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The Wicker Man (2006) Review

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The Wicker Man (2006)

Time: 102 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus
Ellen Burstyn as Sister Summersisle
Kate Beahan as Sister Willow Woodward
Leelee Sobieski as Sister Honey
Frances Conroy as Dr. T.H. Moss
Molly Parker as Sister Rose/Sister Thorn
Diane Delano as Sister Beech
Director: Neil LaBute

Police officer Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) reaches a private island to help his ex-fiancee (Kate Beahan) find her missing girl. The community she lives in follows an odd cult and he must locate the girl before she is killed in the name of sacrifice.

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I’ve been meaning to watch The Wicker Man remake for some time. The original starring Christopher Lee was actually quite good, and worth watching for those who like horror movies. The remake however is generally regarded as hilariously bad, even by horror remake standards, and is particularly known for Nicolas Cage going crazy (and that’s saying a lot). For the record I went in expecting the worst, and the remake certainly lived up to all the talk. It is astoundingly bad, yet as that made for an entertaining movie to watch, at least for me.

THE WICKER MAN, 2006, © Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection

From the very beginning you can tell that something is off about this movie. It starts with a brief scene with Nicolas Cage as a cop seeing a truck crash into a car and failing to get the people inside out before it explodes. That opening moment of the truck crash is referenced quite a bit however in both dreams and even random jumpscares. I get that Cage’s character is supposed to be haunted by that moment but there is no resolution for it, and doesn’t connect to the main story in any way outside of both that and his current investigation somewhat involving fire. There is no reason for it to be here. It doesn’t get any better from there. The writing is quite bad. The most significant change over the original is that instead of it being about Paganism vs Catholicism, it’s men vs women here, which isn’t particularly scary or disturbing. If director Neil LaBute really wanted to stick with this concept, then it would have to be a satire or actually say something about gender politics (mishandled or not). However nothing is really said, it’s just an island of all women who perform rituals, men only exist on the island as workers and are used for reproduction, and that’s the extent of it all. I have no idea what Neil LaBute was trying to do with this, because once again this concept isn’t scary in the slightest. It becomes more funny more than anything, which would be fine if it was intentional. Speaking of horror, the attempts at being scary are laughable. Scare scenes aside, it fails to build a creepy or tense atmosphere. The dialogue is quite unnatural, and none of the characters feel normal or real here, and this is even before we get onto the island of the pagan people.

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There are plenty of inconsistencies in the plot that you can pick at endlessly. For one, this movie primarily takes place on a secluded island with no technology or phone reception whatsoever, yet somehow they have a website that Cage looks up early on, that’s just one thing that’s out of place. However most important of all, once you know what’s going on and everything is revealed, it’s just doesn’t make sense. Without spoiling anything, if certain characters were smart enough, this plot would’ve been only 30 minutes long. There’s an endless amount of funny moments throughout the movie, all involving Nicolas Cage. Cage forcing someone off a bike at gunpoint, he dresses up as a bear and punching someone in the face, him screaming wanting to know how a doll got burnt, Cage getting angry in general, the list goes on. Then of course comes a certain infamous moment involving Cage and bees towards the end of the movie, which is actually a deleted scene only seen on the special edition. While I expected those moments, I was also entertained by how weird and questionable many of the writing and directing choices were.

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Nicolas Cage really is the star of the show, and as weird as much of the movie is, it wouldn’t have been even nearly as entertaining without him. His character isn’t really strange or crazy, it’s a rather typical and generic horror movie protagonist if anything, but the writing and dialogue mixed with Cage’s acting style just made it come across as bizarrely hilarious to watch. His highlight moments is when his character is just frustrated in the third act of the movie, he goes absolutely nuts and it is absolutely glorious. The rest of the cast are there but aren’t all that good. Somehow they managed to get Ellen Burstyn to play the pagan leader, and really they could’ve cast anyone in that role.

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Neil LaBute is the director of this movie, and his work in this movie isn’t that good. Apparently LaBute has made some decent movies, but you wouldn’t know this from watching his take on the Wicker Man. It’s not scary in the slightest, from the attempts at being unsettling, to the jumpscares. There are three jumpscares through the use of trucks alone. I know that bees are meant to be like a big thing for this island of cultists and is meant to be creepy, but it’s not scary in the slightest. In terms of positive things, I guess the production design is alright.

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2006’s The Wicker Man is really bad on pretty much all fronts, although if you’ve even heard of this movie you already know that from its reputation alone. If you are looking for a legitimately good horror movie about a cult and was hoping for that in this movie, skip it and go with the 70s original. If you like so-bad-it’s-good movies and/or you like seeing Nicolas Cage act over the top, this is definitely for you and you should definitely check it out.

The Tale (2018) Review

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The Tale

Time: 114 minutes
Cast:
Laura Dern as Jennifer Fox
Isabelle Nélisse as Jenny Fox, age 13
Jessica Sarah Flaum as Jenny Fox, age 15
Ellen Burstyn as Nadine “Nettie” Fox
John Heard as William P. Allens
Jason Ritter as Bill Allens
Frances Conroy as Jane Gramercy
Elizabeth Debicki as Mrs. G
Common as Martin
Director: Jennifer Fox

Jennifer (Laura Dern) has it all, with a loving boyfriend (Common) and a great career as a journalist and professor. But when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story – “The Tale” – that Jennifer wrote when she was 13, detailing a special relationship Jennifer had with two adult coaches (Jason Ritter and Elizabeth Debicki), Jennifer returns to the Carolina horse farm where the events transpired to try to reconcile her version of events with the truth.

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I had been meaning to watch The Tale for some time. I knew that Laura Dern and Elizabeth Debicki were in it and that it was about the director’s own sexual abuse as a child and I heard some good things about it. The Tale isn’t by any means an easy film to watch but I do think that it is worth taking a look at.

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Handling a subject matter like abuse is definitely touchy and not an easy task for any film to have. I’m actually surprised that it was actually HBO who distributed this movie, it’s probably their most controversial movie and looking at the results, the risk definitely paid off well. This is a great examination of trauma and abuse, and something that definitely helped is that director Jennifer Fox is telling her own story, and that really added a lot. It’s a bit unconventional with the way it tells its story, mainly the flashbacks, with the time period jumping all around the place. In a way it works as it’s Fox looking back at her life, but at times it’s a little too jarring and hard to follow. I will say though that the way they ended the movie and story was great.

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One of the highlights of the movie are the performances. Laura Dern is such an talented and underrated actress and I’m glad that she finally got a lead role in a movie. Here she basically plays Jennifer Fox and this is definitely among her best performances, a powerhouse yet real performance, especially towards the end of the movie. Isabelle Nélisse also plays the younger Jennifer and she’s quite prominent throughout flashbacks and she’s quite convincing in her role. The rest of the cast is great as well. Jason Ritter and Elizbeth Debicki play the two adult coaches that the young Fox had some sort of relationship with and both were really great, especially Debicki. The older versions of the two played by John Heard and Frances Conroy were also great. Ellen Burstyn and Common were also very good as Dern’s mother and boyfriend respectively.

The Tale

Jennifer Fox’s direction was quite good and she knows how to handle her story, even if there were some aspects that didn’t work perfectly. Fox prior to filming The Tale was a documentary filmmaker and at times you can feel it, and I mean it in a good way. There are bits where people in the flashbacks where Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter and even Isabelle Nélisse (who played the younger version of Fox) are being interviewed by the younger and older versions of Fox, with the camera facing the interviewee and all that. As it is about Fox looking back at these people, it made sense and worked for what she was going for. Despite some editing decisions that made the movie a little bit jumpy at times and feeling occasionally like a tv show (given that it’s an HBO movie it’s not that surprising), Fox’s debut at a non-documentary film was quite good.

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The Tale is for sure difficult to watch, but an important look at abuse and trauma, and all around was a really good movie. The highlights were the great performances, particularly from Laura Dern and Elizabeth Debicki, and it was directed very well. While the subject matter is heavy, I’d say that it’s a film well worth watching.

Joker (2019) Review

Time: 122 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, cruelty & offensive language
Cast:
Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker
Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin
Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond
Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck
Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne
Director: Todd Phillips

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

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Joker was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The idea of a solo Joker movie but also one completely disconnected from the established DCEU seemed questionable at best. Also I wasn’t quite sure about director Todd Phillips helming it, I liked the few movies I’ve seen from him but I did have my doubts. However the inclusion of Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role completely sold me on the movie, and seeing trailer after trailer and hearing about their take on the iconic character, I was excited to say the least, I haven’t seen a comic book movie taken in a direction like this. Joker is already proving to be a very divisive movie, but I’m glad that I’m firmly on the side that loved it.

I’ll be sure not to reveal too much about Joker, but people going in should know what kind of movie they’re in for. It is a slow burn character study following the deterioration of a mentally ill man, who eventually becomes the Joker, that’s the best way I can put it. For 3 quarters of the movie we don’t even see Arthur in the final Joker makeup, so don’t expect a Joker movie with a lot of action, mayhem or anything. You could almost call the movie Arthur: Portrait of a Killer Clown or something. Personally I loved the movie for what it is. You can probably tell that it’s a dark movie but it’s not just because it’s violent, it’s fittingly uncomfortable and grim for the most part. It is quite possibly the bleakest and most ‘disturbing’ comic book movie, and again it’s not necessarily because of the violence. The third act is where the movie particularly ramps up with Arthur as the Joker, and was personally the highlight of the movie. Now much has been said that we are following a villain, and especially one as infamous as The Joker. I’ll give my perspective on how it handles those aspects, but just know that I’m not covering the age old question of “Does movies or video games lead to violence?”, because if you’ve read much of my reviews you can probably figure out my perspective regarding that. The movie doesn’t point out that the character is doing bad things because the actions are obviously bad. Him murdering people shouldn’t require a giant sign to flash saying “this is bad, don’t do this”. Not to mention that this is Joker we are talking about, one of the most clear cut villains in fiction you can think of. Now in saying that, this is the first time in a movie where you have to actually look at Joker as a human being and more than just a comic book villain (or even an Agent of Chaos), and I guess that both frightens and concerns people. The movie isn’t necessarily asking you to sympathise or feel sorry for Arthur Fleck (the lead character who would eventually become the Joker) every step of the story. I guess I’d say that I was sympathetic towards Arthur for the first 10 minutes with everything that is happening to him. Otherwise for most of the rest of the movie, I just felt sympathy for the acts made upon him, but not necessarily to Arthur himself. While you might understand why he does the things he does with his circumstances, you aren’t necessarily in a position where you think “this is perfectly justified and I support everything he’s doing”.

There are a few criticisms I’ve heard. One is how clearly it’s inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, but is a little too derivative of it and is ultimately just a riff on them with the character of Joker. While I guess there are plenty of aspects that are taken from those two movies (even though I get the feeling that Phillips and co. were very self aware about this while making it), I think Joker does enough to separate itself from them to be its own movie, for the most part at least. I do like how they keep Joker as a standalone movie. Without spoiling things, I guess storywise you could follow it up with a sequel, but it seems very much like it was intended to be a one off movie and not one intended to start off a cinematic universe. One thing is for sure though, you definitely won’t see him face off against Robert Pattinson’s Batman or anything, so put that out of your mind if you even thinking about it. I liked what the movie was about thematically and was trying to talk about. It’s about class warfare, abuse, media, the way mentally ill people are treated (or not treated), mental healthcare, capitalism and more, it’s at least making an attempt to talk about them. Despite what you might’ve heard, this movie is NOT about incels or incel culture at all. People have talked about all the dangerous and problematic parts to the movie, but honestly the only real problematic and downright irresponsible part of the movie was the questionable use of a Gary Glitter song in one scene. Now in terms of some slight issues I had, there aren’t many but considering I was just addressing some criticisms I guess I should mention some of my own. There is a particular twist that happens during the movie, I saw it coming but that’s not necessarily the problem. It’s more that the reveal spent so much time flat out explaining the twist to the audience when we’d be able to figure it out without the obvious explanation. I guess there are some moments that are a little rough around the edges for what they were aiming for. Some of the attempts at making commentary on some of the aforementioned themes I guess were a little heavy handed and too “on the nose” at times, but I could get past it, I just sort of put that up to the story being told from the Joker’s perspective. It’s really not a subtle movie at all and you pick up on that really quickly. Joker also could’ve gone a little deeper into some concepts, I almost feel like the movie could’ve been a little longer to flesh certain parts out more. I was fully invested in the movie at least on a first watch, but for the most part the plot goes in the general direction that you’d expect it to, with not a lot of surprises. Also while I largely like the ending, I felt that it would’ve been a little more effective if it ended 30 seconds to a minute earlier on a particular visual beat, but I’m just nit-picking at this point.

The rest of the movie is well made but it’s really Joaquin Phoenix that makes this movie. His work here as Arthur Fleck/Joker is extraordinary. This could very well be a career best performance from him, and considering his past work that’s really saying a lot (it’s at least on the level as his work on The Master). He’s pretty much in every single scene of the movie and relies so much on him delivering, and he absolutely does. One aspect that was particularly interesting about this take was his laugh. As we all know, in most forms of media, Joker typically laughs because he finds something funny, usually something morbid that he’s just done. In this movie however, it’s actually a result of a real life condition where Arthur laughs and can’t stop laughing even when he wants to, and for the most part it seems utterly painful for him. It’s an original idea for the Joker to have for his laugh, and I’m surprised they didn’t have that as an interpretation for him in a comic book (correct me if I’m wrong and one comic already did that, I’m not a massive comic book expert). As previously mentioned, the movie forces you to at least look at him as a human being and somewhat empathise with him, and this was a risky movie. However Phoenix managed to deliver such a complex performance where you could actually look at him as more than just a monster (even if he is that). At the same time, you can recognise that Fleck is absolutely disturbed and demented, and has his fair share of genuinely scary moments. Arthur’s transformation into the Joker also was fascinating, as he gets pushed (and pushes himself) further down into that direction. As he embraces the Joker persona more and more, you see him more confident and full of life, especially compared to earlier on in the movie. And on a side note, I’m not even going to compare him to Heath Ledger’s Joker or any of the other Jokers for that matter, there’s really no point. They’re completely different Jokers, and Phoenix does more than enough to make this incarnation of the character to stand on his own.

The rest of the supporting cast really don’t have much to do compared to Joaquin but they do the best they can possibly do. Whether that be Robert De Niro as a talk show host that Arthur idolises, Zazie Beetz as a neighbour that Arthur is interested in, Frances Conroy as Arthur’s mother, or Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne, they all fit into the story well. Even some of the brief one scene appearances like Brian Tyree Henry played their small parts well. Now I want to briefly touch upon the Wayne aspects of the story, in a non spoiler way of course. It can be said that it’s possible for this movie to just have Joker, Gotham and Arkham Asylum being the only DC references that are in the movie, and they didn’t need to include Thomas or Bruce Wayne. Personally I thought it fitted in the story alright, and there is a certain aspect with Bruce’s existence in this movie that does make the movie even better towards the end. Though I can’t exactly explain it without going into heavy detail, hopefully you’ll be able to figure it out.

This is by far and away the best work that director Todd Phillips has done, his direction of Joker is shockingly exceptional, and it’s not even that I think he’s a bad director or anything. Gotham is portrayed as a dirty 70s and 80s New York City. It really does capture the vibes that Scorsese gave in aforementioned movies like Taxi Driver, but I don’t think Phillips is just imitating or ripping off that style, just clearly heavily inspired by it. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, the cinematography is stunning. There isn’t really a whole lot of violence, and when it comes to comic book movies, there have been some more violent films out there (Watchmen, Deadpool 1 and 2, Logan, etc). However it was nonetheless effective and disturbing, and it’s more to do with how realistic it looks and sounds, it’s graphic but it happens very fast. But if you’re just talking about levels of violence, I’ve definitely seen plenty of movies with way higher levels of extreme violence than Joker. The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir was great, tense and eerie, fitting perfectly with the rest of the film. For sure one of the best scores of the year. Most of the other song choices were also good, although I’m still thinking about that one Gary Glitter song… needless to say this probably is the only criticism of the movie that I won’t defend against whatsoever.

Joker isn’t going to work for everyone, and the reactions online already indicates that it’s probably going to remain the most divisive movie of the entire year. I’m not sure that a lot of people are prepared for the type of movie it is. It’s not a movie I’m going to rewatch constantly but as it is, I think it’s great. Honestly I’m surprised at how well Todd Phillips (mostly) put together this movie. But it’s of course Joaquin Phoenix who really makes this movie, and it’s worth watching to see his extraordinary performance, even if you don’t like the rest of the movie. The idea of DC Black with all these other separate stories disconnected from the DCEU certainly have a lot of potential if we can see comic book movies taken in a different direction that we haven’t seen before. As for whether Joker should have a sequel, I personally don’t think it really needs to, it’s fine with how it is. But if Todd Phillips has some great ideas for a follow up and Joaquin is (unexpectedly) up for another movie in the iconic role, then I’d be on board with it.