Christopher Lee, R.I.P.


The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah.  In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan.  Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.

Consider that.  Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death.  He played Dracula.  He played The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.  He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.  He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.  He appeared in several films for Tim Burton.  He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  He appeared in two Star Wars prequels.  He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films).  He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits.  And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.

Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan.  When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”

And really, that somehow seems appropriate.  Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star.  He worked for Hammer in the UK.  He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy.  He appeared in several movies in the United States.  And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah.  And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play.  Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones.  But Christopher Lee was always great.

It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee.  Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday.  Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days.  But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee.  He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.

We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor.  And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s.  Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals?  Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond?  (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.)  Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.

But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet.  Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.

Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here.  The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.

Legends together

Legends together

Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:

  1. Airport ’77
  2. Dark Shadows
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972
  4. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
  5. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  6. Hercules in the Haunted World
  7. The Hobbit
  8. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  9. Horror Express
  10. The Horror of Dracula
  11. Hugo
  12. Jocks
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun
  14. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  15. Scars of Dracula
  16. Scream and Scream Again
  17. Season of the Witch
  18. Starship Invasions
  19. Taste The Blood of Dracula
  20. The Wicker Tree

Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible.  As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.

Lisa Marie Picks The 16 Worst Films Of 2012

Let’s be honest: 2012 sucked.  In fact, and I can say this because I’m secretly a history nerd, 2012 was the worst year since 1934.  Who needs a zombie apocalypse when you’ve got 2012?

At the same time, it was also a strangely bland year for the movies.  Just as there weren’t any massively brilliant films, there weren’t that many huge disasters.  Instead, it was a year that celebrated blandness.  Fortunately, for me and my love of making lists, there were still just enough remarkably bad films for me to make out my annual worst of the year list.  Yay!

Listed in descending order, here are my picks for the worst of 2012.*

16) The Paperboy

15) Seeking a Friend For The End Of The World

14) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

13) The Raven

12) The Trouble With Bliss

11) Savages

10) A Thousand Words

9) 96 Minutes

8) Haywire

7) Dead Season

6) This Means War

5) Rock of Ages

4) Project X

3) The Devil Inside

2) The Wicker Tree

And my pick for both the worst film of 2012 and perhaps one of the worst films ever made…

1) Branded

Tomorrow, I’ll be continuing my look back at 2012 with my picks for the 10 best songs of the year.


* Needless to say, these picks reflect my opinion and my opinion alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the other writers here at the Shattered Lens.  Hopefully, some of them will post their own lists.

It’s Time For The Annual Self-Important Post About The Year In Film So Far

For the entire past week, something has been nagging at me.  I knew that there was something that I needed to do but I couldn’t remember what it was.  Earlier today, however, I was reading the latest critical blathering about the state of cinema over at AwardsDaily.  As usual, that site’s editors were whining about the fact that the Social Network didn’t win best picture and also the fact that my generation is apparently the “WORST.  GENERATION.  EVER” and blah blah blah. 

Fortunately, however, reading that  post reminded me of what I had forgotten: We are now at the halfway mark as far as 2012 is concerned.  This is the time of year that self-important film critics (both online and elsewhere) tell their readers what type of year it’s been so far. 

So, without further ado — what type of year has 2012 been so far?

(By the way, you can also check out my thoughts from July of 2011 and July 2010 as well.)

(Also, please understand that the act of me posting this in no way guarantees that I won’t change my mind several times within the next hour.)

Best Film Of The Year (So Far): Cabin In The Woods. Compared to both 2010 and 2011, this has been a pretty slow year so far.  There really hasn’t been a Hanna or an Exit Through The Gift Shop type of film so far.  Instead, there’s been a handful of nice surprises, quite a few pleasant but somewhat forgettable films, and then quite a few films that i wish were forgettable.  Cabin In The Woods, however, was a nice little valentine to horror fans like me and it’s a film that actually gets even better with repeat viewings.  Runners up include Bernie, Damsels in Distress, Brave, The Hunger Games, Safety Not Guaranteed, Moonrise Kingdom, For Greater Glory, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, and the Avengers.

Best Male Performance Of The Year (So Far): Jack Black in Bernie.  Runners up include Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man and Jason Segal in Jeff, Who Lives At Home.

Best Female Performance of the Year (So Far): Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.  Seriously, just try to imagine that film with someone else in the lead role.  Runners up include Susan Sarandon in Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed, and Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress.

Best Voice-Over Performance Of The Year (So Far): Kelly MacDonald in Brave.

Best Ending Of The Year (So Far): A 3-way tie between The Cabin In The Woods, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Jeff, Who Lives At Home.

Best Horror Film Of The Year (So Far): The Cabin In The Woods

Most Underrated Film Of The Year (So Far): The Five-Year Engagement, a sweet and funny movie that was just a tad bit too long.

Best Bad Film of the Year: Battleship.  Yes, the movie represented some of the worst impulses of big-budget filmmaking but I had a lot of fun watching it and Alexander Skarsgard was to die for in that white Navy uniform.

Worst Film Of The Year (So Far): The Wicker Tree.  I could make an argument for both Rock of Ages and The Devil Inside here but no…just no.  As the Trash Film Guru put it, “BURN THE WICKER TREE!”

Biggest Example Of A Missed Opportunity For This Year (So Far): Seeking a Friend For The End of the World.  A great performance from Steve Carrel can’t save a film that has no idea what it wants to be.

The Get Over It Already Award For The First Half of 2012: The Devil Inside, for being the most tedious example of a “found footage” horror film yet.  Coming in second: Rock of Ages, for reminding me that my parents had terrible taste in music.

The Trailer That Has Most Outgrown Its Welcome: The Perks of Being a Wall Flower.  “Be aggressive…passive aggressive…” Okay, shut up, already.

The Cameron/Fincher Bandwagon Trophy (Awarded To The Upcoming Film That, Regardless Of Quality, Will Probably Be So Violently Embraced By People Online That You’ll Be Putting Your Life In Danger If You Dare Offer Up The Slightest Amount Of Criticism): The Dark Knight Rises

The Ebert Award (Awarded to the upcoming film that will probably get  positive reviews based on the film’s political context as opposed to the film itself): Zero Dark Thirty

The Sasha Award (Awarded To The Film That I Am Predicting Will Be The Most Overrated Of The Year): Lincoln.

The Roland Emmerich/Rod Lurie Award For The Film That I’m Predicting Will Be The Worst Of 2012: Honestly, it’s really hard to imagine a worse film than The Wicker Tree (though, to be honest, Rock of Ages comes pretty close). 

Films I’m Looking Forward To Seeing In The Future (An incomplete list): On The Road, Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, and especially The Master and Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina.

And there you have it.  2012 hasn’t been a great year so far but there’s still a lot of time left.

Unless, of course, the Mayans were correct.

Burn “The Wicker Tree”

Honestly, friends, sometimes a person just doesn’t even know where to begin. I suppose I could individually list the catalogue of atrocities that make up writer-director Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Tree, but frankly that would mean spending more time talking about this film than I really have the energy to, and besides, our nearest thing to a “star” critic here at Through The Shattered Lens, Lisa Marie Bowman, has already done a pretty damn fine job of performing a blow-by-blow dissection of this thing’s rotted corpse in her capacity as occasional scribe over at, so there’s no real need to duplicate what’s been done before. Allow and/or indulge me, then, as I take a slightly different tack and document my personal journey of despair with Hardy’s exercise in highly confused pointlessness.

To begin with, I should point out that the original Wicker Man is quite likely one of my ten-or-so all-time favorite films. Critics who say it’s “not actually a horror movie” are quite right, of course — it’s a unique — hell, frankly singular — amalgamation of so many different styles that the end product is well and truly unclassifiable. Part horror flick, sure, but also part musical, part (very) black comedy, part clash-of-cultures melodrama, part satire on Christian piousness, and part period-piece-albeit-in-a-then-contemporary-setting, it stands on its own as the only thing quite like it ever made. Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer perhaps put it best when he stated that his main goal was to pen a meditation on the nature of sacrifice, and everything else just sort of took off from there.

Obviously, there are so many elements about the first film that the 2011 “thematic sequel” could never hope to duplicate — songwriter Paul Giovanni is no longer with us, so right off the bat we know the music’s not going to be nearly as good because, quite frankly, it can’t be. Anthony Shaffer has passed away and therefore whatever follow-up material comes about wouldn’t in any way be his vision for how the story could or should  continue. Edward Woodward has likewise left behind this mortal coil, and his character died at the end anyway, so replicating his magnificently anally-retentive performance is probably going to prove to be out of the question, as well.  Christopher Lee is, while still awesome as hell,  also extremely frail and old at this point. And anyway — The Wicker Man still retains all its poignancy and power to this day and has only gained luster over the past 40 years. The abominable Nicolas Cage/Neil LaBute remake proved that revisiting the material was a lost cause, so why bother, five years on from that failed experiment,  with any sort of a sequel, “thematic” or otherwise?

Unfortunately, Robin Hardy wrote a book some years back called Cowboys For Christ that updated some of the concepts from his earlier film and he got the notion that it would make a decent-enough little flick. He was able to scour up $7 million-plus worth of financing, and got the folks at Anchor Bay so interested they promised not only a widespread “home viewing platform” release (and I caught this on a free screener copy that was sent my way so therefore can’t fairly comment on any extras the DVD and Blu-Ray might contain), but a even a little theatrical run, as well. It never made it to my area, and disappeared after a week from the markets it did make it into, but still —the fact that they chose to give this thing some theatrical burn when it seemingly had DTV written all over it was enough for me to, foolishly, get my hopes up.

I guess we believe what we want to believe (which is rather one of the points of the first film, after all), and a steady stream of reviews for this one that placed it at the “embarrassingly bad” end of the spectrum at worst to “maybe not quite as horrible as I’d been fearing but still pretty goddamn awful” at best weren’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm at this point. I figured it just had to be better than most folks were giving it credit for, because there’s just no conceivable way it couldn’t retain, say, at least 1/100th of the darkly charismatic charm of the first film, even if entirely by accident, right? After all, the original director was on board, and Anchor Bay wasn’t so ashamed of his finished product that they tried to hide the thing away at the bottom of some film vault (although given that it’s shot on HD, perhaps a “film” vault wouldn’t be the right place to stick it in, anyway).

It’s certainly fair to say that I wasn’t expecting greatness, or even anything of the sort, but something that still somehow cleaved to even a miniscule fraction of the spirit of the original would have been good enough for me. Unfortunately, what I got was a story about two painfully stereotypical Jesus-lovin’ Texas yokels who have gone on a mission (more typical of Mormons than of born-againers, it must be said) to evangelize in some small Scottish town that apparently has never heard the “good news.” One of our less-than-convincingly-portrayed country bumpkins, Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol), was apparently a famous country singer with something of a “reputation” before turning her life over to Christ, while the other, her fiancee Steve Thomson (Henry Garrett), is little more just a walking, talking cowboy hat. Once in the “heathen land” of Scotland,  they enjoy the decidedly non-Southern hospitality of local nuke plant owner Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish, in something more akin to a respectable performance than his colleagues seem capable of) and his OTT-in-the-deception-deaprtment wife, Delia (Jacqueline Leonard), but of course the dastardly couple, whose power plant has through some unexplained (and probably inexplicable, so it’s just as well Hardy doesn’t even try) means left the entire town sterile, have other plans for their simple-minded God-fearin’ visitors, plans that the Texas two-steppers are apparently too stupid to suss out even as they’re practically being openly prepared for the burning stake and, get this, the dinner table!

Yes, evidently the heathen folk of the United Kingdom’s northern reaches have taken to cannibalism in the four decades or so since our last visit, and while Hardy seems to think this somehow ups the “black comedy” factor of the proceedings, really it just serves as a cop-out by more clearly delineating who are the “good guys” here and who are the “bad guys,” a simple-minded, black-and-white approach that the first Wicker Man never resorted to even when Sgt. Howie was being burned alive (in, it must be said, one of the most visually dramatic sequences ever committed to celluloid).

And that’s a pretty much the problem at the crux of The Wicker Tree in a nutshell — sure, there are numerous and obvious others, ranging from wretched acting to dully-executed visuals to poor pacing to obvious run-time padding to inarticulate (at best) dialogue to recycled-into-a-less-involving-context story ideas to laughably one-dimensional caricatures standing in place of real, actual characters — but at the end of the day, it’s Hardy’s mistrust of his audience’s ability to make up our own collective mind, and the blatantly heavy-handed approach he takes in explaining everything for us that stems from that mistrust, that makes this such a condescending failure. I could live with the far-less-subtle approach to the “clash of cultures” theme that he takes here in comparison with the first film. I could live with the nowhere-near-as-compelling music. I could live with the rather — uhmmm — “broad strokes” with which he paints each and every character . I could live with the pointless and frankly even a bit insulting to the guy Christopher Lee cameo. Hell, I could even live with the Christian turning the tables on her pagan pursuers and winning in the end. But what I absolutely can’t abide is that Hardy thinks we’re all so unsophisticated and beneath the task of understanding his apparently-in-his-mind-quite-complex-and-challenging-themes that we need for him to hammer them home with a with a burning wicker stake through our heads. He’s had 40 years to think about how he wants to follow up a genuine, justly-lauded classic and this is what he comes up with? Set fire to me now, please, before the third installment, which he’s already working on, ever sees the light of day.