2010s

Live Action Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Alice in Wonderland

Guys, be honest.

Am I just an unpleasable asshole?

A rule I really, really try to stick to in reviewing movies is this: never criticise someone else’s work unless you can articulate what you would have done differently. This is not to say that I have no constructive criticism of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. I would, in fact, venture that I have quite the stack, teetering precariously in the corner as I write these words, ready to crush my tiny little mouse bones at the slightest inopportune breeze. And yet, I can’t help but feeling that a lot of what I am about to say might come across as a touch hypocritical if you are a long time reader of this blog.

“Mouse! Good news! We’ve remade Alice in Wonderland!”
“That’s bad news! I famously despise Lewis Carroll’s inexplicably beloved original novels!”
“Good news! The movie simply takes the setting and characters and works them into a new live action adventure!”
“That’s bad news! The only screen version of this story I enjoy is the original 1951 Disney feature and I hate your modern live action bastardisations of classic cartoons!”
“Good news! The movie borrows NOTHING of the original cartoon and attempts to forge a bold new path with its own aesthetic and continuity!”
“Did I…did I make you happy? PLEASE tell me I made you happy!”

So I kinda feel like I’m not reviewing this in good faith. I mean, is this movie a travesty of Carroll’s original work, crunching it into a generic Lord of the Rings rip-off slathered in a thin veneer of anachronistic corporate feminism to appeal to the broadest possible global audience so that Disney can bank another €1 billion dollars for the death ray fund?

Yes. It is that thing I said.

But how the hell am I supposed to make that argument? If this is a bad Alice, then what would meet my definition of a “good” Alice, considering I can’t stand the source material? (It occurs to me that I haven’t actually read either of the novels in two decades. I may need to go back and give them another go).

Well, I suppose it would be a movie that was able to do what the 1951 movie did, make me like the story of Alice through sheer artistic brilliance. I love the ’51 Alice not because it’s an Alice movie, but because it’s a Disney movie, possibly the most Disney movie of that era.

You’ve got Mary Blair on backgrounds. Verna Felton, Ed Wynne, Sterling Holloway and J. Pat O’Malley on vocals. The Nine Old Men directing animation. Music by Oliver Wallace. The movie works because it takes Carroll’s novel, sands off the creepier and more unpleasant elements, and uses the episodic nature of the story to allow some of the most talented men and women to ever work in animation to go buck wild. So I suppose, that’s what I want from an Alice in Wonderland adaptation. Something that can overcome the weaknesses of the source material by just being really, really beautiful.

“OH SHIT!”
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Live Action Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Cinderella

“Hey Mouse, what do you think about all these live action Disney remakes?” is a question I have never been asked because I am a relic of the 2010s internet and have been irrelevant to fandom discourse for quite some time.

But if they did ask for those opinions, boy, do I have opinions! Nuanced and interesting opinions? Not really, by and large I think they’re hot garbage at best and actually morally reprehensible at worst.

“Hey, when are you going to review me?”
“Fine. Nice costumes. Tangentially complicit in genocide. No stars.”

I hate the whole scene, man. I hate the lazy nostalgia milking. I hate the rehashing of old songs and characters in ways that are always inferior to the originals (the 2016 Jungle Book is, I admit, a pretty fine movie but I’ll be deep in the cold ground before I say it’s an improvement on the ’67 cartoon.). I am real sick of Disney cynically trumpeting minor gay characters whose presence would have been real daring thirty years ago to earn gushing publicity. And I really hate that the biggest entertainment company in Western history is apparently unable to understand the simple fact that just because a character is a great villain doesn’t make them a great protagonist. In fact, it means the opposite of that.

AHEM.

That said…I’ll admit the announcement of 2015s Cinderella provoked a lot less bile and profanity to gush forth than it usually would. Mostly that’s a lack of skin in the game. The 1950 Cinderella is a film with which I am on perfectly cordial terms, but it’s not and never will be as important to me as something like The Little Mermaid or The Lion King. Plus…it’s Cinderella, you know? The Disney Cinderella may be the most famous film version but it’s certainly not the definitive version, because there isn’t one and never will be. Cinderella is one of the absolute pillars of world folklore, with versions spanning thousands of years across the breadth of Europe and Asia. And there have been Cinderella movies as long as there has been film. The earliest version I found was from 1913 (called, hilariously “A Modern Cinderella”). Cinderella has been played by everyone from Julie Andrews to Brandy to Betty Boop to Jerry Lewis. It’s a timeless story that’s remained popular despite decades of bad, pseudo-feminist critique (the story is not, and never has been, about marrying a prince. It is, and always has been, about escaping poverty and domestic slavery). So, whatever, I say. Disney want to make another Cinderella movie? Fine.

I am willing to acknowledge this movie’s right to exist, Disney. All you gotta do is make a good movie.

“OH SHIT!”
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A Monster in Paris (2011)

Well now, this was a pleasant surprise.

Going in, there were more red flags than a China versus Vietnam World Cup Final. A straight-to-DVD CGI movie I’d never heard of from a studio I’d never heard of helmed by one of the directors of Shark Tale? Yeah, let’s just say I went into this in full Anton Ego mode.

Also known as “I’m going to be forty next year and I genuinely look like this in real life” mode.

But I dug a little deeper and I started seeing a few green shoots of hope. For you see, director Bibo Bergeron (of, I believe, the Sackville Bergerons) is not just the co-director of Shark’s Tale. As an animator he worked on Fievel Goes West, A Goofy Movie and The Iron Giant which is a pretty damned impressive filmography before you even factor in that he co-directed The Road to El Dorado!

Bibo. My guy. LEAD with that next time.
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“They’re not training us to be X-Men.”

Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone. Prevent the Wolverine from snikting with a juicy bone. Clean away the electrified toads. Shutter the Department of Redundancy Department. Roll up the carpet under which we swept away the allegations against Bryan Singer. The X-Men are dead. Long live the X-Men.

And yet, in a very real way, we already have covered the final X-Men movie, as Dark Phoenix was actually filmed after New Mutants. New Mutants long stay in purgatory while Disney tried to figure out what exactly to do with this malformed creation that Fox had hurriedly thrust in their arms is now well known and need not be re-hashed here. Between the Fox/Disney merger and Covid has any movie had worse luck in terms of timing than New Mutants? Yes, almost certainly. But learning about them would take time and I’m feeling lazy today.

Anyway, like Dark Phoenix I’m feeling oddly charitable to New Mutants, maybe because of its rough upbringing, or maybe just because, deeply flawed though it is, it’s trying to do something that I’ve been saying superhero movies needed to do for years.

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“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore.”

And so, after a long journey we finally reach the last main series instalment of the Fox X-Men films, a once proud dynasty now culminating in the flabby, five-chinned inbred monarch we see before us (in this analogy, New Mutants is the secret bastard child the king fathered on a tavern wench and then hid in a dungeon for three years).

And sure, the odds were against Dark Phoenix. It was released after the Disney/Fox merger all but assured that this series and its continuity would shortly be scrapped, giving the whole enterprise an inescapable stink of futility. It follows in the wake of Age of Apocalypse which was the cinematic equivalent of someone pissing up your nose for two hours. And it tries again to tell the story of the Dark Phoenix saga despite being written by the same dude who ballsed it up last time.

And yet…maybe it’s the contrarian in me. Maybe it’s the fact that the DVD yelped and recoiled in fear when I opened the case. Maybe it’s the fact that that the critical consensus on this film, that it’s the worst X-Men movie (it has less than half Apocalypse’s score on Rotten Tomatoes) is just flatly wrong.

Maybe it’s that I went in with expectations lower than a snake’s ballsack. But dammit, I kind of enjoyed Dark Phoenix. It’s bad, but it’s bad in weird and surprising ways and I never felt as horribly bored as I did with The Last Stand, Wolverine: Originto hell with it, I’m just going to say it. I would watch Dark Phoenix over any of the other bad X-Men movies. So there.

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Detective Pikachu (2019)

The video game adaptation has proven a particularly alluring siren for Hollywood over the years. The medium is stacked to the gills with beloved, household name properties with huge fanbases of teens absolutely filthy with disposable income. But, like any siren, it’s probably best to assume that the relationship is not going to end well and skedaddle before you run aground on the jagged rocks of box office disaster. Oh yes, traveler, many studios have tried for the successful video game adatation.

So what’s the problem? Why can we adapt frickin’ LORD OF THE RINGS successfully but not Super Mario Brothers? Well, because your typical video game adaptation is working towards two mutually exclusive goals. On the one had, and apologies for this harsh and mind-blowing truth I’m about to drop on your poor innocent sensibilities, but studios don’t greenlit video game adaptations because the muse demands that they bring Dead Or Alive: Beach Volleyball to the big screen so that the story can be truly appreciated as God intended. They don’t care about the material, they just know these games have large fanbases, and they want those fans to buy tickets in droves. But those fans will rebel and stay away if the studios change too much about the source material. And here’s the big problem: 99% of the time, if you don’t change the source material, you’re not getting a good movie.

That’s because video game plots are like dreams. They’re wonderfully exciting and immersive when you are the one experiencing them, but to an onlooker (or anyone you describe the dream to) it’s alienating and deeply dull. And that’s because people play games and watch movies for very different reasons.*

For example, right now I’m playing Darkest Dungeon. Again. After a month since my last playthrough where I probably sunk the guts of fifty hours. I am rather partial to that game like methheads are rather partial to meth. The premise is, you arrive in a dilapidated hamlet cursed with ancient evil and have to lead waves and waves of heroes into the titular dungeon to finally defeat the Lovecraftian horror that dwells below. And your heroes die. A lot. They get sick, they go mad, they get murdered in countless unspeakable ways. It’s a gruelling, grinding quest where you face constant failure. But every so often, you defeat a significant monster or earn enough to upgrade one of your buildings and it all becomes worth it. The grind and the tedium are what make it satisfying because you, personally, are achieving something. But, much as I love Darkest Dungeon, if I hear that anyone is trying to make a movie of it I will frame that person for murder because that is a terrible, awful idea and would make a terrible, awful movie.

So it’s not simply that video game adaptations are being handed off to talentless hacks. I mean, obviously, that does happen (see everything Uwe Boll has ever done or touched). But, as I hope I’ve demonstrated there are real structural reasons why video game adaptations almost never work.

So, how the hell did Detective Pikachu pull it off? Well, it probably helps to have all the money in the world.

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“Everybody calm down. The X-Men are here. A dated metaphor for racism in the ’60s.”

Well damn, what do I do now?

By this point I have the formula for these X-Men review worked out like, well, a formula. A brief look at the history of the characters and storylines that inspired the movie in question, a few thousand words of recounting the plot with a couple of puerile gags masquerading as legitimate film criticism, wrap up, score, bing bang boom.

But goddamn, I do not want to talk about Cable and X Force.

Obligatory disclaimer: No bad characters. Only bad writers. Yes, there have been good Cable stories. Yes, I have enjoyed those stories.  Yadda yadda yadda.

But ultimately Cable is not so much a character as an icon. You know, like a bio-hazard sign. He’s the perfect poster child for everything that was just plain bad about the X-Men universe specifically and comics more broadly in the nineties. Masculinity exaggerated and distorted to the point of unwitting caricature. A backstory as incoherent as it is overly complicated. An emphasis on violence and “ends justifies the means” morality that walks riiiight up to the line of outright fascism. Guns, guns, guns. Pouches pouches pouches. Hell, considering Cable’s central role in fuelling the Comics Speculator Bubble it’s fair to say that this character very nearly killed Marvel comics.

five million

Five. Million. Copies. Sold.

But okay, quick and dirty history of X-Force and Cable. By the early eighties, the X-Men comic book had gone from a weird little also-ran to a sales powerhouse under the creative direction of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. I’m actually currently in the middle of reading the entire X-Men run in order and, having gotten to this era I can confirm that, yeah, it absolutely lives up to its reputation. But by this point the X-Men had drifted pretty far from its original conception as a school for mutants. The main cast were almost entirely adults and, apart from the fact that they were mutants and therefore faced increased suspicion and prejudice from the normies, they were just a standard superhero team not much different from the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter ordered Claremont to create a new team of young mutants and he came up with the New Mutants. Story goes, Professor Xavier is in mourning for the death of the X-Men (don’t worry, didn’t take) and gets guilted by his ex into recruiting a new team of teenage mutants. The New Mutants was a moody, introspective little book with a cast of emotionally damaged teens learning to cope with depression, trauma and isolation. And then Rob Liefeld took it over and turned it into X-Force, a book about a rip-off Terminator trying to prevent the future by shooting it in the face

terminator

Cyborg with glowing eye travels back in time to prevent a bad future. I feel like this doesn’t get talked about enough.

So when in the stinger of Deadpool where Deadpool’s all “Guess what, CABLE’s going to be in the next one!”? Personally, my reaction was:

[Comm] Unshavedmouse alt

“Are you threatening me, sir?”

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“Go. Don’t be what they made you.”

It’s always tempting, when a creator reveals themselves to be a bit of a shit, to look back on their past work and say “ah, I never liked ’em anyway”. This was certainly the case with comic book creator Frank Miller, whose politics took a hard right turn after 9/11 resulting in such works as Holy Terror, initially intended as a Batman story for DC before they dropped it like a hot, extremely Islamaphobic potato. This in turn led to many comics fans deciding that Miller had never been that good or important a comics creator to begin with. And, frankly, that’s not entirely unwarranted. Dodgy politics aside, a lot of Miller’s back catalogue simply hasn’t aged that well. There were always dodgy undercurrents of racism and misogyny in Miller’s work (he wrote origin stories for Batman and Daredevil that both had scenes of the protagonist fighting prostitutes), and knowing the path he went down makes those elements a lot harder to overlook now. Also, whereas Alan Moore (Miller’s contemporary and the creator he is probably most often compared to) brought a real intellectual and emotional richness to the comics genre, Miller’s most successful works were often empty showcases of style over substance. Sin City and 300 are visually striking as all hell. But ultimately, they’re hollow, emotionally stunted things. That said, there is at least one work that I will defend as still holding up (mostly).

dark knight

There are female characters in this that AREN’T prostitutes! I swear ta God.

The Dark Knight Returns depicts an aged and embittered Bruce Wayne, coming out of retirement to fight the sky-rocketing crime and urban malaise that was such a feature of Reagan’s America. As he becomes increasingly violent and unhinged in his methods, the US Government sends in the only man they think can stop him:

darkknight

What gives the story its power is the incredible weight of the history of these characters and an overwhelming, almost crushing sense of despair. This, Miller, seems to be saying, is how your heroes will always end; either bitter fanatics who were unable to change, or corrupted, toothless stooges who sold out to a corrupt status quo. This is how the World’s Finest Team ends, two old men beating each other to death in an alley way. And it’s depressing, and it’s cruel but it also feels true. And the inescapable knowledge that all those decades upon decades of stories and triumphs and battles of these, THE two greatest superheroes, that it was all leading to this awful, final confrontation? That’s when the story stops being merely tragic and becomes proper, classical, Tragedy. It’s Twilight of the Gods. It’s Ragnarok. It’s epic as fuck.

And that’s why Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice is fucking terrible.

batman-v-superman-batman

Sorry, that’s one of VERY MANY reasons why that movie is terrible but I will never, for the life of me, understand why no one twigged that a fight between Batman and Superman means nothing if they don’t even know each other. That’s what gave the final confrontation in DKR its power. The weight of history. The tragedy of watching two men who once loved each other as brothers reduced to this brutal slugfest. All that goes out the window if they’ve just fucking met.

Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe

“Uh Mouse, isn’t this supposed to be about Wolverine or something?”

I’m getting there. Okay, with DKR Frank Millar created (possibly?) and popularised (definitely) the stock superhero trope of the Last Story. The Last Story is a tale (almost always out of continuity), that shows you how a certain superhero ends. They are almost always set in a bleak future, and will usually depict the hero coming out of retirement for One Last Job. These stories often will try to serve as a capstone, and a summation of the meaning of that hero. When they work, they work because they are able to deliver the things that most superhero stories by their very nature can’t; climax. Conclusion. Finality. Stakes. Characters can finally die and be at peace without an inevitable resurrection on the horizon. Arcs can be concluded. The story can finally end (at least, in this one corner of continuity). Pretty much every major character you can think of by this point has had a Last Story; Superman, Spider-Man, Punisher and of course, Wolverine, who’s died more times than Kenny McCormack and so has had plenty of opportunity for “Last Stories”. One of these, Old Man Logan was a miniseries that released in 2009 and was written by Mark Millar.

frank miller

unlikely

This series sees an aged Wolverine having renounced violence and living in a dystopian future where the villains won and everything’s awful and the Hulk’s an incestous cannibal who fucked his own cousin and spawned a whole tribe of inbred hulk hillbillies and Jesus Christ we made Mark Millar one of the most successful comic writers of the aughts what the fuck were we thinking?

Anyway, apart from both featuring Old Men Named Logan there is actually very little connecting Old Man Logan and the movie that it nominally inspired (thank fuck). Logan arose out of a desire of Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine director James Mangold to do something radically different with the character and genre. That is, after all, the great strength of a Last Story. You get to take some risks.

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Shin Godzilla (2016)

I suppose I should just make this confession upfront; I’m not a Kaijiu fan. Never have been.

Not writing off an entire genre, obviously but it appears to me to be a genre chiefly relying on empty spectacle as a consequence of focusing on a main character incapable of speech, higher level reasoning or emotional growth.

That said, I have been watching the Kong versus Godzilla trailer on repeat and the sight of the two titular monsters duking it out on top of an aircraft carrier is the fucking coolest thing I have ever seen.

Godzilla King Kong GIF - Godzilla KingKong Kong - Discover & Share GIFs

I am not made of stone.

So…Godzilla. My experience with this character is as follows:

Godzilla 1954

What can I say? Classic of world cinema.

Godzilla 1998

I have a lot of fond memories of this one for purely personal reasons. Yeah, it’s dumb as all hell but it’s not as terrible as people say.

Godzilla 2014

Honestly, I’d fallen asleep before Watanabe said “Let them fight” though I’m told that makes it all worth it. Must have been a hell of a delivery, I wouldn’t know.

Aaaaand that’s it. So yeah, three Godzilla movies and only one of them was Japanese.

“Okay, so you have no cred whatsoever.”

“None!”

Oh wait, I tell a lie, I religiously watched the Saturday morning Godzilla cartoon  in the nineties.

Godzilla: The Series - Wikipedia

SUPER under-rated show.

Man, Adelaide Productions, whatever happened to them? They also did the Men in Black cartoon which was another movie tie-in animation that was so much better than it had to be...

“Hey, hey, back on topic you!”

“Sorry, sorry. You can take the mouse out of the animation…”

“Sigh. Okay fine, this Godzilla movie was directed by Hideaki Anno.”

“Oooh, I can work with that.”

Hideaki Anno is a celebrated Japanese animator and filmmaker who has worked on dozens of films over a long celebrated career and none of that means jack shit because he created Neon Genesis Evangelion and he will never not be the “the guy who created Neon Genesis Evangelion“. Dude could cure cancer and it would still be the second line of his obituary after “the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion died today”. That show, which ran from 1995 to 1996 started out as a pretty typical (if far more stylish than usual) “teens in mechs battling monsters” show before transitioning into an emotionally fraught exploration of adolescent psychology, mental health and abuse served with a heavy dose of surrealist imagery and Christian symbolism.

Diemay Angel | Evangelion | Fandom

Plus, the robot battles were sick, brah.

Godzilla’s home studio, Toho, had put the franchise on hiatus with 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, but after the positive reception of Ken Watanabe saying “Let Them Fight”, Toho decided to bring back Godzilla to kickstart a new continuity for the character.

Now understand, if you’re a fan of the Godzilla series what I’m about to say isn’t meant as a criticism, more an observation. There are two basic types of Godzilla movie: Godzilla versus Humans and Godzilla versus Other Monsters. It’s a pretty limited schema, but credit where credit’s due, the creators of this series have managed to ring a fair bit of variety out of these two scenarios, particularly in terms of Godzilla’s character, which is doubly impressive when you remember we’re talking about a large non-verbal animal. Godzilla is something of a renaissance lizard, a Kaijiu for all seasons. In the original he was a very deliberate representation of Japan’s lingering trauma over the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as a response to the more recent deaths of the crew of Daigo Fukuryū Maru as a result of US nuclear testing in the Pacific. He’s also served as a metaphor for Japanese war guilt, a gentle Friend to All Children, a reluctant guardian of humanity, a vindictive destroyer and even just a big dumb lizard. After 30 films, you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t really much else to do with the big lug. That’s probably why Anno got the nod to direct Shin Godzilla, given his success in putting a new spin on the seemingly tired giant mech genre.

How did it go? Shin Godzilla was a massive, and I do mean MASSIVE success in its home country, opening at number one and out-grossing the 2014 American Godzilla by almost a quarter and tripling the box office take of Godzilla: Final Wars, the previous Japanese installment. It also won Picture of the Year at the Japan Academy Awards, which is kinda like a new James Bond movie winning Best Picture.

This thing was huge in Japan, appropriately enough. In the West, though, the reaction has been a bit more mixed. Not bad, by any means, but there’s definitely a sense that this movie is not remotely interested in catering to Western sensibilities as to what this kind of movie should be. And that’s fair, this is most assuredly not your typical Godzilla movie, which is probably why the Western DVD release thought it necessary to put one of the most underwhelming review pulls I have ever seen on the cover:

“Of all the movies to feature Godzilla, this is certainly one of them.”

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“Well, at least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst.”

“2021! We made it, people! We beat the hell year!”

“Everything’s going to be great now, and we don’t have to worry about that awful coronavirus anymore because it just magically vanished at the stroke of midnight like a Fairy Godmother’s pumpkin coach!”

“Uh, Mouse?”

“Who dares interrupt my hubris?”

“Sorry, but it looks like the virus heard we’d created a vaccine and took it…kinda…personally…”

“YAAAAAAAAAAARGGHHHH!!”

“Oh please. So this “mutant strain” is a touch more virulent, how bad can it really be?”

“Oh crap.”

***

Hi. Welcome to the blog. Make yourselves at home. WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS AND DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING IT MAY BE TRANSMITTABLE THROUGH THE INTERNET BY THIS POINT WHO KNOWS YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT CAN DO.

Ahem. So, here in Ireland we’re back in full lockdown as the virus runs rampant through the streets, overturning cars and making lewd comments at our gentle lady folk. As a result, we’re keeping Mini and Micro Mouse at home which means I’ve been full time Dadding it for the last few weeks. Which is my weasely way of saying that this review is going to be very short as I’ve been spending every waking hour minding my awful time sucking monsters sweet, darling little angels.

“Can I watch five solid hours of Avatar the Last Airbender again?”

“Does Daddy have the strength or will to stop you?”

“No.”

“Then. Why. Ask?”

Oh and it’s a shame too, such a gosh darned shame that I won’t be able to spend much time on X-Men Apocalypse. Such a layered work. So brimming with craft and ideas and actors clearly giving it their all and happy to be there. So obviously not directed by a man giving instructions from his trailer as the chickens of his past behaviour come home to roost. So…I can’t maintain this level of sarcasm, I’m not as young as I used to be, I HATE THIS MOVIE.

Not fun hatred either. Not the kind of hate that gets you pumped and excited to tear this thing a new critic hole. Just weary, dispassionate disgust at the whole bloated mess.

But I was going to give it a full length review, honest. Just couldn’t because of the mutant corona virus. Which, shockingly, is only the second worst thing involving mutation I’ve had to contend with recently.

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