Tag: england

Movie Review: The Wicker Man (1973)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

It was hard for me to believe that something as ridiculous and terrible as The Wicker Man remake came out of what many considered to be a top-notch horror film, but nevertheless I had high hopes for the original Wicker Man. Set entirely on a remote Scottish island, the film follows police detective Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) as he looks into the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the small island community of Summerisle to be a weird, weird place, where everyone is constantly getting naked for no reason and singing all the time and committing blasphemy or whatever, plus they all lie blatantly about the missing girl. Within a few days Sgt Howie is no further along in his investigation and essentially trapped there, gradually becoming convinced the islanders are planning a human sacrifice as part of their May Day pagan rituals.

This film is pretty bizarre, mostly in how it merges various genre elements into a somewhat mis-matched whole, but for the most part it works as an oddball thriller. It is very much a product of its time, a blatant commentary on the danger of cults when they had a much stronger presence in the mainstream consciousness. It is a dark but almost quaint story today, with Howie’s exaggerated morality and blustering religious outrage making him a ridiculous figure, and certainly not a sympathetic one. He’s also not a very good detective, never stopping to ponder why a letter was sent to him about a missing girl whose mother denies her existence. What makes The Wicker Man stand out is its memorably strange imagery and nihilistic plotting, and the charismatic performance of Christopher Lee as the devious Lord Summerisle. Also the music, since this is almost a musical and that was just not expected! Folksy tunes and ancient ballads and such.

This is an example of expectations vs reality, a common problem I experience when viewing acclaimed films. This is billed as a horror movie, and I was excited to see yet another highly-recommended horror film I’d missed, but I honestly don’t see what makes this horror. It’s not just that it’s not scary, but it doesn’t try to be scary. I viewed it as a straight mystery/thriller with some surreal visuals but no supernatural or slasher or other horror-type elements. I kept expecting something scary or truly horrific to happen and so I was kind of underwhelmed, but maybe I’m just not shocked by an asshole being burned alive by hippie pagans. It didn’t bother me. Also I know there are different versions of this movie and I don’t think I saw the full cut, it’s whatever netflix sent me. Anyway I did like The Wicker Man, but I to sort of had to change how I was watching it when I realized it wasn’t what I’d anticipated. It’s a wonderfully eccentric film and I loved how unapologetic it was in its weirdness. Howie has no idea what’s going on, and I didn’t have much of a better idea, but for the most part the movie didn’t really care anyway.


Pair This Movie With: Umm another movie about cults, I guess? I haven’t seen too many, but can recommend Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and Suspiria.

Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

lady vanishes
Seen: At the Harvard Film Archive on 35mm, part of their Complete Alfred Hitchcock retrospective.

Ok, here’s the final in my little Hitchcock trifecta, though I might catch one or two more in September. The Lady Vanishes has been on my to-see list for a while, as I’ve always heard it’s one of his best. The film begins in a small, fictional European country where visitors are currently stranded at a mountain inn during a snowstorm. When the weather clears, American socialite Iris (Margaret Henderson) hits her head on the way to the train, but a cheerful British nanny named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) takes care of her as their journey begins. After taking a nap, Iris wakes up to find Miss Froy gone, and none of the other passengers seem to have any memory of her existence- some assume the young woman is hallucinating due to her bump on the head. Convinced Miss Froy is both real and in trouble, Iris enlists the aid of raffish British musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) to get to the bottom of things. Just what’s going on here on this MYSTERY TRAIN?!

Hitchcock again delights with a thriller primarily relegated to one location, here a passenger train moving fast through unfamiliar (and totally made-up) territory. Admittedly the actual plot is kind of ridiculous, with all this macguffin spy stuff that is barely explained, and while I recognized that fact immediately I was still sort of frustrated by that element of the film- like why work in this secret political relations stuff if you’re not even going to elaborate on it, at all? But really it’s just an excuse to throw these delightful characters together and see what they do in a strange and dangerous situation. The core team of Redgrave and Henderson is great, doing that sexy love-hate thing until they finally admit that they want to make out. Redgrave is eerily reminiscent of Aiden Gillen aka Littlefinger on Game of Thrones, and it kind of freaked me out how much they are the same person. Time travel? Perhaps. The real stars are gay couple Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), who are TOO ADORABLE. They just sit around talking about crickett and loving each other, and generally being too droll to handle. They, like half the cast, are so British as to be a bit of a parody.

The Lady Vanishes has a little bit of everything: excitement, romance, jokes, shootouts, mistaken identities, gaslighting, fictional foreign policies, magic, and a train! It’s fun and a little silly, but also genuinely thrilling. I loved the characters and the dialogue, though the overarching mystery is too under-developed.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm another movie with a train perhaps? Ones that come to mind include but are not limited to: The General, Transsiberian, Source Code, and Silver Streak.

Movie Review: The Card (aka The Promoter) (1952)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

Scanning through titles randomly on netflix instant is always a gamble, but the promise of Alec Guinness being goofy and Glynis Johns being anything proved tempting despite knowing nothing else about The Card (released as The Promoter in the US). Based on the book by Arnold Bennett, the film chronicles the rise of one Edward Henry “Denry” Machin (Guinness), a clever opportunist who moves from an entry-level solicitor’s clerk to mayor of his city in early twentieth century England. A beautiful but equally sly dance tutor (Johns) romances him for his increasing fortune, but her true intentions are unclear.

Much too old for the “young upstart”-type role but fooling the eye with his baby face and silly haircut, Guinness is an adorable and goofy lead. He charms his way in and out of various scams, but he’s rarely mean about it so no one seems to mind. His naivete only really shows through in his interactions with Ruth Earp, played by the enthusiastic Glynis Johns, whose affected high-pitched voice and comedic timing make for the most memorable performance in the film. Or maybe that’s my personal preference showing through.

The script is nicely understated, but at times I wished it wouldn’t be so quiet about its humor. The story is so sparse that the jokes needed to be stronger to really make an impact. As it stands, The Card is a cute, quirky comedy whose strong lead actors make it more entertaining. It wasn’t bad, I just don’t have much to say about it. Some great costumes, though.


Pair This Movie With: Ummm there’s always Mary Poppins for more shots of Glynis Johns in awesome turn-of-the-century outfits!

Movie Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

Seen: At the AMC/Loews at Boston Common, in 3-D.

Well, you know me. Stop-motion animation and silly jokes about British history… I’m there! Based on the series of novels by Gideon Dafoe (who also wrote the screenplay), The Pirates! Band of Misfits follows the luxuriantly-bearded Pirate Captain (actual name) and his loyal crew of adorable seamen as they fight for the “Pirate of the Year” award. In trying to plunder enough gold to nab the coveted title, they find themselves mixed up in a surprisingly scientific adventure involving Charles Darwin, rare animals, aeronautics, and an unexpectedly spry Queen Victoria.

Aw jeez how could I not be utterly charmed by this movie? I mean, it’s just this super cute, completely irreverent bunch of nonsense wrapped in a beautiful stop-motion package, and the incredible voice cast is just the bow on top! It’s got the general silly atmosphere and wonky facial expressions that I love about Wallace & Gromit, plus some truly impressive set pieces and visual design. The sight gags are plentiful, and often pretty smart, including the use of literal travel-by-map and a phenomenal bathtub chase down a long staircase, but it’s the goofy dialogue that’s strongest. The story becomes more and more ludicrous as it goes on, and so the script rises to the occasion with a wealth of weird jokes and self-aware observations.

Ok so mostly I really enjoyed this movie but there are times when it’s too… kidsy? Like there are some jokes that are corny and easy. The strangest thing about the whole movie (aside from the sword-wielding evilness of Queen Victoria, which ruled) was the use of the Flight of the Conchords song “I’m Not Crying”. Now, I loooove me some Flight of the Conchords but you can’t really take their songs out of context, the whole time that track is playing in this movie I was picturing the scene in the show, and seeing Brett and Jemaine singing it. It just took me out of the film.

That voice cast though, seriously. Every other character was a new famous person I loved. Hugh Grant, David Tennant, Martin Freeman (!), Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Anton Yelchin (!!)… it was great. Everyone did a good job.


Pair This Movie With: Is it too obvious to suggest Muppet Treasure Island? I DON’T CARE BECAUSE IT WOULD BE SO PERFECT A NIGHT.

The 2012 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Read Part I.

Alright, 4 films down and I’m doing fine! A little hungry but as always I am prepared with snacks (pear applesauce cups, it’s all I need). There are some awesome trailers and such shown, but sadly no shorts like the past few years. I heard there was a great shorts program during the festival portion, and usually they pick a few to screen during the marathon itself. I wonder if the gargantuan Endhiran was too long to allow for extra stuff? Hmmph! Anyway, we continue on with more mad inventors/scientists, along with a some aliens and exploding heads. Press on!

5 Dimensions (2011)
This was one of the festival films so I was glad I got to see it after missing the original screening. A thoughtful time travel drama set in 1920s-30s England, Dimensions has some interesting ideas and lovely cinematography. I liked the main cast (who all got to wear sexy 30’s outfits) and the romantic aspects so central to the sciencey portions as the main character tries to revisit a lost love from his childhood. Unfortunately its script is too light, dragging through what could have been a much shorter story, and the editing isn’t great (all those fading scene transitions were so off-putting). But I appreciated it on a more basic level, especially since I assume the budget was pretty small and it did look good. The director Sloane U’Ren (who previously has been set/art designer for a ton of cool films) was there and did a Q&A but I had to leave to start my reading. Yay for ladies making sci-fi though!

6 Attack the Block (2011)
This I had to sit out for homework time. I totally love it (it’s one of my favorites of 2011) but I’ve seen it twice and the first time was in a theater, so sacrifices had to be made. For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, this is a completely kickass movie with gorilla-wolf motherfucker aliens and a group of resourceful British urban youths who combat them. Great soundtrack, creature design, and casting makes for a fun and decidedly different sci-fi comedy. The title links to my full review from last year.

7 Island of Lost Souls (1932)
So once when I was a kid I was at a slumber party and we watched the 1996 version of this story but everyone else fell asleep really quickly but I watched the whole thing alone and it scared the SHIT out of me. Marlon Brando’s creepy turban/pastiness left an impression. THIS one is a pretty cool movie, more subdued but just as eerie and strange. Based on the HG Wells novel, the film follows a castaway who finds himself unwillingly left on a mysterious, tiny island populated by animal/human hybrids- experimental creatures of the devilishly polite Dr Moreau (Charles Laughton). It’s a careful thriller with a clipped runtime, wonderfully dark subject matter, and some fantastic performances. Laughton is mesmerizing as the tactful, probably deranged Moreau, but Kathleen Burke stands out as the “Panther Woman” Lota, the doctor’s most “human” creation who longs for social interaction. And Bela Lugosi has a small role that led to hilarious Devo references from the crowd! The make-up effects are notable, as well. Good film, though the script felt a bit light at times.

8 Scanners (1981)
Oh, Scanners, a movie that is impossible for me not to love even though it’s got some problems. I saw this last year as part of my personal Cronenberg re-awakening (realizing his 80’s movies are all I need in life) and came to love it. Patrick “Mr Intensity” McGoohan sets telepaths against each other in a confusing and deadly (and Head Explody) battle, it’s perfectly strange and overblown and yet super boring at parts. A weird mix of stuff but as it progresses it gets better and better, and by the time the big reveal comes (which features one of my favorite narrative twists!), I’m hooked. I skipped the first 20-30 minutes to finish reading but I knew what was going on since by now I’ve watched it a couple of times and could hear certain key moments. Still love it, whatever. I hope there’s a Cronenberg at every ‘Thon- we’re 3 for 4 since I’ve been going. The title links to my original review.