Category Archives: Reviews

The Elephant to Hollywood – Review…

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Michael Caine is one of my favourite actors. My earliest memories of his work are from my childhood and centre around Sleuth and Deathtrap – both of which, coincidentally, began on the stage.

Since those days I have grown to love a lot more of his output. In fact, Alfie (his best film), inspired one of my earliest email addresses, which would probably still be accessible if I could remember the password.

Reading this biography, I quickly realised that although I have seen a lot of his movies, I’ve definitely missed many others – a lot of which are, by his own admission, complete stinkers. But even if the production is bad, Caine never is. He’s a dependable performer and always a believable presence on screen.

This autobiography came out in 2010, and although he has made a handful of movies since, this covers the vast majority of his output, from his breakout performance in Zulu, right through to his supporting role in the Batman trilogy.

But it’s not just the movies he talks about. There are plenty of pages devoted to his wife Shakira, and how they met; his love of cooking; and his life growing up in the Elephant and Castle. And in typical Cockney fashion, he’s a good storyteller, so I was happy to go on all the journeys with him.

If you like Sir Michael (although he doesn’t want you to call him that) this is a good look behind the curtain into one of Britain’s most celebrated actors.

Cannibal Holocaust – A Dissection…

MV5BN2YyNWI1ZjAtZjZmOC00MDU4LWE0ODktYmMyZmMzZGExZWE4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY268_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Pun intended.

My university dissertation was about censorship in cinema, and the ways in which the law has imposed itself on what we are allowed to see on screen. It’s a shame I don’t have a copy of it because I think it was pretty good.

But one movie I didn’t mention in all of those ten thousand words is Cannibal Holocaust – partly because I had never seen it, and finding a clean copy of such a notorious movie at the turn of the millennium (when I still had dial-up internet, and there were certainly no streaming platforms) would have proven difficult. Having just watched it, it’s hard to know where to begin.

I’m generally not squeamish when it comes to movies. I have my limits, of course, just like everyone else, but I can usually hold it together. Cannibal Holocaust is as close as I have come to shutting a movie off and walking away.

It is really a movie of two halves. The first half shows a team of academics who go into the Amazonian jungle to discover the whereabouts of a group of young and reckless documentarians who had decided to get up close and personal with a tribe of cannibals, and the second half shows the footage the missing kids had filmed before they were slain.

The idea of the movie, and the way it is put together, is actually not too bad. It’s probably the first genuine example of the found footage sub-genre that The Blair Witch Project popularised two decades later… so even if you are fine with the horror of some of the scenes here (and I’m not sure why you would be), at the very least, you should probably throw blame in its direction for that little contribution to cinema.

There is a lot here to be upset about – scenes of rape, torture, forced abortion, along with scenes of genuine animal cruelty that are difficult to watch, and if that isn’t enough the final ten minutes are extremely grim.

And of course, there’s the cannibalism.

A lot of these graphic scenes are juxtaposed with some oddly upbeat music – the kind of sounds you would expect to see in a lighthearted seventies romp – lulling viewers into a false sense of security…

… and then someone’s foot is hacked off with a machete.

There’s undoubtedly a deeper message underneath all the blood and gore, but you’ve got to wade through a lot of entrails to get there.

Avoid.

Skeleton Crew #8 – Paranoid: A Chant…

13440Word count – 600

All right, I know – Paranoid is not a short story, but let’s not get too hung up on that. It’s a part of this collection, so I am going to mention it, however briefly. Besides, strictly speaking, The Mist isn’t a short story either, and I talked about that one.

Poetry has always been difficult for me to understand. I generally don’t get it, especially free verse (which this is), where the only rules the author needs to follow are the ones the author makes up along the way. The style can feel a little disingenuous, but such is the nature of the art.

I can give Paranoid: A Chant a pass, primarily because it’s short and has a dark flavour to it. But thankfully, Stephen King does not exercise his poetry muscle very often.

Recommended ⇑

Skeleton Crew #7 – The Wedding Gig…

13440Word count – 5,900

The Wedding Gig is set in the years after the First World War, and is told from the point of view of a local ragtime band leader. He is hired by a small-time gangster to play at his sister’s wedding, at which he, (the gangster), is killed by some goons he has rubbed up the wrong way.

Sometimes, The Wedding Gig seems to just be an opportunity for King to poke fun at fat women – which is fine, I guess – but there needs to be more of a story than that, and ultimately, there really isn’t.

As such, this short story is the first one in the collection that I have to stop short of giving the green light to. There’s just not enough here to make it worth your time, and penty of other stuff that is better in the pages before you get to it.

Not Recommended ⇓

Skeleton Crew #6 – The Jaunt…

13440Word count – 9, 900

The Jaunt is Stephen King with his sci-fi hat on, a genre which he dabbled in a lot more back in the first half of his career than he has done since, which is fine by me as even the hint of that stuff sometimes makes me groan.

The Jaunt is set hundreds of years in the future, in a world where teleporatation – or jaunting – is a thing. The story has echoes of The Fly in a mad-scientist-in-a-lab kind of way, but ultimately it swerves in a different (but still memorable) direction.

We are six stories in to this anthology and King is yet to deliver something below par. The sci-fi here is limited, and with a family at its core it feels more grounded as well… which helps me get over the potential hurdle that the genre often throws in front of me.

Recommended ⇑

Serious – Review…

61KL-FncAOLWith the cancellation of Wimbledon this year there has been an absence of tennis in my summer schedule, but these biographies (along with the TV coverage culled from the archives) have helped fill the gap. After a healthy dose of Jimmy Connors in his own book last month I figured where better to go than to his nemesis John McEnroe, and his own book from 2002.

If you are coming to this biography expecting the wild bandanna-wearing loose cannon from his heyday in the early eighties, you may leave a little disappointed. Johnny Mac has chilled in his later years, and this is a reflective look at a more mellow character a decade removed from retirement. He’s aware of his faults (pun intended), and he knows the tantrum-throwing and the racquet-hurling is a large part of his schtick, and why audiences have stuck around with him for so long, and he although he doesn’t excuse his actions, he does at least attempt to explain where he was coming from.

But, histrionics aside, John McEnroe is one of the greatest players the sport has ever known. In 1984 (inarguably the best year of his career) he played 85 matches and lost only 3, which is still the best winning percentage any player has ever had.

He spends some time discussing his sometimes brutal marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal, as well as his even more brutal loss to Ivan Lendl in the final of the French Open in 1984. One thing he shares with Connors is his outright admiration for Bjorn Borg whose retirement from the game in 1981 at the age of just 26 opened the door for McEnroe to become the guy that all the others were chasing. We should all wonder how the tennis scene would have developed in the eighties had the Swede continued.

Give this one a look if you want to check out the life and career of someone who many describe as the first true genius of the tennis court.

Skeleton Crew #5 – Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut…

13440Word count – 11,400

Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut hangs on the familiar King format of using a minor character to narrate the tale. King is particularly good at this, and he often manages to add a little spice into the story that otherwise would not be possible. This attempt is no different.

Mrs. Todd likes to drive, but more than that she likes to find the quickest route to wherever she is going. It’s fun listening to how she manages to shave miles off each of her journeys by taking different roads, and the fact that it doesn’t really go the way I had expected doesn’t matter.

Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut is a good tale, but unfortunately it’s not as well done as I had hoped. The premise is fun and interesting, but the execution is a little long-winded for my liking, and it nearly outstays its welcome. If some of the detail here was trimmed I think King may have had a story that stays with you more.

Recommended ⇑

The Outsider – Review…

51qwZb3c42L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished reading Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider, published in 2013. It was a great insight into a fiery and fascinating character – truly one of the biggest names in tennis in the seventies and eighties.

I started watching the sport when his career was winding down, but I still caught a lot of his matches before he hung up the sneakers for good. Even as a kid who had never picked up a racket at that time, I understood his passion for the game and I admired his full-throated desire to win at all costs. Like him or not, he really was an inspirational player.

True to his image Connors had a lot to say about a lot of people – from his ill-fated relationship with Chris Evert, to his respect for Bjorn Borg. Apart from some light-hearted jabs there was little vitriol – even for John McEnroe, a player he famously butted heads with constantly throughout their professional playing careers. There is also a heartfelt chapter towards the end about his friend and fellow player Vitas Gerulaitis, who tragically died at the too-young age of forty.

Even now, Connors has much love for the game, but what really comes across in his words is how close he was to both his mother and grandmother, both of whom had passed on when this biography was written.

I don’t read many biographies, but this is well-worth a read if you enjoy the sport, and if you appreciate the insight of someone who was at the top of the mountain for longer than most.

Skeleton Crew #4 – Cain Rose Up…

13440Word count – 1,900

Cain Rose Up is a very brief story about a school shooting, written in the late sixties – before school shootings, unfortunately, became far too commonplace in the real world. This would likely be a controversial story in these sensitive times, and King (who has mellowed somewhat in recent years) probably wouldn’t write this in 2020.

Curt is a troubled college student who decides to snipe his way out of his funk from his dorm room… and that’s all there is to it. As short as this piece is, I certainly can’t say that that it outstays its welcome.

Cain Rose Up is very brutal in its stripped-down nature. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it wouldn’t be any better if it did. You don’t get a happy ending here, and that is why it works.

Recommended ⇑

Skeleton Crew #3 – The Monkey…

13440Word count – 15,000

The Monkey is a fairly chunky short story about one of those old spooky looking mechanical monkeys with the cymbals, and how this particular one has a tendency to reappear in protagonist Hal’s life.

The Monkey is a basic horror story that has been stretched almost to the point where it is in danger of really losing me. I think King could have excised half of the words here and been left with a better story as a result.

Having said that, ultimately there is something worthwhile reading in here. I just wish that there was a little less fat in between all the good stuff. I’m just out of the blocks, but this the weakest entry I have read in Skeleton Crew thus far.

Recommended ⇑