It was likely that any sequel to The Wicker Man would be a disappointment, especially after nearly 40 years of waiting. But the news that Robin Hardy would once again write and direct, and that Christoper Lee would star, added some possibility that this had the makings of a cinematic treat.
But unfortunately I feel like I should cut to the chase and tell you the bad news, that The Wicker Tree is an awful film. The premise has some similarities to the original, with heathen goings on and ritual sacrifice in Scotland but the comparisons really end there. But what’s lacking is the excellent soundtrack of the original and much of the quirkiness of the film. The main problem with The Wicker Tree is that we don’t really care about the protagonists. The reason for this is that Hardy provides two excruciatingly gormless American born again Christians. Five minutes into the film, I was rooting for them to be bumped off.
Sadly, Christopher Lee only supplies a cameo, and it’s a vague scene tacked on to the film that makes little sense. Graham McTavish who plays the Lord Summerisle type role, Lee’s in the original, is a poor actor by contrast. Little more to add about this, other than it veers so far off track that the ending is something of a tribute to the far superior Carry on Screaming.
The themes of the original Wicker Man haven’t really left cinema, with usually the more obscure films carrying on the tradition of heathen cults. The latest, and possibly the best British film of the last few years, is Kill List. Ben Wheatley’s second feature as director has received some polarised views from its audience. It’s an unusual, high original blend of domestic drama, mob thriller and horror film that has teased some to the point of anger. The film is admittedly confusing, although watching it twice allowed me the opportunity to make more sense of it, although I advise that this is viewing for the stronger constitution.
I enjoyed Kill List. It is genuinely unsettling because of the uncertain narrative structure, and like the best cinema doesn’t guarantee that all of the answers posed in the film can be answered. Kill List and its predecessor Down Terrace place Wheatley as the most interesting director currently working on British cinema. Both are highly recommended as he has a signature to his film making style. Also both are very complementary and share many of the same actors, including the excellent Michael Smiley. I eager await Ben Wheatley’s next film Sightseers.
Living in the Material World is Martin Scorsese’s recently released three and a half hour George Harrison documentary. Split into two parts, with the first covering his life up to the demise of The Beatles in 1970, this is a charming and very watchable history of the eminent guitarist.
Inevitably, the account of the Beatle years are the most absorbing to watch, particularly as Scorsese has uncovered a mine of rarely seen film and photographs, which gives a fresh insight into the Hamburg and pre fame period. Key players, including Astrid Kircherr and Klaus Voormann, are interviewed at length along with the expected regulars led by the still impressively dapper George Martin and Dhani Harrison, who touchingly reads many of his father’s letters. Oddly, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr don’t add much – at least they don’t contribute anything additional to what we’ve already heard from them. However Eric Clapton and Phil Spector make some interesting contributions. There’s also some fascinating gems from the mid 60s archive, including a baffled looking Harrison and John Lennon on a forgotten talk show up against a screamingly pompous John Mortimer.
Martin Scorsese has no doubt set out to prove Harrison’s worth as a musician and especially as a gifted composer. He generally succeeds, although few songs are allowed to play in their entirety. Much is made of Lennon and McCartney’s stranglehold on the Beatle songwriting duties and that the subsequent All Things Must Pass was a revelation in the quality of good material Harrison had been forced to hoard over the years. Indeed, listing to the album again I would agree that it is easily the best of the post-Beatle solo albums. For a triple album set, there’s a rare timeless quality about it.
Sadly the second half of the film does drag and skips over much of Harrison’s solo work that followed All Things Must Pass to concentrate a little too much on his role as a film producer (the Life of Brian story is over told and really belongs elsewhere) and the hobby that was The Traveling Wilburys. But Living in the Material World is still important viewing, especially for Beatles fans who may need to reappraise Mr Harrison’s worth as an individual artist.
I approached Richard Ayoade’s Submarine a little cautiously; it’s a film that’s received a hell of a lot of praise and I was concerned that I’d be disappointed. Quite often with acclaimed films I feel there’s something missing from the experience because I just want to like them too much. But honestly I believe that the film lives up to the jubilation surrounding it. This is an outstanding debut feature for its director, an at times hilarious but ultimately moving film. And a cracking soundtrack from Alex Turner too.
Submarine is set in the 1980s. But unlike other postwar period British movies, it doesn’t wallow in the fake detail (Rick Gervais’ Cemetery Junction springs to mind as a recent example of overdoing a setting – the 70s in this case). I date Submarine at about 1987. But only because it features a fleeting reference to Crocodile Dundee. Otherwise there are only subtle clues such the lack of mobile phones (real letters are exchanged here). And we’re thankfully spared the pop soundtrack to accompany the era, where Turner’s touching acoustic melodies come to the rescue.
Craig Roberts plays Oliver Tate, an adolescent schoolboy in Wales. Oliver is by far the best character in the film, but first some background. His father is an ex Open University lecturer, a near hopeless case who lost his tv job for not knowing what to do with his hands. Noah Taylor plays Dad, a thin, heavily bearded, deep thinking individual prone to depression. Meanwhile Mum (Sally Hawkins) wearily dreams of the past, even though it only appears to consist of a time when her hair was longer, that is until ex flame Graham turns up. Graham is played by Paddy Considine, who adds his usual intensity to the role – although lacking the element of terrifying danger that accompanies his parts in Shane Meadows films. Badly bearded with a serious mullet, Graham is a new age guru who speaks nonsense at the local church hall. He’s even produced an unintentionally side splitting video. Despite Graham being so absurd, Mum – fed up with the straight laced world – may be falling for him again.
Oliver has issues of his own though. A dreamer in the line of cinema that can be traced back to Billy Liar, he begins by narrating an amusing sequence where he visualises the stunned and tearful reaction to his own death, starting with his class and ultimately encompassing the whole of Wales. This is one of the assets of Submarine, which is a film that will suddenly pull in unusual directions. Oliver’s keen to lose his virginity, and sets his sights on classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige). She’s scary, always clad in a red coat and has a fondness for lighting fires. She’s also part of the bullying crowd, and Oliver gets drawn into this to woo her. Their courtship is touching and original, a sharp script and fine performances from Roberts and Paige. Roberts in particular, an actor who only recently came into my radar with his role in Being Human, is exceptional. And none of the characters in Submarine are particularly attractive or likeable, at least not when you meet them first, but they’re arguably very real. And I found I just had to go along with Oliver’s absurd view of reality, such as his far from flawless plan to get Jordana into bed.
So yes – a marvellous little film. Roberts aside, Noah Taylor is also excellent – although to be fair the entire cast excel. Steffan Rhodri and Melanie Walters are also great in smaller roles (Walters appeared also with Roberts in Being Human). But perhaps the true find is Richard Ayoade, who has suddenly gone from geeky star of The IT Crowd to emerge as one of the most promising new British film directors in recent years. Wow.