Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scotland: Land of Heroes

On my first trip to Scotland, upon the recommendation of my Scottish mother-in-law, we stopped at a gas station/gift shop called The Canny Scot where you could choose between canned and frozen haggis, sample the delight known as tablet and get a bargain price on smoked fish. For me, the biggest lure of the Canny Scot was their incredible collection of cheesy t-shirts. I settled on one emblazoned with pictures of Mel Gibson as Braveheart and Liam Neeson as Rob Roy and that read "Scotland: Land of Heroes." (The wonderful irony of this is that Mel Gibson is Australian and Liam Neeson is Irish.) As it is Burns Night this evening, I thought I would round up some of my favorites from Scotland: Land of Heroes.

I Know Where I'm Going
: Best movie about Scotland, ever. A romantic comedy set in the Scottish Hebrides starring Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller. Of course, Scotland itself is a character and film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's cinematography is hauntingly beautiful. The tone of the film is quiet and the humor subdued. Best of all no one gets drawn and quartered.

Local Hero: This 1983 film by Scottsih director, Bill Forsyth, was seen by few people, except for the producers of Northern Exposure who completely ripped it off for the series. The story is about an oil man (Peter Reigert) who comes to a remote Scottish village to purchase the town and finds one lone hermit who refuses to sell up. As in I Know Where I'm Going, one of the highlights of the film is a ceilidh, or a Scottish country dance.

The Ghost Goes West/The 39 Steps: I'm always up for a Robert Donat double feature. While the former features Donat in a kilt, sporting a somewhat outrageous accent, the latter has Hitchcock using Scotland as a dramatic background for some of his most intense chase scenes.

My Life So Far: I admit that I stumbled on this movie during my time as a Colin Firth completionist. (As if I'm over my Colin Firth phase!). It's difficult to tease out my feelings for the film's leading actor, but I quite liked the between the wars, coming of age story on its own merit. The Scottish castle and setting are beautifully filmed and the whole thing is quirky and pleasant if not deeply profound.

Rob Roy: Longing to be a rip-roaring swashbuckling adventure movie, this film is ultimately too heavy to really do the genre properly. Liam Neeson and Jessica Lang are really pretty wonderful in the romantic parts of the film, and if you are into broad swords, then the ending of the film is a must see. Tim Roth and John Hurt round out the cast as vile villainous villains. Roth especially stands out as the loathsome Archibald Cunningham an evil and stylish man, the likes of which we haven't seen on screen since the days of Basil Rathbone.

Mary of Scotland: Hollywood knows how to do spectacle and this costume drama from Warner Brothers has plenty of pipers on castle ramparts. Katharine Hepburn and Frederich March play Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, lovers enmeshed in court politics. Donald Crisp, John Carradine and Douglas Walton round out the excellent cast.

Brigadoon: Ok, take what I said in my write-up of Mary of Scotland and multiply it by ten. This is what happens when the big studio glamor machine goes bonkers on a meme. In this case, the idea that Scottish people wear as much plaid as possible, tams on their heads and like to dance a reel. Filmed on a sound stage it lacks the authenticity of the other films in this list, but with a blazing, bright technicolor widescreen transfer, it's difficult to say no to Gene Kelly, Sid Charisse and Vincente Minnelli production values.

Highlander: I'm kind of amazed that this movie didn't make the Canny Scot's t-shirt of Scottish heroes played by foreign actors. Perhaps they feared that people would confuse Christopher Lambert with Mel Gibson as they are difficult to tell apart when they are all done up in their highlander garb. (Hint: Mel has the blue face.) The story of an immortal Scottish warrior (Christopher Lambert) and his Spanish fight trainer (Sean Connery with a pearl earring) and their adventure across time to defeat fellow immortal and vile villainous villain, the Kergan (Clancy Brown.) In many ways, this is the movie that Rob Roy wanted to be, but couldn't because it had to stick to some semblance of historical accuracy. It's shamelessly entertaining, surprisingly original and will have you shouting, "there can only be one" in your next outing involving swordplay.

Braveheart: My least favorite of the films on this list, though it does contain a bravura performance from one of my favorite obscure actors, David O'Hara who plays Stephen the Mad Irishman. (O'Hara, ironically was one of the few native Scottish actors with a speaking part in the film). Action film lovers can look to the film's influential battle scenes whose up-close, visceral style became the standard for this sort of thing. It's a bit like watching the Lord of the Rings, actually: a lot of guys with long, dirty hair, giving rousing speeches, head-butting each other. At least there's lots of kilts.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I have not been kidnapped

To all my faithful friends who have patiently waited for a new blog post, I'm sorry. I really have no excuse other than I needed a little break.

A few things that have ruled my world during hiatus:

1) Tired Old Queen at the Movies. If you haven't seen him, check him out. No one could get me to watch as many 1950s films as he has. Also, you gotta love (and perhaps fear slightly) a guy who collects Barbie doll outfits from classic films.

2) The 100 Greatest Posters of Noir. I'm not even a noir fan and I've been loving this series in an obsessive way. This makes me want to go back to school and take a class from Mr. Fertig. He obviously knows his stuff.

3) Classic Film Scans. Kate from Silents and Talkies lovingly scans pictures of classic film stars and posts them in all their high-res glory. She has wonderfully broad taste and that means that lots of actors like Robert Donat and Herbert Marshall who usually get the short shrift in the world of high res scans get space. I dare you not to spend the rest of the day at this site. I dares ya.

4) Netflix instant. I can't stop watching TV shows this way. Entire seasons of Doctor Who, Slings and Arrows, MI-5 and No Reservations have been gobbled up. A few classic movies might have slipped in as well, like Damn the Defiant and The Girl Rush. Stupid TV. Be less good so I can go back to watching classic movies. Lord help me if they ever get Mad Men.

5) Facebook. Like a massive ven diagram of my life, Facebook allows me to spend untold hours cross pollinating my various obsessions among groups of my friends and family. Most of my online film friends are on here so if you are one of them, get on here already. Together we can and will remain staggeringly unproductive!

An extra big shout-out to all the friends of the blog who continued to e-mail, send goodies by mail and just generally be the most supportive and awesome people ever. You know who you are! Kisses!