Firstly, I have to thank regular commenter Lupin the 8th for sending me the media file that allowed me to finally (finally) cross this review off the old list.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starring Kevin Sorbo was a TV series that ran from 1995 to 1999 that dared to ask the question: what if Greek mythology was Baywatch?
It was an occasionally entertaining, perenially stupid mid-nineties hunk of cheese now best remembered it’s much more influential spin-off show. Lucy Lawless appeared as a villain in Hercules before audiences said “More hot lady in the leather who kicks ass please” and Xena the Warrior Princess was born. Basically think “Distaff Hercules with more nineties ‘tude and the blatant homoeroticism delivered with a saucy wink instead of a slack-jawed stare”.
It was, simultaneously, a hugely important and influential chapter in the history of women in television and a queer cultural touchstone and dumb as all hell. This was the show that depicted Abraham and Julius Caesar as contemporaries despite the fact that Abraham was more ancient to Julius Caesar than Julius Caesar is to us.
Together, these two shows formed a kind of mini-television universe…
Okay, focus. Focus.
The final, second-least weird part of this mini multimedia franchise is today’s movie is the animated feature Hercules and Xena: The Animated Movie-The Battle for Mount Olympus or HXTAMTBMO for short. This movie came out in 1998, which I find significant because the previous year saw the release of a certain other, beloved, animated depiction of Hercules. Oh yeah, you know the one I’m talking about.
Seriously though, while you might be tempted to view HXTAMTBMO as a cheap cash in on Disney’s Hercules there was actually some talent behind this one. It was directed by Lynne Naylor who was one of the co-founders of Spümcø animation (the Ren and Stimpy lads) and who worked on Batman: The Animated Series. It was produced by Sam Raimi, had the main cast of the show on hand to voice their roles and scripting duties were handled by John Loy who wrote for Pinky and the Brain. Okay! Not a bad bench of talent. This could be good? Right? Right?
Guys, let me level with you. I’ve spent four years trying to track this movie down. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about animated movies it’s this; cartoons are like a politician’s tax returns. If someone’s trying to hide them, it’s not because they’re just so damned good.
Here we go again. Every so often I’ll have a moment where I’ll go “Have I really been blogging about animation for X number of years without covering Y?” and this one’s a doozy.
Have I really been blogging about animation for nine years without covering Felix the Cat? Because Felix the Cat is a pretty damn big deal in the history of animation.
Not the first cartoon character, but the first cartoon star, the first cartoon character able to draw a crowd on name recognition alone. The character was created in 1919 by Australian animator Pat Sullivan.
Or, as is now accepted by a majority of animation historians, by one of Sullivan’s animators Otto Messmer.
Honestly, researching this post taught me that Pat Sullivan was what people think Walt Disney was; a talentless credit-stealer and a nasty racist to boot. Anyway. Sullivan’s studio produced a rake of silent Felix shorts in the late teens and throughout the twenties and Felix was, for a time, a full on pop culture phenomenon. And you know what? With good cause. While simple, these shorts have a real charm and wit and I honestly think they hold up a lot better than a lot of later cartoons by Disney and Warner Bros from the early talkie era.
These shorts were also hugely influential on the field of animation in general, with the basic precepts of Felix’s design going on to influence American and Japanese animation right up to the present day, setting the template for characters as diverse as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog. And some people didn’t even bother with being “influenced” and just straight up fucking stole it.
But, by the end of the twenties a sinister new threat had emerged to challenge Felix’s place as the world’s preminent cartoon character: SYNCHRONISED SOUND.
Sullivan resisted the switch to sound for as long as he could, but eventually caved and started producing sound Felix cartoons. Unfortunately, these cartoons did not use synchronised sound and instead were pre-animated with music, dialogue and sound effects being added in post-production, which results in what animation aficionados call “really crap cartoons”. The new series of sound Felix cartoons were cancelled, the studio shuttered and Pat Sullivan spiralled into an alcoholic depression brought on by the death of his wife and died in his forties Jesus Christ that got so bad so fast.
A brief, utterly Disnified run of cartoons by Van Beuren studios in the thirties notwithstanding, Felix was seemingly a defunct property. Having failed to transition to the sound era, Felix disappeared from public view, presumably to a rambling mansion on Sunset Boulevard where he could brood and slip into obsession and madness.
Fast forward to the 1950s and Joe Oriolo, an animator and artist who’d worked with Otto Messmer on the Felix the Cat comic strip, created the Felix the Cat TV Show. This show was arguably the most influential and famous iteration of the character, introducing a host of concepts and characters that are now inextricably linked to Felix like the magic bag, the Professor and Poindexter. And if you love this cartoon…you do you. Personally I can’t stand it but then I’m pretty non-plussed by mid-century American TV animation as a general rule. But yeah, this series gave Felix his second bite of the super-stardom pie and also launched him to Spinal Tap levels of popularity in Japan.
So why did it take so long for Felix to make the leap to feature length animation? Well Pat Sullivan’s death had left Felix in legal limbo but Joe Oriolo was finally able to get full ownership of the character in 1970, probably because Joe Oriolo was an absolute snack.
Oriolo pére passed away in 1985 but his son Don carried on the Felix legacy, finally bringing a full length Felix the Cat animated feature to movie screen in 1988.
Sorry, sorry, my mistake. The movie was completed in 1988 (using Hungarian animation) but only released in the United States in 1991. Very briefly. Before going straight to video.
Oh, and, fun bit of trivia. Researching for this post I first came across the phrase “abandoned movie”. Felix the Cat has been “abandoned” in the United States. What this means is that Felix the Cat DVDs are no longer sold in America. If you’re in America and you want a DVD of this movie you either have to buy it from overseas or get one of the original run of discs from the nineties which will cost you an arm and a leg.
And I know what you’re thinking!: “Mouse, this film that was animated in a second world totalitarian Communist state whose release was delayed by two years before getting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run and then being consigned to home video hell before being full on abandoned at the side of the road in the new millenium sounds like a really good movie!”
Which is what I love about you, reader. Your unflagging optimism. But I’m afraid I have to crush your hopes with the greatest violence possible. How bad is this movie?
Ah animé, my manic-depressive, intermittently abusive spouse of an art form. When you are good, you are very, verygood. When you are bad, youarehorrid. And when you are weird…well, you’re never not weird so that’s an exercise in redundancy.
Here in the Mouse House animé has actually been having a bit of a moment. Ms Mouse has been binging the Ace Attorney animé as an accompaniment to re-visiting the games on Switch, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Cells at Work. That said, and despite having reviewed well over a dozen animé movies and TV shows by this point, I wouldn’t call myself an animé fan (much, much less an authority). Partly that’s because there’s just so damn much of it, and I find it impossible to have a single unified opinion on all of it. It’s like saying “I like food”. Some food is awesome. Some food is made by force-feeding geese. I don’t feel comfortable offering a blanket endorsement.
Oh but hey, do you know who does love animé? You beautiful people. In fact, I got so many requests for specific episodes of various animé shows that I’ve decided to just blitz them all in one post and actually make some progress on that damned list that haunts my every waking moment like Banquo’s ghost.
So these are going to be light, snacky little reviews. I’m not doing any in depth research, I am going in cold, watching these episodes, and telling you if liked them or if I did not, in fact, like them. I’m not going to be doing in depth analysis. I’m not going to be giving you background on their creation. None of that, no sir. In and out and over with in a few minutes which is the most satisfying way to do anything, I have been assured.
Internet reviewing like Momma used to blog. Let’s do this. Garcon? Could you please bring out the appetiser?
No wait, y’know what, we need to go back in time if I’m going to tell this story right.
Further than that.
Perfect. Okay so.
It’s my third year in college and I’ve started going out with this dynamite gal who will, unbeknownst to her, one day be known as “Spouse of Mouse” to a bunch of randos on the internet. Now we’re at that awkward early stage of the relationship where we’re starting to realise that we can’t just keep kissing constantly and we should probably figure out if we have any actual…y’know…common interests.
So I pull my calloused lips off her and says to her, I says “what are you into?”
And she says “Oh…y’know. Comics. Movies. Animé. That kinda stuff.”
Now, believe it or not, but at this early point in the Earth’s history where the molten surface was still hardening, I had not yet seen that much animé. I mean, Pokémon and Speed Racer, sure, but none of the really big name shows or movies. So I go into a video rental shop, avoiding debris from the recently formed Moon that rained down on the hellish surface of the Earth like so much fiery marble, and I go into the animé section and I see a DVD for a movie called Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth. I had heard the name before, but I knew nothing about it and figured “hey, if it’s so famous that even a total noob like me has heard of it, it must be a great entry point to this exciting world of animé! This will be a great way to bond with my new girlfriend who I hope to one day marry and make a supporting character in a weirdly detailed animation review blog/ongoing comedy series!”
So we sit down to watch this movie together, and around ten minutes in she turns around, takes my arm in a vicelike grip and stares straight into my eyes with a gimlet gaze.
“I’m sorry” she said. “I don’t like animé. I just wanted you to think I was cool. Can we please watch something else?!“
And we turned off the movie and watched Family Guy instead. Because, Christ help us, we were young and in love and knew no better.
So that was my first introduction to Evangelion and honestly, I could scarcely have picked a worse one. I know now that Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth is one half clip show with the first 26 episodes of the TV series edited into a single 70 minute cut almost perfect in its incomprehensibility for a newcomer, and the other half the first twenty minutes of what would become The End of Evangelion that was due to be released several months later.
And they did this because…because…
Honestly, maybe spite? Like, just another thing to fuck with people trying to make sense of what often seems like a deliberately opaque franchise? Pity anybody trying to make sense of Evangelion, and that’s before they even have to tackle the plot.
There’s the original 26 episode animé series which ended with a finalé so despised that Gainax received death threats.
There’s Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth which is basically the world’s most inscrutable “previously on Buffy” and which also has two alternate versions: Evangelion: Death(True) and Evangelion: Death(True)2 (and Tigger too!)
And then you have The End of Evangelion, which I will be tackling in this very post, which aims to be the true ending of the TV series.
Then there’s the Rebuild series, an entirely new ongoing four movie cycle re-telling the events of the original show and The End of Evangelion which aims to give ANOTHER ending to this rigmarole (sure, why not?).
Oh and there’s the manga (different continuity), the ANIMA light novel series (ditto) the PS2 game, the parody series, the audio dramas, the commemorative plates and on and on it goes. This thing is a beast.
But okay, here goes, I will now attempt to describe what the hell Neon Genesis Evangelion actually is.
Alan Moore. I honestly doubt whether there is a single writer for whom the gap is wider between the strength of their work and the quality of the adaptations based on that work. If I read you off Moore’s bibliography it forms a perfectly acceptable list of greatest comics of all time:
Watchmen, From Hell, The Killing Joke, League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
I read you the list of the corresponding adaptations (for movies at least):
and you start looking for the fire extinguisher to put out this garbage fire. There is a reason why Alan Moore refuses to even be credited on works based on his comics and it’s not because he is now just a beard suspended in mid-air by a floating energy field of old man cussedness. He has been done dirty by Hollywood like few writers before him. But, amid all the terrible adaptations there is of course one exception. Or is there?
Or maybe not. Sorry, I’m vascillating. Here’s what I find fascinating about V for Vendetta. It is, was, and probably will remain an incredibly divisive film and that is so much rarer than it used to be. In the pre-internet days, film criticism was the domain of a relative handful of newspaper and TV film critics. The masses would vote with their wallets, but their actual opinion on any given movie was largely silent. No one was taking big polls of thousands or millions of ordinary movie-goers to gauge their opinions on a given film. That was left to the critics who would often disagree wildly with each other on the merits of any one work.
Nowadays, of course, everyone is a film critic. Everyone writes about film, whether it’s on Twitter or Rotten Tomatoes or Facebook or or any of the million and one new social media platforms that are just sprouting up everywhere like little markers on my path to the grave.
You would think that this would mean an even greater diversity of opinions on every single film but on the contrary, the opposite tends to happen. Consensus usually builds around a film very rapidly. Either it’s universally acclaimed, universally pilloried or (if it’s anything remotely political) it gets stripped for parts in the never-ending culture war with two camps forming who will defend it to the death regardless of its merits or flaws as long as it triggers the libs/smashes the whitecispatriarchy.
This, you will probably not be surprised to learn, is not a conducive enviroment for insightful, nuanced film critique. So what I really appreciate about V for Vendetta is that it’s a rare film in that it does actually provoke a very diverse range of responses from people. Opinions on it run the full gamut from Travesty to “Capital G” Great Film.
I’m pretty sure most people would agree that it is the best Alan Moore cinematic adaptation, but after that consensus ends. I’m going to keep my opinion on the film to myself until the end (largely because at the time of writing I’m still trying to figure out that very thing). But regardless of its quality it is an absolutely fascinating film to discuss and I’m looking forward to it tremendously.
Christmas is almost upon us and so, in the spirit of the season, I will challenge the existing status quo and speak truth to power.
Mysterio sucks. Always has. Always will.
And I think I’m somewhat in the minority on this, since fans have been clamouring to see him in a Spider-Man movie since pretty early on in the Raimi films. Some people even seem to genuinely believe that Mysterio is a good villain, which in my opinion is akin to Climate Change denial or saying “Kingdom Hearts has a good story”. Not simply incorrect, but morally reprehensible. Hell, IGN even named him the 85th Greatest Comic Book Villain of all time, proof if proof were needed that the once noble art of ranking things on the internet has become a sorry, corrupt burlesque.
And, yes, he is a creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and therefore is deserving of respect if you believe that pampered scions of privilege deserve a free ride just because of who their daddies are.
Fine, the visual design is so ridiculous that it shoots the moon and becomes kind of magnificent.
True, the cape. Is. FABULOUS.
But the whole concept of Mysterio is just a one-way train ticket to disappointment. His schtick is that he’s a special effects wizard who uses tricks and illusions to seem like he’s an actual wizard. In other words, he’s a villain who’s no real threat and uses smoke and mirrors to make you think he actually is a threat. But he’s not. He’s not a threat at all. Hit him with a crowbar, you’ll probably kill him. Doesn’t know karate or anything. Completely normal dude. His first appearence in the Amazing Spider-Man #15 was one long game of “Got Yer Nose” and once Spider-Man realised that he did not, in truth, have his nose, I don’t really think we needed to see the character again. Once Spidey has seen through his bullshit, the only way you can bring him back is to have him secretly messing with Spider-Man from the shadows. And, once Spider-Man has figured out who’s really behind these shenanigans, it will always be anticlimactic:
Oh no! The Daily Bugle is being menaced by a gigantic red snake!
Huh?! The snake was just a red sock on a stick and the use of forced perspective.
Oh, Mysterio was behind it all. Everyone relax, he can’t actually do anything, his powers are just lies and bullshit.
And that’s Mysterio. Disappointment in a cape and a fishbowl.
All that said, he’s not the worst choice as a villain for Far From Home. After the sturm and drang of Avengers Endgame this movie was intended to close out Phase 4 with a light little comedic palette cleanser and Mysterio is probably a better fit for that than…say, Carnage. Which, I suppose, is as good a point as any to bring up the fact that we have for the moment reached the end of our journey. This is, at the time of writing, the last released MCU film what with BlackWidow‘s release having been pushed back and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings being delayed due to the world going viral in the bad way. This also means that I have to make some tricky decisions. Like; do I actually need to review Wandavision and The Falcon and Winter Soldier? I haven’t reviewed any of the TV shows thus far but all indications are that the Disney Plus shows are going to be FAR more impactful on the overall narrative than, say, Cloak and Dagger or Runaways.
Or maybe I should just accept that the film and television production and consumption landscape is almost unrecognisable from what it was when I started reviewing these movies way back in 2015 and that by this point the MCU is just too damn large for one blogger to cover and get on with it.
Half a decade ago I reviewed a charming little animé named Tokyo Godfathers from legendary director Satoshi Kon and about as representative of his oeuvre as Interdimensional Cable 2 is of the career of Werner Herzog. True, Kon only directed four films in his tragically short life, but Tokyo Godfathers is definitely the outlier of those four. Perfect Blue, conversely, was Kon’s breakthrough first feature and is probably the film that he is best known for.
In the wake of Akira in 1988, the nineties saw a tsunami of animé arriving in the West. There had been Japanese animation on Western screens long before that of course, but those had been shows that either fit into the Western preconception of animation as being for children (Astro Boy, Speed Racer) or could be made to fit with judicious editing and a wacky robot sidekick (Voltron).
By contrast, in the nineties, animé was out and proud in all its violent, cool, mothers-lock-up-your-daughters-Mr. Octopus-is-single-and-ready-to-mingle weirdness and was starting to bump hard against the deeply ingrained preconceptions of animation in the West. There were a lot of concerned thinkpieces being published, a lot of ominous local news segments beginning with the words “They call it “AH-NEE-MAY”. My first exposure to Perfect Blue was in my local video rental place where they used to publish a weekly magazine advertising the upcoming releases.
“Then, I’d ride the trolley for tuppence.”
In this magazine they had a whole dedicated section for the new animé releases, and I remember Perfect Blue being advertised with the usual breathless ad copy but also a disclaimer at the end saying “please note this movie is not for children”. Back then “animation=harmless fun for my innocent little angels” was still a pretty hard-wired instinct in your typical Western parent and Xtra-vision were obviously trying to head off any complaints from people who’d inadvertantly subjected their kids to the kind of childhood trauma that usually results in a Batman villain. Point is, Perfect Blue was kind of the poster child for why animé was an entirely different beast than Western animation, not simply for its content but also for its sophistication, gritty adult storytelling and reputation as the “scariest animé ever made”.
Only if you’ve never seen “Cardcaptor Sakura”.
Now, as any comics fan will tell you, anything from the nineties that claimed to be “gritty and mature” at the time should be sealed in an airlock until all the scans have been completed because there is a damn good chance that it’s held up about as well as the general public’s trust in the polling industry. Plus, “shocking” films tend to look increasingly tame as time goes by. So let’s take a look at Perfect Blue and see if it still deserves either of those descriptions.
Greetings traveller. Remember how forty years ago in 2018 I cursed you all with the knowledge of Rimini Riddle, either a vanishingly obscure Irish children’s programme from the nineties or (as seemed more likely) a collective national nightmare akin to the time we all convinced ourselves that Twink was a real person?
REMINDER: Twink is not a real person, and never has been.
Well, there have recently been developments. Significant developments.
Commenter Kev recently left a Kev comment as commenter Kevs are wont to do:
Right. Just “popped” into his head. What a completely normal and totally un-suspicious coincidence pause for bitter mocking laugh.
That was the beginning. I waited, caught in a mad no-man’s-land between dread and anticipation. And then, hark!
I told myself that it couldn’t be possible. the Riddle…survived? No. And it couldn’t be. Surely not. And then…
Yes. It’s true. Kev, that modern Prometheus, that monomaniac, that…guy, has, like a Carl Denham of the modern age, tracked the monster to its attic lair and dragged it in chains out into the harsh light of day to be gawped at for our amusement.
WE HAVE A (partial) EPISODE OF RIMINI RIDDLE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
AND I AM GOING TO REVIEW IT MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON US ALL!
“Not that one, fool! Artemis Fowl! The new Cromwell!”
“Look, I don’t have time to drop everything every time Disney goes plop plop. I’m a busy writer now, and quite frankly too good for that sort of thing.”
“FINE! I’LL DO IT MYSELF!”
I loved the Artemis Fowl books. Growing up as an evil mouse in Ireland I didn’t have many role models. Sure, there were a few villains I aspired to. The cartoon villains that were beaten by the heroes every Saturday morning or the Irish politicians using their power for personal gain. But there wasn’t a kid villain that I could root for! I wanted someone that outsmarted the good guys! Someone who’s plans weren’t foiled every week. Then Artemis Fowl entered my life. Not only was he a smart villain, he was Irish too! Then after a few books into the series, I heard the news! They were making an Artemis Fowl movie! Holy crap! young me squeaked! I’ll finally see my hero villain on the big screen!
Originally intended to be launched as a franchise by Miramax way back in 2001, the film languished in development hell until Disney acquired the rights in 2013. And I hate them for what they have done.
Not so long ago my awareness of Night of the Hunter boiled down, essentially, to this:
The preacher with the tattooed fingers. I knew it was an old movie from the fifties, I vaguely knew it was a serial killer drama and that it was considered to be a real good ‘un. But that was about where my knowledge of the film began and ended.
And now? Guys, I am a full on stan. With the insufferable zeal of the newly converted I will talk your ear off about this film. I will bore you to tears describing individual scenes. Every night I shake my fist at the heavens because I now know I live in the world where Charles Laughton only got to direct one film AND IT’S NOT RIGHT IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY THIS WORLD IS A SICK JOKE.
Guys, this movie is an absolute work of art. It is beautiful to the point of transcendence. It is an aesthetic and stylistic triumph. It is quite good.
The story is one of the great Hard Luck tales in Hollywood’s long, glorious history of giving talented people the shaft. Legendary English actor Charles Laughton made his directorial debut with The Night of the Hunter, now regarded as one of the greatest first films ever made. Critics panned it, audiences stayed away in droves and Laughton tearfully shelved all plans to be a director and returned to the gentle bosom of the theatre where talent is always justly rewarded (pause for hollow, bitter laugh). Actually, I’m not entirely sure that first parts totally true. The few contemporaneous reviews from the time I’ve seen are by no means pans. In fact, they’re often quite effusive in their praise of the film and its director. They’re more just…confused. Like they don’t quite know what to make of this thing. And honestly, that’s fair. It certainly doesn’t fit into any tidy little box.
It’s a horror film, and an often extremely dark one, but from the perspective of a child and with the bulk of the film being carried by two child actors. It’s also a fairy tale, dreamlike and quite surreal in its tone. And lastly it’s an intensely Christian movie which nonetheless acts as an ascerbic and harsh critique of American Christianity. So it’s not exactly like you can do a “If you liked X, you’ll love The Night of the Hunter!“. So it’s understandable, if not not forgivable, that audiences slept on this when it first came out. Also, the poster is kind of terrible and makes it look like it’s a Lifetime drama about a man who desperately needs a dictionary.