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The Shelf: THE WICKER MAN, THRONE OF BLOOD, HOUSE OF LIES

It’s the first Shelf of the New Year and that means… that not a lot of stuff is coming out, but there’s some stuff, and that’s all any of us could possibly want, right?

The Wicker Man

No, this isn’t the movie in which Nicolas Cage acts insane and punches loads of women in the face (is he good or bad? Can anyone tell me that?), this is the masterpiece of paranoid, unsettling cult horror from 1973 starring Edward Woodward as a Scotland Yard policeman who goes to the remote island of Summerisle after receiving a report that a little girl had gone missing. While no one is particularly forthcoming, they are exceedingly friendly and invite the young, devout, and very straight-laced sergeant to partake in their annual pseudo-pagan rituals, which he expressly rebukes. The head man of the island, Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), seems to have no idea why he’d have come, nor why anyone would lie about a missing little girl. Soon, however, the town’s complete obliviousness gives way to a terrifying conspiracy and one of the most shocking finales of any movie ever made.

The themes brought up in this movie, specifically that of a seemingly idyllic and quaint town hiding a much more sinister purpose, was later used to great effect in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, and to a lesser extent in The World’s End. American Westerns often use the fish-out-of-water character as the hero, and he almost always cleans up the depraved or corrupt town, but in The Wicker Man and films like it, the stranger never really has a chance, as the town ends up engulfing them in sin, even as that sin greets you with a smile and a song. It’s a deeply unsettling film and one of the best British horror movies ever made. Definitely don’t pass it up, and completely forget the remake.

Throne of Blood

Legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was a profound lover of Western literature, and specifically the plays of William Shakespeare. Like all of the Bard’s best work, they can be changed to fit various themes, styles, time periods, and settings, depending on who the adapter is. Kurosawa did a Hamlet-like story of businessmen in 1960′s The Bad Sleep Well and his final samurai epic was 1985′s Ran, an adaptation of King Lear, but it was the director’s first foray into Billy Waggledagger that remains my favorite: 1957′s Throne of Blood, an adaptation of Macbeth. In it, frequent Kurosawa star Toshiro Mifune plays a battle-hungry warrior in Feudal Japan who rises to power through savagery and slaughter. His ambitions are matched only by his ruthless wife, played by Isuzu Yamada, who slowly wraps her husband around her little finger as more and more fall to the warlord’s machinations, enemy and friend alike.

Kurosawa filled his samurai masterpiece with his trademark visual virtuosity and has as much fog and ghostly atmosphere in the Japanese landscape as there was in ancient Scotland. The film’s finale, in which Mifune meets his end with a barrage of arrows being fired through his palace walls, is one of the best sequences in all of Kurosawa’s long and storied catalog.

The Criterion Blu-ray/DVD set features a commentary by historian Michael Jeck and a documentary on the making of the film. Well worth it for film and theatre buffs everywhere.

House of Lies Season Two

Showtime’s fast-paced comedy about a professional consulting firm (i.e. those people companies hire to essentially tell them what they want to hear) is about to premiere its third season (this Sunday at 10 ET) so it’s time for its second season to come out on DVD. Catch up with Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), a self-loather who is nevertheless excellent at his job as he leads his team of truth-benders make money for talking fancy.

Cheadle is always terrific and the rest of the main cast, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, and Josh Lawson, are all really great as well. The DVD set includes commentary on selected episodes by cast and crew which is about as funny as the episodes themselves. Always a nice time watching television.

ALSO AVAILABLE

The Following Season 1 – The first season of the Fox series that is as insane on a per-episode basis as most full seasons. Kevin Bacon plays an FBI agent who comes out of retirement to catch a serial killer played by James Purefoy and his huge cadre of disciples. It’s seriously nuts, you guys.

Being Human Season Three – The werewolf who isn’t a werewolf anymore, the other werewolf, the vampire, and the ghost who isn’t a ghost get back together for more trying to be less monster and more human.

Runner Runner – Justin Timberlake is a really good gambler and Ben Affleck is a really rich guy in this thriller that’s tagline should have been “Chicken Dunner.”

Thanks for Sharing – Mark Ruffalo, Josh Gad, Pink, and others are part of a group of sex addicts trying not to have that affliction anymore. Gwyneth Paltrow also stars as the gal Ruffalo is trying to have a meaningful relationship with without sex.

We Are What We Are – A terrifying horror movie about a reclusive family who are into some messed up stuff but just want to be left alone.

Big Ass Spider – Guess what this movie’s about.

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