries to turn things into a political rally, the cards seem firmly stacked against things turning out as Paris' fragile nerves desperately demand. When his own secretary, Jessie (Janet Brown), asks the question about marriage because she's considering getting married herself, all other problems are eclipsed by the boiling triangle of Angela, George, and Mutch.
Nothing becomes intensely funny but the characters never do anything forced, which is nice. Even hopelessly drunk, George tries to keep a lid on his family problems at first and the viscountess tries to save the day with a (seemingly inaccurate, based on my attempts to google it*) Tennyson quote about how marriage is give and take but naturally things only get worse. George Cole has a pretty great cameo as a man in the audience who guilelessly at the end stands up to congratulate the chaplain on a thought provoking presentation.
*Google says it's actually from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "A friend should bear his friend's infirmities," to which the viscountess adds something about how more one should bear a husband's. And yet it sounds so familiar, I wonder if it really was a commentary Tennyson made on the Shakespeare quote--I can't find it anywhere if it is. I hope someone hasn't decided they have a copyright that entitles them to scrub Tennyson from the internet.#
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
( 12:35 PM ) posted by Setsuled
He walks into a strange home or business, seeming to see everything and nothing at the same time, distracted totally with a business from outside he's also keenly and intimately obsessed with the territory he's casually invaded. He's the brilliant detective or inspector archetype, call him Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe. Usually a character who appears in mysteries written like puzzles with a definite answer to the problem arrived at through a logical sequence of reason, 1954's An Inspector Calls uses this character for a slightly different purpose. Still a mystery film, An Inspector Calls is intriguingly uncanny, a virtue diminished only partly by the film's heavy handed morality.
A wealthy family and their daughter's fiancé gather in the patriarch's home to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. And then suddenly Alastair Sim as Inspector Poole appears in the room without being announced.
He proceeds to question each member of the family one at a time, showing each one a photograph of a young woman--careful not to let two people see it at once--and in so doing revealing how each one has committed an injustice through direct malice or thoughtlessness to the woman of lower class. And now that woman, Eva Smith (Jane Wenham), is dead, apparently from suicide.
It seems unlikely, as members of the family point out more than once, that each of them should have encountered this same woman in completely unrelated circumstances. Is the Inspector pulling a prank? Or is something even weirder happening?
Alastair Sim is perfect casting here. He keeps his cards close to his chest, his bug eyes under sad lids keenly watching each member of the family in turn, a slight smile occasionally coming to his lips suggesting sadism or sorrow or both.#
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
( 4:02 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Does Alastair Sim look innocent to you? Well he is, in 1953's Innocents in Paris, a comedy that's more leisurely stroll through mild sweetness than particularly funny.
It's an ensemble film that follows a diverse assortment of British characters who board a plane for Paris at the beginning. Sim plays a glum government official who travels to France to negotiate with Russia over some convoluted matter of trade. His Russian counterpart is completely uncooperative until the two end up drinking together at a Russian night club after Sim's character repeatedly mistakes the other man's vodka for glasses of water.
There are seven stories, none of them connect and none of them quite feel like they get off the ground. Claire Bloom plays a beautiful woman who meets a wealthy Frenchman and they get along. Margaret Rutherford meets a man who paints copies of the Mona Lisa.
After Sim's, I guess my favourite story was of a Scotsman (James Copeland) whose kilt is torn at some kind of small amusement park where air is blown up from the floor with the design to flip women's skirts. The embarrassed young man is laughed at by the women but one, Raymonde (Monique Gerard), takes pity on him long enough to mend his kilt.
All of the stories involve British characters seeming indeed innocent and slightly, sweetly bewildered by Paris. The film is a reasonably pleasant way to spend two hours.
Twitter Sonnet #736
Mantis leg theatre seat surfeit holds.
Monday, April 13, 2015
( 12:31 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I guess the Sparrows are the Puritans and Cersei is Charles I on the new season of Game of Thrones. That's what it looks like from the first episode, anyway. But mostly, the absence that made my heart grow fonder of Game of Thrones ended with me being reminded of the show's shortcomings. Well, maybe not really shortcomings but ways in which the story clashes with my perspective on human nature. But Game of Thrones looks more like how history is usually written than how it's actually made--a series of rulers making decisions, making mistakes, being corrupt or valiant. It's a fantasy bound up in the idea that human beings can attain meaningful positions of power. Like a lot of fantasies, it's a lot of fun.
For an illustration of the alternative point of view, and the perspective I see as much more credible, I recommend reading War and Peace. Tolstoy portrays one of history's greatest political strong men, Napoleon Bonaparte, as being more the fortunate subject of a tide public perception and motivation than the orchestrator. The story wisely focuses on individuals who are affected by the events of war rather than individuals who effect events. I would stop harping on this issue the moment I felt like people weren't looking at Game of Thrones like an actual insightful look into the way nations are run.
Daenerys and Cersei look like they're going to have parallel plots this season about their ability to manage public perception and how crucial it is to the ability to rule--yes, we're seeing the two kingdoms of Sarah Connor this season. I'm rooting for the underdog, Cersei, not just because Lena Headey's the one who's still willing to get naked on camera. Though I was amused by a scene of Daenerys modestly covering her bosom after sex, the supposedly comfortable when nude Targaryen.
You can hear the makers of the show saying, "Look what you made us do!" Of course, Emilia Clarke didn't make them write the scene that way. I think it's a bit silly when actors think getting naked on camera is beneath their dignity but I don't see the point in pestering someone about, especially when you have to work with them.
I prefer Cersei because she's more interesting and played by a better actress. I'll take the woman who's lived with a prophesy of doom her whole life over the doe eyed queen of blue skies and virtue. Though her story with the dragons is a nice bit of moral complication for her.
I get the feeling sometimes that Tyrion is a manifestation of George R.R. Martin's self-image and that Daenerys is his unattainable dream woman while Cersei is a representation of the way he felt women regarded him as a young man. I wonder if that's why he's having such a hard time writing the next book--the closer he gets to Tyrion and Daenerys actually meeting, the more difficult he finds it to connect with.#
Sunday, April 12, 2015
( 3:50 PM ) posted by Setsuled
There were women pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy though little is known about any of them apart from Mary Read and Anne Bonny. A Jacques Tourneur movie very loosely based on the latter, Anne of the Indies, was released in 1951. Deviating so much from historical account was probably a good idea since Anne Bonny's story isn't particularly interesting apart from her being a woman though Anne of the Indies is flawed by what one senses is the result of multiple hands at the wheel, tyrannised by 1950s morality. Yet it is a fascinating film in part for that reason, though the beautiful colour footage under Tourneur's direction and Jean Peters' enthusiastic performance in the title role makes one wish the film were more fascinating for the reasons a filmmaker might desire than as an artefact of its time.
I haven't seen all her movies but I doubt I'll ever see one that cast Jean Peters better than Pickup On South Street where she played a prostitute named Candy. But as the pirate captain Anne Providence, she displays again her enthusiasm in pursuing roles considered too rough to be healthy to an actress' career. It's obvious from the too brief sword fights that she had trained hard for them. She's no Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn but she goes to it with as much gusto, even in a friendly tavern duel with her mentor, Blackbeard himself (Thomas Gomez).
It's he that provided her crew and ship, the Queen Sheba. Her first mate, Red Dougal (James Robertson Justice), being charged personally by Blackbeard to see to Anne's safety. Nonetheless, she's clearly in command and is as happy as any of the crew to execute the British officers they capture as the film begins. However, she makes the risky decision to spare the handsome young Frenchman found in irons on the British ship, Pierre (Louis Jourdan).
I often thought of Tourneur's great film Cat People. Both have noir qualities despite ostensibly belonging to other genres--one might say Simone Simon in Cat People and Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies are femmes fatale but I think that would come from only a superficial understanding of what a femme fatale is. Unlike, say, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or Jane Greer in Tourneur's own Out of the Past, Cat People and Anne of the Indies are both told almost entirely from the point of view of the female characters and we know that their motives for committing their crimes are based on feelings provoked by very real injustices that were done to them. In these qualities, they actually have more in common with noir protagonists like Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra or Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street. I think one could argue that there is a homme fatale in Anne of the Indies.
Anne has a right to be angry. Her brother was executed for piracy by the British and we see her manipulated and betrayed like Simone Simon in Cat People--and, also like Cat People, the person who commits this betrayal is portrayed as innocent and heroic, it's up to the viewer to parse what actually happened. There's the sense of a morality that forbids women from feeling truly hurt by the unfaithfulness of men, or at least from wanting restitution. The place where Anne of the Indies falls apart in a way that Cat People truly doesn't is where Anne's pirate crew begin to disapprove of her ruthlessness, and mention is made of the depths of cruelty only a woman can exhibit when Anne simply tries to do normal pirate things like marooning enemies on an island or selling them into slavery.
Also unlike Cat People, Anne has complete control over how ruthless she chooses to be. It would have been exciting to see her given full rein but the artificially enforced morality holds her back, partly in the person of her otherwise interesting ship's doctor, played by Herbert Marshall. Marshall lost his leg in World War I which you'd think would be a golden opportunity for a pirate film but he continues here to display his remarkable ability to make it look like he has two working legs.
He gives the impression of an educated gentleman who's been beaten down by the world into a life of drinking and piracy. He has a gentle affection for Anne and I would have liked to have seen a film about the two of them terrorising the Caribbean unfettered by morality from two hundred years later.
Saturday, April 11, 2015
( 2:13 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Here we are again at another Doctor Who Saturday and we visit Project: Lazarus, a 2003 audio play which continues the mutilated Doctor theme. It's also a sequel to Project: Twilight, a Sixth Doctor story about Sci-Fi vampires, apparently unrelated to the ones in State of Decay or "The Vampires of Venice" or The Curse of Fenric or any of the other vampires established on the series. I liked Project: Lazarus a lot more than Project: Twilight, though.
It's both a Sixth Doctor story and a Seventh Doctor story, an idea I really liked--the story concludes in the middle and then a new story begins where the Seventh Doctor, much later, visits the same time and place only to find what appears to be his sixth incarnation still there. Colin Baker does a teasing impression of Sylvester McCoy that actually made me smile.
The story also continues the trend towards harsher, darker stories that dwell on the idea that the Doctor doesn't always win. It's really nice to have stories like that, not just because it makes his victories mean more but because it makes his universe feel more dangerous.
Let's see, what else can I say about Doctor Who. I rewatched the Fifth Doctor story Time Flight and the Twelfth Doctor episode "Into the Dalek". The former confirmed for me that the Fifth's audio plays are much better written than his television episodes and I was reminded how tired I got of seeing the Master in the Five and Six era. "Into the Dalek" holds up pretty well though I still wish the Dalek hadn't said that stuff about divinity.
Have I mentioned Twelve is my favourite Doctor of the new series? It's not even a contest, I love him so much.
I dreamt last night I was visiting Caitlin and she was showing me a large bag of keepsakes while we watched television. To get the bag, she'd had to go into a small room under the stairs. I heard a scuffle and screaming. In the bag were VHS tapes and some kind of crude objects made of twigs painted black and tied with twine.
I also had a dream about someone breaking into a room I had in the sky and moving some things from an upstairs closet to a downstairs kitchen table.
Twitter Sonnet #735
Mashing Skittles takes silly sugar guts.
Friday, April 10, 2015
( 6:58 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Leaving a will may be important for many reasons for many different people but perhaps for no-one is it more important than the infamous prankster. When Henry Russell (Hugh Griffith) dies at the beginning of 1951's Laughter In Paradise he happily leaves his family in chaos, his will instructing the talented cast of this ensemble film to do dangerous and embarrassing things for a shot at fifty thousand pounds. At times dully moral, this is mostly a delightful comedy.
The would-be Russell inheritors are Agnes (Fay Compton), Herbert (George Cole), Simon (Guy Middleton), and, my favourite, Deniston (Alastair Sim). For years he's hidden the fact that he's made a living off vulgar pulp novels and hopes to live off the fifty thousand and publish only respectable novels under his own name from now on. The trouble is, to get it Henry's will requires him to commit a crime that puts him in prison for no less than twenty eight days.
Obviously obsessed with his reputation, Deniston finds this impossible to explain to his fiancée, Elizabeth (Joyce Grenfell), the respectable daughter of a magistrate. I mean, just look at her.
Grenfell is becoming of my favourites of British comedy films, she pulls of the unselfconscious gawkishness so well. As her suitor this time, Sim has his usual tentative and sort of sedately vexed hopelessness. He finds being a criminal difficult not just for the embarrassment but also because he fails to be convincing at shoplifting and unable to commit to the act when a clerk tells him the price of what he's picked up.
Meanwhile, George Cole also has to commit a crime--the timid bank clerk is tasked with holding up his boss with a toy gun. Cole is wonderfully awkward but this plot his sadly given very little screen time, the movie too much favouring Agnes' story where the woman who's a terror to her serving staff is required to spend no less than twenty eight days working as a housemaid. It's a funny enough premise, especially in the beginning when, on receiving a telegram notifying her of Henry's death, the first thing she does is to scold her maid for not dusting her brother's portrait.
Unfortunately, the story quickly becomes a humourless, mechanical comeuppance as she finds herself put to hard work by her cranky, bedridden employer (John Laurie).
Guy Middleton's story is pretty funny--the incorrigible womaniser is forced to marry the first woman he speaks to. It's a shame he doesn't keep his word because the first woman he talks to is a cigarette girl played by Audrey Hepburn in her first credited role.
The whole movie's available on YouTube:
Thursday, April 09, 2015
( 6:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled
How do you catch a wild Cornel? Or a Cornel Wilde, for that matter? That's what a group of warriors from a south African tribe in the mid nineteenth century decide to find out in 1965's The Naked Prey, a film which Wilde also directed. An exciting adventure film with nice location shots, it's also a bit racist and mired in well trodden plot mechanics.
The character Wilde portrays is credited as "Man" and he's a safari guide under employ of "Man #2" (Gert van den Bergh). They're the only two white characters which may explains why the film reserves the word "man" for them and not the many male black characters. Man #2 talks about going into the slavery business and annoys Man with generally obnoxious behaviour, including a failure to pay tribute to a tribe whose territory they travel through. I guess this is where the film satisfies itself it's playing on even terms but when Man One and Two are caught it's by a whole community who apparently have no other pleasure in life but tormenting, killing, and eating white men.
Sure, Man and Man were in their territory and I don't expect them to be nice. I don't even expect members of the tribe to speak out against torturing the two. But surely one or two people could have something else on his or her mind. Maybe food, caring for a child, something. They're all either tormenting or laughing at the intruders. That's all there is to them.
I've never thought much of Wilde as an actor--I don't think I've seen any of the other films he directed. In 1945's Leave Her to Heaven, part of the fun is seeing what an absolutely tone deaf performance he gives as his character is wildly and ignorantly inconsiderate of his wife played by Gene Tierney. It's one of those noirs where you really root for the villain because the "hero" is such a putz. I kind of felt that way about him The Naked Prey, too, especially since he keeps surviving due to some really forced luck, like spears that continually miss him when he's not looking. But the reality of the environments makes up for Wilde's unconvincing plight a little.
By the way, don't expect to see him actually naked. They strip him and he's wearing some flesh coloured briefs I think are meant to be read as nude. Then he steals one of those nylon speedos everyone in Africa wore in the nineteenth century. I think they came from the same manufacturer who made the trunks in 300.
Wednesday, April 08, 2015
( 12:26 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Did we know Saul was a genius before? Well, it's been proved over the course of the first season of Better Call Saul, the finale of which aired on Monday. It proved that Saul is the Walter White of this series, where White was godlike with chemistry, Saul knows how to manipulate people whether it be through the law or, as demonstrated in the finale with a whole lot of charm, through grift.
Like Walter White, Saul/Jimmy has been pushed out of success in the legitimate world by the betrayal of people close to him and he turns to crooked ways in response. I guess the key difference is that Saul does it from the beginning for self fulfilment whereas this was a revelation that only seem to come at the end for Walter who told himself most of the time his motives were revenge and money. Despite what Saul says to Mike at the end of the episode, we've watched him walk away from one lucrative opportunity after another because it's not the life he wants. His petty conman friend makes this clearer when he begs Saul to do one more scam before he goes back to Albuquerque, even though neither of them need the money.
So one could say that, more than a prequel, Better Call Saul is a continuation of Breaking Bad in that it thematically starts at the place where Breaking Bad ended. Now the hero knows who he is and what he wants--and those things happen to be against the whole world. Now what happens? I, for one, am looking forward to season 2.
Twitter Sonnet #734
French horn forbearance rankles hounds.
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
( 7:12 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The best way to lead man or beast to slaughter is to make it look like a good idea. 1973's Touki Bouki uses the music of Josephine Baker, a woman known for presenting a fantasy version of Africa to Paris, to present a fantastic dream of Paris to two young Africans. It's a story about a local culture devalued in favour of a foreign one but the strengths of Touki Bouki are in the less argumentative moments where it presents its two misfit heroes enduring their humdrum and perilous lives in Senegal.
We're introduced to the city of Dakar first through a tired man in brown uniform who wanders slums and marketplaces. A woman buys fruit from a friend who tells her she doesn't have to pay to-day prompting a rebuke from the fruit seller's daughter, Anta (Mareme Niang).
Neither are swayed by the drably dressed young woman who goes off to find her similarly unappreciated and drably dressed boyfriend, Mory (Magaye Niang).
His motorcycle with a cow skull on the front seems to connect him with the cattle we see gently led to a bloodsoaked slaughterhouse at the beginning of the film. And indeed, it's not long before we see Mory beaten and tied up by a gang of his peers and the skull stolen from his bike.
The film seems to break with linear, literal storytelling at times as we go from Anta, panic stricken at learning from a local witch that Mory has killed himself to seeing her taking her top off and embracing him as he relaxes by his fully intact bike. The shot of Anta removing her top is repeated a moment later. Was the witch lying? Did Mory survive his "suicide"? The literal truth doesn't seem to matter and we're left with a more interesting emotional impression of the places these two young people occupy in their society.
The scheme they implement to get to Paris seems even more based on dream logic as a rich man who tries to seduce Mory from his shower for some reason is unaware Mory is stealing all his clothes. Mory and Anta pile suitcases in a car painted with American flags and tell the wealthy man's chauffeur to take them to town. We see them later in a motorcade, dressed to the nines--in clothes that curiously would never have fit on the man who tried to seduce Mory--waving to crowds of onlookers like royalty.
The use real locations and natural lighting combines with strange logic to convey the impression of being stuck in a limbo between insubstantial, unreachable, superficial beauty and a violent, uncaring environment.#