Movie of the Week: The Wicker Man (1973)

Robin Hardy directs Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee in this folk horror cult classic about a devout policeman who investigates a Highland isle which celebrates pagan beliefs.

The ultimate mood movie – depending on your state of mind you can approach it as a dreadful chiller, a hippy musical, a goosebump dappled sex comedy, an essay on religion vs beliefs or a nihilist detective story. And you might come at The Wicker Man one way on Tuesday and leave in another mind about it on Thursday. Its mangled reputation helps. The fact you watch it cobbled together from the distributors edit with whatever lopped off extra sequence have been recovered inserted awkwardly in since. It makes you take on The Wicker Man like a lost artefact. Where every extra degraded clue on the treasure map feels more pertinent and entertaining than the originally released whole. The movie’s uniqueness both in tone, narrative and reputation feed into its special thrall. We’ve all been a stranger in a small town, we’ve all glimpsed strange customs that us as outsiders can’t quite fathom. Of course, Woodward’s man of God could be a lot less of a prig. There’s definitely an early point where you lose all sympathy for him. You do have to wonder though if Woodward just got his fuck on, how would the movie end? He was given his chance. And once you know the joke, the pleasure comes in the retelling. The teasing sidebars and red hare-rings on the way to the totemic punchline. It all leads to this before you’ve even bought your ticket. The wyrd conclusion is the title, the poster, is the lobby card. Imagine if Fight Club was called The Same Dude. Christopher Lee is glorious as the villain of the piece – suave, informed but gleefully fanatical. As I get older I like more and more all the curvy European blonde ladies who populate the infrastructure of Summerisle. And Paul Giovanni and Magnet’s often diegetic music is seductive, creepy and memorable. The Wicker Man isn’t for everyone but I reckon if you even merely only like it on first watch then eventually you’ll love it! “You did it beautifully!”


Perfect Double Bill: Don’t Look Now (1973)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)

Kelly Fremon Craig directs Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates in this adaptation of Judy Blume’s revered coming-of-age novel.

From casting to period detail to balance of tone to accessibility, this gets everything spot on. Like a lovely hot bath of a movie, you feel relaxed and rejuvenated after watching it.


Perfect Double Bill: My Girl (1992)

I write regular features about live comedy for British Comedy Guide here

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise direct Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson and Jerry Orbach in this gold standard of the Walt Disney Renaissance where a bookworm falls for a cursed monster.

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme… Belle is definitely an evolutionary leap as a “princess.” The songs are nearly all showstoppers. The Beast remains kind of a sketched enigma. How old was he when he transgressed and was cursed? 11? Why doesn’t he at least have a beard when the curse is lifted? Gaston is a loveably bad villain. Looks gorgeous, has little explosions of horror and action. But the romance is pure, unadulterated and rockets this high watermark into its very own stratosphere. Lushly iconic for good reason.


Perfect Double Bill: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Speaking of Sex (2001)

John McNaughton directs James Spader, Melora Walters and Bill Murray in this sex farce where an unsatisfied young wife has an affair with her bumbling therapist and then gets embroiled in a salacious legal case.

Stacked cast, a director I like but this cheap indie rarely finds any laughs from its dated but potent premise. Except the scenes with Murray and Catherine O’Hara. They have wonderful chemistry in all respects. Melora Walters grafts particularly hard to make this dog’s dinner work. Plays like National Lampoon’s Sex, Lies And Videotape.


Perfect Double Bill: Wild Things (1998)

I write regular features about live comedy for British Comedy Guide here

Lola (1981)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder directs Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Mario Adorf in this drama about the economics and corruption of a town in post-war Germany.

The central three leads performances are really strong but the movie feels lost in its gilding and metaphor. Most of the action takes place at a fantastically luxurious brothel or concerns town planning meetings. There’s a real poetry here, often quite sensual then equally quite Brechtian and abrasive. There is enough strong, fascinating content to praise but I wouldn’t race to rewatch. I read afterwards this was intended as an unofficial remake of Josef von Sternberg ‘s The Blue Angel… and I’m surprised I didn’t clock that until it was spelt out for me. What do I know, hey? I just get distracted by the pretty period lingerie and endure the cold drama.


Perfect Double Bill: The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Cat’s Eye (1986)

Lewis Teague directs Drew Barrymore, James Woods and Alan King in this Stephen King anthology flick where the stories are linked by a brave little wandering cat who finds himself in the mix with all the creeps.

There’s nothing mind blowing here yet each section is entertaining in its own right, never outstays its welcome and macabre in differing ways. My personal favourite is the dude from Airplane being made to walk the outside of a high rise building by a cuckolded gangster, clinging on with every step by the sweat of his palms. But James Woods’ coming up against an intense Mafia anti-smoking operation is also a dark lark and the Drew Barrymore’s finale involving a troll who lives in the crack of her bedroom skirting is ambitious, takes itself the most seriously. The bursts of practical FX are often bonkers, the cat is a cutie and this has aged somewhat better than the more revered Creepshow as a VHS guilty pleasure.


Perfect Double Bill: The Black Cat (1981)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel direct Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor and John Candy in the Australian set sequel to Disney’s hit mouse adventure movie.

Rescuers Down Under is notable for Disney as its first sequel proper AND its first traditionally animated film using only the new computerized CAPS process. And whatever that Computer Animated magic is, it makes the hand drawn cels sweep and race around beautifully realised landscapes like no movie you’ve ever seen. The story is simple, the ecological message on point and I got really caught up in this.


Perfect Double Bill: The Rescuers (1977)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

Juno (2007)

Jason Reitman directs Elliot Page, Michael Cera and Jennifer Garner in this teen comedy where a quirky teen navigates being pregnant and not wanting the baby.

Here is an unofficial, utterly unverified fact: I reckon Juno’s soundtrack was the last big selling CD of its type, the one you were never surprised to see in people’s music collection… now on a spinner in a charity shop near you. There’s something about this appealing package that really captured the zeitgeist at the time. The quirky rotoscoped credit sequence, the quirky mixtape of Cat Power, Mouldy Peaches and Belle & Sebastian, the quirky casting of breakout stars Page, Cera and Olivia Thirlby (all never better), the quirky approach to the big messy issue of teen pregnancy and abortion and class in America. Some of that hardwired quirkiness does date Juno massively. What felt exceptional back then got co-opted into the cultural click-and-drag files quickly, cliches of the last decade were born here. But that doesn’t diminish how confident Reitman’s direction is, how brilliant Allison Janney and J.K. Simmon’s are as Juno’s parents and how risky Diablo Cody’s script proved. Her dialogue is a little forced but her worldview is razor sharp. There’s a hardness at the centre of Juno that is surprising. It is tougher and more insightful than a quirky, colourful indie flick needs to be. Cody’s grit and honesty has stood the test of time even if other elements have not.


Perfect Double Bill: Tallulah (2016)

I write regular features about live comedy for British Comedy Guide here