Strange Days (1995)

The future is the present, but moreso.

This is has been the guiding principle of futurist science fiction since the genre was invented; take the current status quo and extrapolate logically and presto, you have a plausible future setting for your story. Early British sci-fi is all about the ethics and difficulty of maintaining a vast empire (don’t worry lads, won’t be a problem long term). Star Trek had space hippies and an interstellar Cold War. Eighties sci-fi is really worried about these Japanese guys. Trouble is, the course of history is less an elegant upward line and more like a panicky chihuaha on meth that keeps running off in different directions. For example: The USA and USSR are locked in an inexorable arms race that can only end with nuclear anni…

Whoops. Never mind.

Well, the Japanese economy is an unstoppable behemoth that will crush its Western rivals and establish a new world order of corporate hegemony…

Huh.

Awesome, history is over and now America as the world’s lone superpower will rule over an endless long peace…

Where did THIS clown come from?

Ah jeez, America has moved inexorably to the right and the Republicans will maintain dominance for generations, slowly turning America into a paranoid police state…

What the hey?

Racism is over everybody! Peace love and kumbaya for all!

Okay History you are now officially taking the piss.

This is why it’s almost impossible to write science fiction that accurately predicts the future, because the present won’t sit long enough to have its picture taken. Even the works that do get props for accurately predicting the future tend to only get certain details right while getting the rest very wrong. William Gibson came damn close to predicting the internet, but he also predicted that the world would be ruled over by several competing mega-corporations when of course in reality it’s only ruled by one.

“BEHOLD MY GLORY!”

“Yes Disney, we all behold your glory.”

Which is why, as a good rule of thumb, if you’re writing sci-fi you should set it far into the future so that when you are inevitably proven wrong, you’ll be long dead and no one will be there to laugh at you (unless they use their futuristic magic tech to resurrect you purely so they can laugh at you which would be incredibly petty and, going on current trends, entirely probable).

Strange Days was released in 1995 and sets its tale of sci-fi dystopia in the misty far off time of…December 1999. That’s ballsy.

And yet, it honestly feels more prescient than any science fiction film I can recall seeing.

“Uh, Mouse?”

“Yo.”

“I just looked at this film and it has a ton of boobs Are we a boob blog now?”

“No, we are not a boob blog.”

Yeah, so I realise the movies I’m been reviewing lately have been a little more racy for a blog that rarely reviews fare rated harder than PG. Truth is, this is a review I’ve been trying to find the time to do for almost three years now (it’s one of the Joanna VR requests). This is one my friend Roger Courtney requested because he feels that it’s a ridiculously under-appreciated movie that I should review and everyone should see.

It is, I did and they should.

Let’s take a look.

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The Toxic Avenger (1984)

A Disney reviewer was asked by his brother to review a movie by the infamous Troma studios, and you won’t believe what happened next!

Actually, you probably will.

It’s garbage and I hated it.

“Ha ha ha aha! At last! I have defeated you!”

“Sigh. Hello, brother mine.”

“I knew requesting this review would finally crush your spirit!”

“Bitch, you haven’t crushed a damn thing.”

“What?! How can this be?!”

“Well firstly, because Anti-Depressants are AMAZING. But secondly, because you have fundamentally misunderstood the difference between different kinds of bad movie.”

So let’s talk about bad movies. Roughly speaking, bad movies can be broken into the following categories.

1)      Bad movies. Pretty simple. A movie that tries to be good but just fails. A comedy that is not funny, a thriller that is boring, a romance where you want all relevant parties to die in a fire. They’re common as muck and less useful.

2)      Good Bad movies. Movies that try to be good but are so bad that they’re entertaining. The Room, Plan 9, Birdemic what have you. Rare enough, but glorious.

3)      Good Good Bad movies. Okay, these are super rare. These are movies that are trying intentionally to ape Good Bad movies and do so in a way that makes them as entertaining as the real thing. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace would be a perfect example if it wasn’t a TV Show.

4)      Bad Bad movies. These are less movies than acts of assault. The makers purposefully tried to make the most offensively awful movie possible just because. Serbian Film, The Human Centipede…if, for some reason you don’t know what those are, don’t google them, trust me.

5)      Good Bad Bad movies. A Bad Bad movies that’s actually so baroquely excessive and ridiculous that you can’t help but be entertained by it.

6)      Bad Bad Bad movies. And here is where they did it and it’s just gross and pointless and really, really boring.

The Toxic Avenger belongs in that final category. If it was just a little more competent I’d probably be doing an epic all caps takedown and trying out some of my most ingenious, Rube-Goldberg like profanity. But here’s the thing. You ever see Little Shop of Horrors? You know the bit where Steve Martin’s a sadistic dentist and Bill Murray is the patient who gets off on tooth extractions? It’s just no fun if the movie’s into it. I’m watching the movie and the movie is yelling “LOOK AT ME! I SUCK! DON’T I SUCK?! LOOK AT HOW BAD I SUCK!” and I’m just there half watching while scrolling through my Facebook feed muttering “Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah. You sure do suck.”. I mean, why am I even here? The movie critiques itself.

Alright, so who are Troma? They were founded in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz and Satan (he’s a silent partner). Since their founding they’ve dedicated themselves to making independent films outside of the restrictions of the studio system, executive meddling, corporate pandering, technical competency, artistic talent and human decency. Troma have a reputation amongst their fans as plucky underdogs striking a blow against the bland corporatized studio system. A reputation that is utterly bullshit, by the bye. Firstly, Troma is a frickin’ merchandizing machine. For fruck’s sale, the Toxic Avenger had a Saturday morning cartoon with its own toyline!

I wish I was joking. God in heaven, I do.

Secondly, Troma is not the Anti-Hollywood, it’s Hollywood without any of its redeeming features. Like the very worst Hollywood fare Troma’s films traffic in senseless violence, casual misogyny, homphobia and racism. They just do it worse. If Hollywood is a McDonald’s, Troma isn’t a friendly little local Mom and Pop artisanal burger joint, it’s a cheap knockoff McDonald’s where the burgers are even worse for you and chef won’t stop taking a dump in a the deep fat fryer. That said, much like Roger Corman, Troma has been responsible for giving many screen talents their first break, with folks like James Gunn, Vincent D’Onofrio and Samuel L. Jackson all making their bones with the studio. Y’know, kinda like how WW2 was terrible but at least it gave us computers and space travel. The Toxic Avenger is by far Troma’s biggest hit and the face of their brand.

Truth in advertising, folks.

How bad is it? Let’s take a look.

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State of the Mouse 2018

Hey Mouse, how you been?

Good, good. Great actually. After last year’s unpleasantness I feel like I’ve rebounded in a big way. I’m feeling a lot more confident and hopeful for the future, been writing loads and, long story short it’s good to be Mouse (for now).

Aw, that’s great. Well, see ya…

Not so fast, my bold-faced friend. This is the part where I use you as a sounding board to tell the readers all my news.

Aw c’mon, dude, it’s like half five in the morning, I got work tomorrow

Here is my news!

Marvel Rankings

Yes! So, with the Homecoming review now gone up and Ragnarok not out on DVD until February, seems like this is a good time to put up a page where I rank all the Marvel movies like I have with the canon Disney films. Gasp in wonder and ooh and aah and say “But I really liked Doctor Strange” and “Thor is HOW HIGH? This dude’s crazy!”. Basically, your thoughts are an open book to me. Speaking of…

New series of reviews

Hmm…so we’ve reached the end of the canon Disney movies and we’re almost at the end of the MCU movies. What to review next? It has to be something with a lot of variety. I don’t want to be constantly praising or panning week in, week out. It has to be a series that wakes up each morning and flips a scarred two-headed coin to decide whether its going to suck like it was built by Dyson, or be literally Oscar worthy…

Oh yeah. That’ll do…

Shortstember

So, we’ve finally wrapped our series of reviews of WW2 propaganda shorts (spoilers, the good guys won. For about seventy years. Now it’s a little up in the air.) If you missed them, the reviews are here:

Der Fuehrer’s Face

Jungle Drums

The Ducktators

Reason and Emotion

Fascist Jackboots will not Trample our Motherland

Momotaru no Umiwashi

Nimbus Libéré

Das Dumme Ganslein

Hope you enjoyed them, and if you have suggestions or preferences for another series of short reviews, holla atta mazerunner.

12 Gigs in 12 Months

So I’ve decided to go back to doing stand up and I’ve set myself a challenge for 2018: 12 gigs in 12 months. Gig #1 is already in the bag (it was at Cherry Comedy, no footage I’m afraid) and #2 is in the Ha’penny Inn on Wellington Quay on Tuesday 20th January at nine if you’re in Dublin. If you’re not, do please head over to Facebook and follow Neil Sharpson-12 Gigs in 12 Months where I’ll be posting updates and footage of how I get on.

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“I just wanted to be like you.”

Hey Amy – just a couple of rando thoughts from 35,000 LAX-JFK:

– A rising trend we see with Millennials are the really extreme forms of experiential exercise like Tough Mudder (a sort of filthy triathalon), the Color Run and even things like Hot Power Yoga, veganism etc. Millennials will often post “N.B.D.” on their social media after doing it , as in No Big Deal, also known as the “humble brag”…..wondering if Spidey could get into that in some way….he’s super athletic, bendy, strong, intense….and it’s all NBD to him, of course.

– EDM (electronic dance music) is the defining music for Millennials. Wondering if there’s an EDM angle somewhere with Spidey? His movements are beautiful, would be awesome with a killer DJ behind it

– Snapchat just launched a “story” functionality, which is sort of “day in the life of me” told in a series of snapchats that expire after 24 hours. It has a very VIP quality about it, since invitation only. Getting invited into Spidey’s Snapchat circle would be huge, and very buzzworthy and cool.

Take a look at that quote. Really take a minute to absorb it. Drink it in. Read it aloud, in a serious, serious voice.

Then consider that these are not the insane gibberings of a vagrant possessed by unclean spirits,  but an industry professional, emailing the former co-head of Sony with actual ideas for a new Spider-Man movie. Ideas that she, presumably, asked him for. Like, she took a look at this walking buzzword puker and said “Him. He’s the guy we need to give a fresh new take on one of the greatest superheroes of all time.”

This is why Spider-Man needed to come home.

I say “one of the greatest” but you will find plenty of people who know their comic book shit inside out who will tell you that Spider-Man is actually, without qualification, the greatest superhero. Better than Batman, better than Superman and yes, better even than the Original Human Torch.

They’re wrong, obviously. But whatever.

And no question, Spider-Man is awesome. The design, the simplicity of his powers and concept, a brilliant rogue’s gallery and one of the best supporting casts in comics. Spider-Man is a masterpiece. So why is he so difficult to do right? And I don’t just mean in other media. On any list of the worst or most detested comic book stories, you’ll see Spidey’s name popping up with alarming regularity: One More Day, Sins Past, Reign, Maximum Carnage and of course The Clone Saga, the latter trainwreck made all the worse by the fact that it lasted two monkey juggling years. I don’t mean to imply that there are no good Spider-Man stories. Because friend, there are some absolutely FANTASTIC Spider-Man stories, pretty much everything from 1963 to 1975 are some of the best superhero yarns from that era you could hope to read.

The problems started after, and I think it was a case of Spider-Man being a victim of his own success. Because Spider-Man has always been a huge seller and the face of Marvel comics, he’s historically been subjected to much heavier editorial control than a more obscure character might be. That, for example, is the reason why the Clone Saga dragged on until everyone involved had given up hoping for any resolution other than the sweet release of death. It also led to superstar writers and artists being put on the book because they were the new hotness rather than because they were suited to the character or had an interesting slant.

Spider-Man: Torment. Readers: “Yup”.

There have been plenty of good Spider-Man runs even after the characters Silver Age heyday (Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man is an all-time classic) but the fact remains: the win/loss ratio for stories featuring this character is far heavier on the right side than it should be for such a perfectly conceived concept. And that extends to the movies.

There are good Spider-Man movies, but there really should be more.

The first two Sam Raimi films are wonderfully faithful to the tone of the comics but they’re also kinda corny and are hamstrung by the fact that Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco are just terrible.

Franco may have made a great Wiseau, but Wiseau would have made a better Harry Osborn.

Spider-Man 3 I absolutely despise but then Ms Mouse and I had just broken up when it came out so that probably coloured my perceptions of it. It’s probably just me who feels that the movie is like a gaping chest wound that bleeds sadness.

Oh. Not just me.

All I’ll say about that one is…so you have to come up with a way for Spider-Man to come into contact with the alien Venom symbiote. Below are two options. One of these was used in a $250 million Hollywood movie, the other from a cheap Saturday morning cartoon. Try and guess which is which.

  1. The symbiote is recovered from an asteroid during a NASA mission. On re-entry, the symbiote gets loose and forces the astronauts to attempt an emergency crashlanding in New York. Spider-Man swings into action and, in a thrilling rescue, saves the astronauts from the wreckage and is exposed to the symbiote, which kicks of the Venom Saga.
  2. The symbiote just drops out of the sky and lands in the park where Spider-Man happens to be chilling with his girlfriend.

2 is lame. 2 is stupid. 2 is stunningly lazy writing. They went with 2.

Then we got the two Andrew Garfield movies which I watched just for this review. I did that for you.

The first one is the most bleakly mercenary superhero film since Roger Corman threw together Fantastic Four to hold onto the rights because, oh hey, Sony needed to hold onto the rights. And the second is just…baffling. Like, let’s take the dour naturalism of the first one and marry it with a remake of Batman Forever. That’ll work.

That said, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is the best thing in all five films which, of course, is why she had to die.

Having driven not one, but two iterations of Spider-Man into the ground, Sony finally caved and agreed to a joint custody deal with Marvel whereby Marvel would bring Spidey into the MCU but Sony could still see him on weekends as long as there was a social worker present. Tom Holland was introduced as the new Web Head in Civil War to rapturous applause and production began on this new Spider-Man’s first solo movie. How did it turn out? Let’s take a look.

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Mouse Goes to War: Das dumme Gänslein (1944)

Studio: Fischerkoesen-Film-Produktion

Country of Origin: Nazi Germany.

First Screened: 20 July 1944

I find it terrifying to consider that, ten or even five years ago, I would have had absolutely no hesitation in writing this post. I mean, of course if I’m doing a retrospective on WW2 animation shorts I’d look at Nazi animation. Why wouldn’t I? The Nazis were, after all, kinda involved in the Second World War, right?

But that would have been in a simpler time when it seemed obvious that, whatever else we might disagree on, we were all more or less on the same “Nazis are bad” page (it’s a good page, nice font, excellent paper quality, highly recommended). But then…

Well, it’s been a year. That it has.

So yes, I did honestly consider scrapping this portion of the series but ultimately I decided against it. One of the goals of the Mouse Goes to War series is to inform and I’ve always believed that knowledge is not dangerous, only ignorance. And today’s short is a fascinating demonstration as to how fascist themes and messages can be worked into seemingly benign texts.

Y’know.

Just in case that becomes a useful skill at some point in the future.

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And to all a good night…

While I know I promised I’d finish off the war short reviews in December, dangit, talking about Nazi propaganda just doesn’t feel that “Christmassy” so we’ll just have to delay that. Anyway, thanks for all your kind words and support over the last few weeks, it means more than you can know. Wishing you all a safe, happy and peaceful Christmas from the Mouse clan (and thanks to the amazingly talented Amelia Mellor for the picture, we’re getting it framed).

Peace out, and steer clear of Bahia.

Mouse.

Merger Madness

“Uh, Disney?”

“SPEAK, WORM.”

“How ya doin’, buddy?”

“I AM THE RULER OF ALL CREATION! THE STORIES OBEY MY EVERY WHIM! THE FILMS AND ALL THEIR SPOILS BOW TO MY POWER!!”

“Yeah…yeah, that’s what I thought. Ooooooh boy. Look, Disney? I love you.”

“YOUR LOVE SHALL BE REWARDED.”

“Let me finish.”

So in case you’ve missed the news, Disney just went on a little spending spree and bought the entire film and TV wing of Fox, who’ve decided to retire to focus full time on caring for an elderly relative.

This deal is huge. This makes Disney’s acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars seem look like mere aperitifs. 20th Century Fox is not just one franchise or a relatively small upstart studio. It’s one of the most powerful film companies in history with a back catalogue of some of the biggest films ever produced stretching all the way back to the 1930s. And Disney just ate them.

“FANTASTIC FOUR FOR THE MCU!”

“OH YES THANK YOU BENEFICENT ONE!”

No! Bad Mouse! Can’t let myself get distracted. Look, I’m a huge Disney fan. I love the Disney canon, I love the Marvel movies, I really love the new Star Wars canon. I respect that Disney actually take care of their toys. Yes, I know. It’s all about money. But the way they have decided to make money is by making really, really, good, faithful movies of beloved properties. If one company has to own the entirety of Western Civilization then honestly that company being Disney is the best case scenario but…

This is nuts, right? This is insane.

Consider everything Disney owned before this: Their own movies, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar…and add to that:

  • Avatar
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Alien
  • Predator
  • Modern Family
  • Die Hard
  • The X-Men
  • The Fantastic Four

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Mouse Goes to War: Nimbus Libéré (1944(?))

Studio: Les Films Robert Macé

Country of Origin: Vichy France

First Screened: Unclear, sometime in 1943/1944

Since starting this blog I’ve reviewed just north of 150 animated films. I’ve been an avid fan of animation from literally before I could talk. I have watched thousands upon thousands of hours of animation in my lifetime.

Nimbus Libéré (“Nimbus Released”) is the worst cartoon I’ve ever seen and it’s not even close.  If Foodfight! was a perfect 0, Nimbus Libéré is a minus googol. In every technical area, animation, sound, writing, it’s abysmal. In style, it is repellent. In intent, it is pure evil.

English language sources on the cartoon’s origins are thin on the ground and to be honest, I can’t even say for certain whether it was first screened in 1943 or 1944 (going by the subject matter, I’d guess early to mid ’44). Although credited to “Cal”, it was the work of Raymond Jeannin, a young French animator in his twenties whose two surviving works are Libéré and La Nuit Enchanté (“The Enchanted Night”).

La Nuit Enchanté is a fairly terrible mish-mash of awful animation and swiped character designs (Jeannin’s moderate talent in aping other people’s designs were probably what got him roped into doing Nimbus).  But it’s not fascist. I mean, there are some deeply uncomfortable racist stereotypes but, if I’m honest, nothing noticeably worse than what Warners was doing at the time and we don’t go around calling Tex Avery and Chuck Jones Nazis.

But Nimbus…my God in heaven.

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The Pendulum.

The last time I did stand up, I did this bit about growing a beard again for the first time in years:

ME: Beard! How’ve you been!

BEARD: Ah, how’s it going man?

ME: So. You’re grey now?

BEARD: (mumbling like a war vet) This fuckin’ year man, this fuckin’ year…

 

2017 has not been a good year for me, to put it mildly. To put it less mildly, if 2017 was a person I’d seduce its wife out of spite and spread a rumour that its people took the soup*. And so it was that, at the end of this miserable soup-taking cuckold of a year, I found myself in a very bad place.

I had a conversation once with a writer friend of mine and I asked her if she knew any writers who hadn’t grappled with depression at some point. She thought for a long time and finally admitted that, no, she didn’t. The reason that I didn’t ask her if she had ever grappled with depression was because I already knew she had. Just like I knew that every other writer know has had to deal with it. My point is, it’s an occupational hazard. Footballers pull hamstrings, computer programmers get eye-strain, writers get depressed. So it goes.

I’ve always been a pendulum. I’ll write something and I’ll send it in and I’ll load it down with hopes and dreams. This will be the one. This will be my big breakthrough. This is the thing that will change my life.

And then I’ll get an email back that contains the word “unfortunately”.

And I get knocked back, and I doubt myself and a few days later I start writing again and I’ll write something and I’ll send it in and I’ll load it down with hopes and dreams. This will be the one. This will be my big breakthrough. This is the thing that will change my life.

I swing back and forth. Back and forth. And usually, it’s fine.

But early on this year, I got knocked back. Bad. Two really, really big opportunities both went up in smoke within the same month. And I found myself, if not back at Square 1, somewhere that looked and felt and smelt a lot like that particular neighbourhood. After that, the usual rejections started to sting a whole lot more. And the pendulum started swinging harder and harder. I’d put more and more of myself into every application, and each rejection started taking bigger and bigger chunks out of me.

So when an opportunity came up to write for one of the most critically acclaimed computer game companies in the world, an actual honest to God, full time writing job? A nine to five job where I could actually do the only thing that I’m actually good at? I jumped at that. I jumped harder than I have ever jumped. I wrote two Twine games from scratch, burnished my CV until it shone, checked my application letter once, twice, three, times, four. I wanted this so bad. And I really, really thought I was going to get it. I often let myself get carried away thinking about the future. But I went full on alternate reality. I had my whole future planned out. I was going to get this job. I could feel it. I knew it. And I was honestly more happy than I have been in ages.

And then, in work, I get an email from the company. And it’s a very gracious, very complimentary, very supportive email. But it does, nonetheless, contain the word “unfortunately”.

And the pendulum swung back. Harder, than it has ever swung.

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