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A hugely enjoyable and comprehensive documentary
I watched Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film in January, and thought it was superb and easily the most in-depth and academic documentary High Rising Productions has made. I have seen it a couple of times since then and haven't changed my mind at all. It works as a simple overview of the cannibal cycle of films, as a critique of the films and such things as the racism, sexism, ethnography and cultural supremacy generally contained in the films. It also includes quite a bit of humour, with the rivalry between Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi palpable even though the two men were interviewed separately.
The main academic contributors – Dr Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Dr Mikel Koven – are very informative and enlightening without being dry and speaking in a way which will alienate those who solely see the films as entertainment. There is a lot of really interesting stuff from Deodato and Lenzi, actors Me Me Lai, Robert Kerman, and filmmakers Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino about the productions themselves in terms of stories from the set and how they feel about them now. As usual, Kim Newman is great entertainment with his own, unique and extremely knowledgeable, opinions about films and the genre/cycle in general. The contrast between his views and those held by the academics makes for an interesting subplot in itself.
Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film is a thoroughly informative and thought-provoking piece of documentary filmmaking, which should make the 88 Films release of Zombi Holocaust (or the Cannibal Ferox Blu-ray set from Grindhouse) a must-own title for all genre fans. Overall, it's an excellent documentary and makes me want to check out Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals and Island of the Fishmen, probably the only films discussed I haven't seen.
Repugnant dunderheaded nonsense
Vigilante films enjoyed a moment in the sun in the 1970s with the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films and Nick Love obviously thinks that a renaissance of the sub-genre is overdue.
Coming back from a war (it's not specified which one) and finding his wife has shacked up with someone else, Sean Bean is disillusioned with everything and, together with a group of similarly disheartened men, forms a vigilante group to beat up and kill paedophiles, drug dealers and other criminals who have either been acquitted or not charged. Bean is clearly playing a Travis Bickle role, with the rest of the gang in some sort of 'Fight Club'. Whereas no attempt was made to create a hero of Travis Bickle in 'Taxi Driver', Love obviously feels that vigilante groups are a great idea and that the solution to Britain's problems is through lynchings and IRA-style punishment beatings.
Love may also have something to say about the pervasive nature of CCTV as the camera shakes and zooms as with closed-circuit television - either that or Sam McCurdy, the cinematographer, has Parkinson's Disease! I hated this film and everything it stands for. Nick Love is clearly a big fan of Richard Littlejohn and his type of 'string 'em up' tabloid journalism. This morally repugnant, badly written and stupid film just made me feel that I'd wasted time and money - don't make the same mistake and give it a wide berth.
The Number 23 (2007)
Dreadful, taking itself far too seriously.
I'd guessed the trick ending before I even got to the cinema just from watching the trailer, but after they'd exhausted the mathematical computations of 23 in the first half hour, the film just completely lost it's way en route to a predictable and contrived ending. Just because Caesar was stabbed 23 times and Shakespeare was born and died on April 23rd doesn't give the number significance they may as well have said that Michael Jordan played his whole career in the number 23 shirt and because 2 divided by 3 is 0.666, Michael is the anti-Christ!
It was sad to see Virginia Madsen, who was so good in Candyman and Sideways working with such lumpen material but Jim Carrey is just dreadful, putting in a performance that is even worse than in the 'Ace Ventura' movies something I didn't think was humanly possible.
This isn't big or clever, it's not serious cinema and it's not worthy of your admission money.
The Guardian (2006)
The film that didn't know when to stop
There's a point in 'The Guardian' where it reaches its logical conclusion and I expected the credits to roll and was mentally ready to leave, but they didn't and another section which could have ended the film followed, with another two after that.
Ostensibly a recruiting film for the US Coastguard, 'The Guardian' works best when Costner is trying to get through to Kutcher just as others had tried with Tom Cruise in previous films. The 'Top Gun' meets 'An Officer and a Gentleman' via 'Men of Honor' ninety minute training section of the film works well and is entertaining, but when this is over it really drags.
King Kong (2005)
A great visual film but a major disappointment
I went into King Kong on the back of watching the 1933 original with very high hopes of seeing a brilliant updating of the classic story by one of the best film makers around. What I found amounted to a Jackson ego trip as he now has the power and finances to make a film as long as he wants it to be and with as many 'creatures' as he wants in it; if this means a running time of over 3 hours and a film that goes way over budget, so be it as Jackson paid the excess budget and no studio can now 'boss' him around when it comes to running times. All this is a shame as KK starts off brightly enough with a wonderful set of scenes establishing the depression-era setting but, once the film moves to Skull Island and Jackson's Weta computers begin their work, the film largely grinds to a halt as the story takes a back seat to about an hour of FX laden baggage.
The best parts of the film are those between Naomi Watts and Andy Serkis' Kong, with the weakest being the huge dinosaur scenes which are even less visually impressive than 1993's Jurassic Park.
When the film was good, it was very good but, when Jackson's ego took over, it was very stodgy and needed a firm editor to tell him when to stop and remove the best part of an hour from the running time. The 1933 KK is a masterpiece but this version undoubtedly suffers because it is nearly twice the length, taking three hours to do what Cooper and Schroedstack did in 100 minutes.
The Descent (2005)
Brilliantly tense from start to finish
With Dog Soldiers, Neil Marshall created a tight and claustrophobic atmosphere then added the scares to create a very good horror film. However, the tension was often released with humour and the audience were allowed to catch their breath and relax. At no point in The Descent are you allowed to relax as Marshall grabs your attention within the first few minutes and doesn't let go until the credits roll at the end.
With the film set almost entirely underground, the lack of light is used to wonderful effect and Marshall keeps you on edge for 100 minutes; if you liked Dog Soldiers, 28 Days Later and/or Haute Tension and are sick of the formulaic rubbish being pumped out of Hollywood then The Descent is likely to be right up your street.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Avoid at all costs
How do you make a sequel to the greatest horror film of all time? You shouldn't; but John Boorman has to disastrous effect. The confusing and boring story is poorly acted by a cast that most films would love to have and John Boorman's direction is so awful you can't help but laugh at the film which is, at no point, scary. Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Linda Blair and Kitty Winn all look like they can't be bothered with the film and, if the rumours of Burton's drinking are true then I can't really blame him given the rubbish he was asked to read, Burton and Blair seem to have a strange relationship which Vladimir Nabokov would've been proud of and when James Earl Jones appears dressed as a giant locust the whole movie descends into farce.
I find it sad that after such great movies as The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets that Ealing Studios has now produced such an average film as Valiant.
Ewan McGregor's voice acting is better here than in Robots and he is well supported by Ricky Gervais, Hugh Laurie Tim Curry and John Cleese but the film is let down by a weak, paint by numbers story and poor script. The animation is good for the budget the filmmakers had to work with and it is not without it's charm.
With The Incredibles out on DVD, Robots still at the cinema A Shark Tale and Shrek 2 still high in people's memories, Valiant was always going to have it's work cut out; there are enough burp and fart gags to keep kids happy but adults will be bored (I was anyway) despite the short running time.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
An awful rehash of a horror classic
The 1974 version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was fresh, original and shocking.
2003's TCM is directed as if it were a music video, with slick production, quick cuts and polished colours; it also stars Jessica Biel so is obviously designed to pull in the teenage audience. At many points in this movie, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry (I certainly wasn't scared) and even wanted to turn the TV off but decided to stick it out to the end - in hindsight, I wish I hadn't.
I hated this version of TCM - it was lacking in artistic merit, restraint or originality. It is a paint by number horror movie which ticks most of the boxes: screaming girl, gore, a car that won't start, hiding in a cupboard, a strange looking kid....
The original is a classic whereas the remake was just a nasty piece of film-making without any redeeming features. Do yourself a favour, rent the original and avoid this movie if you possibly can.
Although this film was too long, it missed out the beginning and end of the Ali story. The omission of Clay being refused service in a diner upon his return from the Olympics and the 'Thrilla in Manila' leave huge holes in the make-up of the man and icon that is Muhammad Ali.
The fight scenes are superbly choreographed using real boxers and this is part of another problem with the film is it a documentary or a movie?. As a boxing fan, I had difficulty believing that his opponents were who they were supposed to be - Joe Frazier was James Toney with an afro wig and never had me believing that he was Joe Frazier.
Overall, this film dealt well with Ali's womanising and relationship with 'Bundini' Brown and Howard Cosell but was superficial and left me unfulfilled. Maybe this was mission impossible but the movie set out ambitious targets and missed most of them. You are better off getting a video of Ali's fights, watching 'When We Were Kings' and reading his biography by Thomas Hauser.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
I am not a fan of Tim Burton movies, but watched this anyway. Perhaps I missed the point but maybe this should've been called 'Scooby Doo and The Headless Horseman'! Whoever thinks this is a horror is clearly missing something and has not seen any bona fide horror movies such as The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Night of the Living Dead or Psycho. I thought the film was stupid, but decent performances from Christina Ricci, Richard Griffiths and Christopher Lee give it some credence. If you like Tim Burton, watch this movie, if not - give it a miss and watch a proper horror film or an episode of 'Scooby Doo'.
The Sopranos (1999)
The best TV show around 10/10
The Sopranos is a superb mafia based crime/drama. Expanding on the mobster/shrink relationship far better than Analyze This and examining the conflict between family and 'family' as well as Michael's character in The Godfather, The Sopranos is a brilliant show with excellent direction, scripting and immense acting performances from all the cast. James Gandolfini's 'Tony' is as terrifying as he is easy to sympathise with and Lorraine Bracco is superb as Dr. Jennifer Melfi - these two are just the tip of the iceberg as the supporting cast do not disappoint.
If you enjoyed any of The Godfather, Goodfellas, Analyze This or Donnie Brasco you will definitely enjoy the show as the TV format allows for greater plot and character development than any movie.
If you did not catch it on TV, buy, rent, steal or borrow the video or DVD boxed sets.