Skip to main content

Step away, from the bike!

The Wicker Man
(2006)

(SPOILERS) There’s been a seemingly endless supply of remakes of ‘70s movies since the turn of the millennium, most of which I’ve managed to avoid. I’ve yet to experience the dubious pleasures of Stallone’s Get Carter, Branagh’s Sleuth, or Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs, for example. I did have a vague interest in Neil La Bute’s take on The Wicker Man, however, given it has developed its very own cult reputation, of a “so bad it’s good” variety. Most of which rests on a typically eccentric Nicolas Cage performance, which I tend to be all for. But still, I was resistant, out of respect for the original. It seemed a sacrilegious act to have even gone there, which given the themes of Robin Hardy’s film might have been exactly why LaBute thought it was fair game.


Not the bees!”, is the key quoted line from the remake, which isn’t even in the original theatrical cut (like the 1973 film, this Wicker Man has a cult following, and like the 1973 film it also has its very own legacy of alternate versions; the context is entirely less respectful, of course). Such is the thespian excess on display in the climactic sequence, it has inspired numerous mocking/celebrating YouTube clips. I’d like to be able to affirm the picture’s revised reputation as a cult comedy classic, but while it undoubtedly features a raft of inspired, lunatic moments, mostly down to Nic himself (Cage says he knew all along it was absurd, but his performances often suggest he’s the only person in a movie who sees the material that way), it remains some considerable distance from such exalted status.


While the remake’s adulterated premise arguably lends itself to the preposterous, and one might read it as LaBute caricaturing – or poking the badger, or bear, with regards to his critics – the accusations of misogyny that had cropped up in his previous work (albeit a misanthropic inclination has always been the most pervasive charge; I don’t think there’s much arguing with that one), there simply isn’t enough besides Cage to support that.


LaBute has never been one for the subtler elements, preferring to tackle his subjects head on. Hence the ungainly decision, whatever is precise root “inspiration” may have been, to engineer a gender reversal on characters from the original; “Summersisle” is now transposed to America, and presided over by a rather stiff matriarch (Ellen Burstyn). Many of the alterations are relatively cosmetic, and the picture suffers accordingly, despite its hyperbolic (Nic) elements. Instead of devising an at-least-interesting take on esteemed material, one mostly finds oneself conscious of how scenes have been lifted wholesale from the original, right down repeating the dialogue, and concluding that change has been made for change’s sake rather than any really good reason.


True, Cage’s Edward Malus (really?) is somewhat different to Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie. Which is for the good; a straightjacketed Cage would have been a death sentence to the picture. Malus’s motorcycle cop is most definitely non- virginal, his lure to the island being an ex and (eventually) the prospect that he’s the father of her “missing” daughter. Rather than brandishing Woodward’s (his ex, played by Karre Beahan, is named Willow Woodward; I’m not sure the “tribute” to the actor is really warranted) self-righteous moral fervour, Cage is inimitably Cage, and at intervals gloriously entertaining with it. He’s prone to an unfortunate bee allergy, manifested in deliriously deliberate fashion, particularly so given he is visiting an island known for its honey production where fields are mown in the shape of honeycombs. He even dresses up as a bear at the climax, since we know what their greatest love is, and what they don’t much care for in tandem with that.


If the picture rather traces its way along the lines of Robin Hardy’s film for the first two-thirds, it becomes energetically over-the-top in time for the grand finale. It’s not enough that Cage is swatting bees as if they’re flies, or exclaiming repeatedly “How’d it get burned?!” of his daughter’s doll; he’s compelled to draw his gun and instruct cyclist Molly Parker to “Get off the bike! Get off the bike! Step away, from the bike!”. Then he lays out Dena Delano, before drop-kicking Leelee Sobeiski and running about in aforementioned bear outfit (encumbered by which, he punches more of the island’s womenfolk). When he’s finally accosted, spitting “You bitches!”, his ankles are broken in a moment closer to the sort of surreal comedy you’d expect from The Goodies than horror (“AHHH, my legs!”). His cloistering within the Wicker Man is antically memorable too, ushered to his doom with the chant of “The drone must die!


All of which might suggest LaBute was also on board in making the film “absurd”. Aside from being a rather inane mission (assuming he had any respect for the original), though, such mentalist flair isn’t in sufficient supply. And the thematic material that remains is either too literal or under-nourished. The duelling belief systems motif is effectively dropped, since Cage doesn’t believe, leaving him to wonder how, as an outsider, his sacrifice has any value. And the gender divisions are plain clumsy and hackneyed – or perhaps just absurd. I did rather like the – overdone – bee motif, but even that aspect, which has connotations of shamanic practice, is awarded a very pedestrian interpretation.


Still, given The Wicker Man remake’s reputation – the one that doesn’t allow for it being a comedy – as some kind of nadir in movie taste, recognised as such with five Golden Razzie nominations, it’s not unwatchable, or in its own way un-entertaining. Its greatest strength is Cage (I wonder what LaBute must think, given this is by far his best-known feature), elevating every scene he’s in whether the scene likes it or not, but those clip compilations rather do the film more favours than it deserves as a piece of demented genius (I don’t doubt, though, that if you’re watching in a sufficiently altered state, it is the funniest film ever). On top of which, however you cut it, having the ubiquitous James Franco show up in the final scene is unforgivable.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Cheeseburger Film Sandwich. Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon. Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie, arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate terms, it only sporadically fulfils…