The Wicker Tree

I was surprised too. It turns out that after thirty years of leaving his brilliant cult film well alone, two-time director Robin Hardy made the foolish error of trying to do the same thing again. Wikipedia, in all its great wisdom, classes this film as a spiritual sequel to Hardy’s The Wicker Man, this definition implying that it ‘features many of the same elements, themes, and styles as its source material.’ But by God, is it awful!

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The story revolves around two young, attractive, hillbilly, born-again Christians, Beth (Britannia Nicol) and Steve (Henry Garrett), who decide to take a trip across the pond to bonnie Scotland, where they can spread the good word. I can’t really understand why missionaries would need to go to Scotland, a predominantly Christian country, but OK.

Beth is supposedly a famous singer, which is understood by the numerous autographs she gives. While the couple seem very righteous at the beginning of the film, showing off their twin chastity rings, a bedroom scene where Beth stops Steve from taking things further suggests that he’s not all too happy about the chastity agreement. We suppose Beth is pure of heart too, but we are immediately privy to one of her old music videos to a song called Trailer Trash Love, which contains the lyrics (and I kid you not):

If you buy me a beer and try your luck,
Then take me for a ride in your pickup truck.
Call me cheap, call me a whore,
I may need you if you get in my door.

Far too obvious, Hardy! Perhaps the bit that made me laugh the most was the lyric that is uttered just before the TV is shut off: “I was born in a car“. Clearly the woman has skeletons in her closet, but these aren’t brought up at all later.

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After inevitably getting doors slammed in their face by just one street of Scottish people, the couple head to the countryside, where they meet Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham MacTavish), the owner of a nuclear power plant in a small town called Tressock. It is revealed that this plant has poisoned the water and made the women infertile, so the townsfolk are looking for a more ‘traditional’ way of regaining control of their uteri. Uteri? I think that’s right.

Once we’ve worked out all the parallels to The Wicker Man, the story essentially plays out in the same way, so the ending is hardly a surprise. However, the characters are entirely unbelievable, the nudity gratuitous and the dialogue laughable. I really couldn’t tell that this film was written and directed by the same man who directed the original, as it just seems far too geared towards American viewers. The Christopher Lee cameo, where he is credited as Old Gentleman, is rather tacked on and looks like a last-ditch attempted to curry favour with fans.

Also, the amount of religious piffle we have to sit through is thoroughly irksome. I still can’t tell if Hardy actually likes Christians or not, but when I hear “If you can love other folks like Jesus loves us, then there’s no other reason to love yourself, ’cause you’re so full of love you’re like some great big light!“, the urge not to snort derisively is too much to bear. If The Wicker Man and its sequel are really about the contradiction of religions, then I am thoroughly glad to be atheist. I don’t want to be on anyone’s side.

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Amazingly, this sequel makes the Nic Cage remake look good. Nothing that made the original so good can be found in this film. Shoddily acted, pitifully written and worryingly executed, this is a sequel that should never have been made. The worst part is that this is the second of a planned trilogy.

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The Wicker Man (2006)

Open on a diner, somewhere in the California countryside. A waitress walks over to a man who has just finished his meal. He doesn’t notice her at first, so she peers down and says:
Boo!
Hey! Sorry, my mind was wandering.
Totally understand. If I just ate one of them (sic) burgers, I’d be in a trance too.
And we’re off!

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Yes, this is the infamous 2006 remake to the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus, the California cop who investigates the disappearance of a little girl on a strange island. If the phrases ‘infamous remake’ and ‘Nicolas Cage’ don’t give you any idea of how bad this movie is, then I suggest you continue reading.

For starters, I can’t tell which is more wooden: the eponymous wicker man or Nic Cage’s acting. As in many Cage films, the man can’t always change emotional gears very quickly; in practice, he retains a dull expression most of the time, and then will suddenly get very angry out of nowhere. However, alongside his co-actresses – seriously, it’s a low bro-ho ratio – Cage would appear to be quite the thesp. Perhaps worst of all is his ex-girlfriend Willow (Kate Beahan), one of the Sisters on the island whose expression and behaviour never waver from being nervous and useless. Her acting is utterly appalling, and her lines are delivered without any conviction.

Acting makes my brain hurt!

Acting makes my brain hurt!

But it’s not just her. Diane Delano plays a very masculine barmaid, intentionally or not. At one point, she delivers the very same joke that Lindsay Kemp tells in the original, but her recipient simply doesn’t laugh. It’s as if it isn’t a joke at all! Hilariously, Nic Cage wanders in right after this conversation and just floors her without a word. A rather literal punchline.

That’s the thing about this movie; it’s rather unintentionally comedic. If it hadn’t been, I probably would not have chosen to watch it. Nic Cage running around a spooky island getting stung by bees and punching women whilst dressed as a bear isn’t exactly horror, but it is damn entertaining. I think the feel of the movie can be perfectly summed up in the parody trailer below.

Nevertheless, this isn’t such a useless remake. While (re)writer and director Neil LaBute has a lot to answer for, there were actually a few aspects of this movie that did genuinely impress me more than the original. While Howie was a Christian man, Malus is not, and he finds more rational reasons for disliking the island’s regime. The matriarchal society was also quite an ingenious aspect, a concept that is seen so little in cinema, let alone real life, making the island seem even weirder. Malus’s character also seemed a little more fleshed out. While it was too convenient and predictable that he was Rowan Woodward’s father – yes, the girl is named after the actor – other aspects, like his depression and violent hallucinations seemed to bring the character to life. Lastly, while the bees wound up making the film funnier than ever – “NOT THE BEES!” – I do think, if they had been used better, they could have been used to make this a scarier film than the original.

LaBute clearly had some good ideas for this remake, but things didn’t quite work out that way, rendering this film more hilarious than hallowing. The film has received a lot of bad press since it’s release, and was inevitably a box office flop. If you’re looking for some Cage-inspired unintentional humour, here’s the place to go.

The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man is often called one of the best horror movies of all time, but I felt this cinema classic played out more like a dark comedy. I was hooting with laughter for a lot of it.

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Edward Woodward (brilliant name, by the way) plays Sergeant Howie, a copper who comes to the Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the case of a missing girl. Shortly after he arrives, we are privy to some of the more bizarre actions of the island folk, including singing, dancing, using umbilical cords as grave decorations etc. Howie meets with Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), who explains how the island came to have these strange traditions, but is still not convinced that this is a completely orthodox island.

What I found so funny about the film was Howie’s constant state of bewilderment and incredulity. When the barfolk sing about the landlord’s daughter, he is utterly unimpressed. It’s brilliant. Also, the use of folk music throughout the film is quite ingenious, and has never sounded creepier.

Perhaps the weirdest aspect of the movie is Howie’s Christianity, an aspect of his personality that grows alarmingly as the film progresses. While he is the character that we sympathise with – boy, do we need one in this film – his arguments against Paganism aren’t along the lines of ‘it’s weird and creepy’, but more like ‘God. Jesus. No fire gods. Paganism is wrong. Christianity is right.’ To have one religious bloke telling another religious bloke what is and isn’t right seems slightly out of order. I almost sympathise with Summerisle here.

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At any rate, it was an entertaining film, although I didn’t feel so strong on the horror front. So it can be a little creepy at some points, but nothing extraordinarily scary. The acting, the characters and the dark humour made up for this though, and at 84 minutes, this definitely wasn’t a waste of time. Now, about that remake…

Lethal Weapon 4

We have a home run. The fourth Lethal Weapon film is just as entertaining as its predecessors, making this easily the most consistently good action quadrilogy I’ve ever seen. The downside is that none of it feels serious at all, but the actors, especially Gibson and Glover, stay true to their decade-old characters and provide a satisfying conclusion to this beloved series.

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The film starts in a tense moment between Riggs, Murtaugh and a psychopath with a flamethrower and an AK-47. During a shootout, Riggs learns that he is soon to be a father, as Lorna is pregnant, whilst Murtaugh simultaneously finds out he’s to be a grandfather; his daughter Rianne is pregnant. Riggs instructs Murtaugh to take off his clothes and run about flapping his arms like a bird, in order to distract the assailant so he can shoot the valve on the gas canister. This causes a chain reaction: the psycho flies across the road, into a gas truck which explodes, flying high into the air and landing on Riggs’ and Murtaugh’s car. Murtaugh begins to laugh, and asks Riggs if he thinks the arm-flapping helped, to which Riggs replies “No! I just wanted to see if you’d do it!” And so the fun begins.

There’s a difference, however: near the beginning of the film, our heroes discover a multitude of illegal Chinese immigrants being forced into slave labour. One of the antagonists in this film is played by Jet Li; my previous experience with the actor has been a sour one, namely with shoddy films like The One and The Expendables. Fortunately, his speaking role is kept to a minimum, and his martial arts to a maximum. His henchmen are also quite skilful in hand-to-hand combat. This is the difference: Lethal Weapon 4 is a sort-of martial arts film.

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To continue the trend of picking up an extra protagonist in each movie, our cast list now includes comedian Chris Rock as Lee Butters, a police detective who is secretly married to Rianne, causing some humorous tension between himself and Murtaugh. While he is adequate in this movie, I do wonder why Rock was chosen for the part; there must have been at least a hundred better candidates. One scene has Chris Rock mouthing off about cell phones in a monologue that must take at least two minutes, clearly an excerpt or a deleted segment from his live material. We get it, you’re a comedian! Move on.

For me the most impressive scene is the harrowing, high-speed car chase near the centre of the movie, which involves a punch-up in a moving house, and Riggs skating across the freeway on an overturned table. It’s nail-bitingly tense, and actually looks really dangerous. I cannot see how the movie makers could keep them safe in those scenarios. Watch below!

The Lethal Weapon series has brought me over a week of high-octane action, blended with real human comedy, and it’s wonderful to see the series end on such a high-note. While a part of me wishes there was a fifth film, I cannot imagine that Gibson and Glover could return to their roles after all this time and really pull it off, so I’m happy to see the series end here. Four magical films, a real cinematic success.

Lethal Weapon 3

It’s now the early 90s, the beginning of one of the most forgettable decades of all time, but nevertheless the Lethal Weapon series is still going strong. Strap in for a third time as Gibson and Glover take you on yet another wild bromantic action thriller.

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The film has a great opening, instantly grabbing the audience. Riggs and Murtaugh arrive on the scene where there is a bomb set to explode inside a building. Rather than wait for the bomb squad, Riggs decides to run inside, with Murtaugh reluctantly chasing after. After some banter, and a bad decision involving the cutting of the wires, the two men both scarper as the building collapses in a huge fireball behind them. OK, so it’s hardly serious drama, but the action fiend in me loved it.

Indeed, this film seems much less serious than the first two, but fortunately, the joking is mainly coming from Riggs and Murtaugh. Nevertheless, the film does tap into the serious side of things when Murtaugh, whilst under heavy fire, shoots his assailant who turns out to be one of his son’s friends. Murtaugh becomes overwhelmed by the consequences of his actions, but almost too easily his son forgives him. I guess this is because it’s only a two hour film rather than a TV series, which is what it’s starting to feel like.

The irksome Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) from the last film also returns, although he is fun in small doses, and those doses are very small here. We also meet Riggs’ new flame Lorna Cole (Rene Russo), an internal affairs detective who shows off her girl power by dealing with several tough-looking henchmen very efficiently. Seeing as both these characters are in the fourth film too – IMDb told me as I was looking up the actors – I get the feeling that the Lethal Weapon films are some kind of cumulative effort, and we get a new supporting character in every film.

Despite not being as serious as the first two films, I still really enjoyed Lethal Weapon 3, making this by far the most consistent action movie trilogy I’ve ever seen. I’m rather anxious for number four then: will Glover and Gibson luck out? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Lethal Weapon 2

We’re back, we’re bad, he’s black, I’m mad!” The fun continues in Lethal Weapon 2! Like no other action film sequel I’ve ever seen, Lethal Weapon 2 manages to go above and beyond Lethal Weapon, with better dialogue, better action and better bad guys than before.

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Although the novelty of the two main characters has largely worn off and their friendship has increased greatly, their dialogue, each man sparking off the other, is still as fresh as ever. While the action is brash and over-the-top in true Hollywood style, their wise-cracking conversation seems more realistic than ever. Near the beginning of the film we see Murtaugh’s daughter (Traci Wolfe) star in a condom commercial, to the disbelief of her father, and this quickly becomes a hilarious running gag.

On the more serious side of things, this is actually quite a politically charged film, with racist South African baddies. In one scene, Murtaugh enters the South African embassy to make a distraction for Riggs. He asks if he can emigrate to South Africa, and the emigration officer nervously refuses on the grounds of him being black. Apartheid was officially abolished the year after this film was made, and I believe Lethal Weapon 2 may have been a small part of that. At any rate, the South Africans make for good, memorable baddies. As Murtaugh jokes near the end of the film, “They’ve been de-kaffir-nated.” Ho-ho.

How to pick up girls 101: Hassle them in supermarkets and throw their shopping on the floor.

How to pick up girls 101: Hassle them in supermarkets and throw their shopping on the floor.

For more reasons than this busy student has time to list, this is a really awesome sequel to an already great film. I just want the banter and the action to go on forever. Let’s see if they can keep the magic up in number three!

Lethal Weapon

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover: two names that didn’t particularly excite me when Emily recommended the film to me. They’ve both been in their fair share of subpar films, and those seem to have been the ones I was watching. Nevertheless, combine the two and you arrive at one of the best buddy cop films I’ve ever seen.

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Mel Gibson plays Martin Riggs, a suicidal police sergeant who lives in a campervan. Why is he suicidal? In an early heart-wrenching scene, we see the poor man putting a gun in his mouth, sobbing over a picture of his wife. He can’t pull the trigger, and instead consoles himself by saying ‘I’ll see you later, I’ll see you much later.‘ Gibson’s acting in this scene is just incredible.

Danny Glover on the other hand plays Roger Murtaugh, who has recently had his 50th birthday and keeps telling himself how he is ‘getting too old for this shit!‘ Riggs and Murtaugh have been brought together to  investigate the death of a hooker, and put an end to a gang of drug smugglers.

The police bits, and the plot are good, but it’s the interaction between Riggs and Murtaugh that really makes this film so special. Riggs feels like he has nothing to lose, and freely puts himself in very dangerous situations, whilst Murtaugh is more calculated. Murtaugh initially resents being put with Riggs, but eventually warms to him through some incredibly witty dialogue.

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The 80s really was a good decade for action movies. Lethal Weapon is a cop film with a difference: interesting characters. I’ve never seen Gibson and Glover act so well, and this one film has increased their credibility a lot in my eyes. I look forward to checking out the sequels.