(1990s)

Hercules and Xena: The Animated Movie-The Battle for Mount Olympus (1998)

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…

“Three shows.”
“Whazzat?”
“There was also a prequel series called Young Hercules.”
“What?”
“What?!”
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”
“Uh, Mouse, the review?”
“What? I’m just supposed to CARRY ON?!”

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.

Oh Golden Entertainment, you utter whores.

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?

Sigh.

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.

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The End of Evangelion (1997)

Okay, so back when…

No wait, y’know what, we need to go back in time if I’m going to tell this story right.

Victorian era - Wikipedia

Further than that.

Packing Food for the Hereafter in Ancient Egypt

Further…

Climate Change Killed The Dinosaurs. 'Drastic Global Winter' After Asteroid Strike, Say Scientists

Little more…

Hadean - Wikipedia

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.

Despair GIF - Find on GIFER

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Perfect Blue (1997)

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.

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Rimini Riddle: “I like shooting children”.

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?

Twink: 'I won't go into my coffin until I find out who tapped my phone for Zip Up Yer Mickey!' - Independent.ie

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!

Oh GOD.

I told myself that it couldn’t be possible. the Riddle…survived? No. And it couldn’t be. Surely not. And then…

FUCK.

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!

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Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

There are movies that I am just aching to review. Where I have jokes and observations and asides all ready and planned literally years in advance. Where I am just absolutely raring to go.

And then there’s movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, a movie that almost feels engineered by some nefarious super villain to be absolutely impossible for me to review. Every tool in my critical toolbox is rendered useless by this thing. Can I rave about it? Honestly, no. It’s one of the slightest of the Studio Ghibli films, I didn’t grow up with it and I don’t have any particular affection for it.  Can I slam it? Hell no, it’s still Studio Ghibli after all and an absolute technical triumph. I can’t really do story analysis, because there’s not really much story. Is it even interestingly weird? It is quite possibly the most grounded and least weird piece of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen (low bar, I know, but still). Interesting or troubled production? Nope. Apparently it was just…like…a movie…that…got…made. No one went crazy during production. None of the animators were involved in a murder suicide pact. Nothing. Damn selfish, I call it.

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin and the King of Thieves

Guys, we need to talk about Genie.

From a story-telling perspective, Genie is kind of a curse for the Aladdin franchise, a problem that has to be perpetually written around.

He is what Phoenix was to the X-Men, or Sentry was to the Avengers, a character so ridiculously over-powered that the writers have to bend over backwards to justify why he doesn’t just solve everything with a snap of his fingers and leave the rest of the cast standing there looking like a bunch of putzes.

And that’s just from a story-telling perspective. Of any character from the original film, the one who least needs a continuation to their story is Genie. I mean, fine, you could argue that none of the main cast were really crying out for a new chapter but at least with Aladdin, Jasmine and even Iago there places to go. Genie? Genie’s done. He wanted to be free. He’s free. Can he learn? Can he grow? No.

He already knows who Rodney Dangerfield is. There is nothing more for him to learn.

Which creates a problem. From a strict story-telling perspective, once you’re past the first movie, Genie really should have been quietly shown the door. Maybe have him pop in to say “hi” every now and then and make some pop culture references but having him remain as a main cast member just creates two mountains of work for the writers: the first as to how involve him in the plot and the second as to how to stop him just ending the plot in five seconds.

But…they can’t. Because he’s the Genie. Probably the most popular character in the franchise (heck, one of the most popular Disney characters period) and you can’t have Aladdin without him.

I bring this up because King of Thieves (an otherwise quite fine movie and a worthy finale to a decent TV show) is where this problem is probably at its most blatant. Return of Jafar had very little for Genie to do, but sidelined him for long stretches of its run time, but King of Thieves has even less for Genie to do and perversely, gives him far more screentime.

And the reason for that, of course, is ROBIN’S BACK BABY!

Yeah. After a campaign of grovelling and mea-culpas and a gift of a fruckin $1 Million Picasso, Robin Williams and Disney had finally patched up their differences for the kids and their associated revenue. Poor Dan Castellenata, who by this time had clocked in over forty hours of screentime as the Genie and had even recorded his dialogue for this movie was unceremoniously given the boot and Williams was brought in to re-record everything.

Adding insult to injury, Disney apologised to Castellenata with a frickin’ Renoir.

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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Aladdin, The Return of Jafar

“Why do they keep making these?!” was the eternal lament of the Disney fan from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s when the Disney Sequel walked the Earth in all its terrible glory. Couldn’t Disney see that these filthy hack jobs were tarnishing the reputations of the pure and virtuous Disney canon? HAD THEY NOT EYES?! Well, yes, they had eyes. But here’s what they were looking at.

Consider Aladdin. It comes out in the winter of 1992 and it is the mutt’s nuts. Critical darling, instant pop culture icon and oh yes, the biggest box-office of any movie that year, animated or live action. It makes $504 Million dollars on a budget of $28 Million. Which basically means that for every dollar Disney put into Aladdin, they got $18 back. That’s a heck of a return on an investment. That is a good, good day. That is a win.

A few years later, Disney are working on an Aladdin animated series. It’s not an entirely new idea, The Little Mermaid also had a series. But there’s a lot of hype for Aladdin because instead of being a prequel series like Mermaid, this is going to be an actual sequel series where we get to see what our favourite Agrabahns did after the movie. And some bright spark realises that the three episode arc that opens the series actually kinda works as a movie if you squint. So why not release it as a movie? Not in theatres, God no. But maybe direct to video? VHS is super hot right now and Disney movies sell like hot cakes. So why not skip the theatres all together and just go straight to video? You know? Like porn?

Perhaps understandably, Disney were a little leery of taking their cues from porn. But they did it anyway and here’s what happened:

Return of Jafar became one of the biggest selling VHSs of all time. It made $300 Million dollars. $300 Million dollars for a movie that never sold a single ticket. On a budget, estimated, to be $3.5 Million dollars. Remember Aladdin’s oh-so-impressive return of 18:1? Jafar had a return of investment of $86 dollars to every dollar.  That’s not a heck of a return. That is market changing. That is paradigm-shifting. That, honestly, is a wee bit scary. So if, for example, you were a huge multinational who cared only for filthy lucre…

“How VERY dare you…”

Then the question becomes, not “Why did they keep making them?” but “Why did they ever stop?” That’s the kind of return that turns executives into junkies, chasing that hit for decades. 86 dollars for every dollar spent. That’s basically free money. This thing was huge.

And when you think about it, it still kinda is. Return of Jafar is without a doubt the only Disney Sequel that’s almost as famous as its prequel. Disney are actually considering a live action remake of Return of Jafar to follow last year’s live action Aladdin. Could you see any of the other sequels being considered for that?

Well yes, but only when I’ve been dosed with fear toxin by the Scarecrow.

Return of Jafar has also been a beneficiary of what I like to call “Space Jam” effect, the sharp divide in critical opinion between people who were already adults when a movie came out and those for whom it was as mother’s milk. Best-selling video of all time, remember? There are a lot of millennials out there with fond memories of this one, and even people who utterly despise the Disney sequels will go to the mat for this one. This one’s good, they’ll say. Leave it alone. He’s with me. Go burn some Tarzan sequels.

But does it deserve that loyalty? Is it actually any good? Well, it’s complicated…

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Mouse Hunt (1997)

This review was requested by patron ED. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

I know this is a question that you’ve all asked yourselves at one point or other, but I’ll ask it anyway; how do we talk about Snuffly Whiskerwinks?

As a young mouse growing up in a human world, Whiskerwinks was more than a hero. He was an inspiration. An icon. Without a doubt the greatest mouse actor who has ever lived, a performer of incomporable range and depth. A mouse who smashed the Hollywood fur barrier and went on to to give life to such iconic roles as “Mouse in Shawshank Redemption”, “Mouse in Fiddler on the Roof” and Willy Loman in the 1985 screen version of Death of a Salesman. He could do more with a twitch of his whiskers than most other actors could do with their whole tails. To see Whiskerwinks on screen is to see a master in full command of his art. But how then do we square this with what we know of Whiskerwinks’ personal life? Does the fact that he moved audiences to tears in a sell-out run of Hamlet in the West End mean that we can ignore the allegations made against him by his own son in his explosive tell-all biography “Body of a Mouse, Heart of a Rat”? Do his multiple Oscars erase the stain of years of virulent anti-gerbil statements and cat apologia? Is his legacy as a performer so great that we can overlook his legacy as a husband and father, and the hurt that his behaviour caused his wife and 716 children? Are we really just going to forget the time he got off his face on Gouda at the 69th Academy Awards and scurried up Meryl Streep’s leg, causing her to jump on a chair and shriek “EEK!”?

Today we’re looking at Whiskerwinks’ last performance before his sordid and untimely death in 1997. Obviously, I’m not going to go into details here. You all know the story, and there’s no point picking over who was on who’s yacht, who strangled who with a belt, who ate who’s stash of whatever-it-was and eventually had to be surgically extracted from Johnny Depp’s cloaca. Let the dead past lie.

So on this here blog we’ve talked a little about Dreamworks’ early output when they were still putting out some of the funniest, most beautiful traditionally animated movies out there and before they had settled into their comfortable rut as the Pepsi of American animation. But we haven’t really touched on their live action output. Mouse Hunt holds the distinction of being the first DreamWorks family picture. Obviously, casting Whiskerwinks in a family movie makes about as much sense as casting Michael Vick in a remake of Homeward Bound but this was the nineties. Nowadays, of course, your movie would be boycotted if you tried casting a rodent who lost eight different children in five different games of blackjack but it was a different time.

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Bats versus Bolts: The Nineties

This review was requested by patron Mathom. If you’d like me to review a movie, please consider supporting my Patreon.

Here’s a recommendation for you if you like vampire stories (and, since you’re reading this post I’m going to assume that you’re at least on cordial terms with them): Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. The first novel is set in an alternate universe where Dracula succeeded in bringing vampirism to Britain, married Queen Victoria and has become the Prince Consort. The rest of the books detail the history of this alternate Earth where vampires are everywhere with virtually every literary and historical character that Newman could think of nodding their head in at some point or other.

The fourth book in the series, Johnny Alucard, begins in the 1970s where Francis Ford Coppola is in Romania filming a biography of Dracula, who is dead by this point (or is he? Ooooooooooooooh). The whole joke is that the filming of this version of Coppola’s Dracula ends up mirroring the legendary clusterbollocks that was the shooting of Apocalypse Now, complete with storms, the military extras being called away to fight battles, Martin Sheen (Harker) almost dying during a scene and Brando (Dracula) being…well, Brando.

Seriously, somewhere there’s an alternate universe where the dominant life on Earth is sentient gazebos and in that universe Marlon Brando is still an asshole.

The filming of our universe’s Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Spooky Fun Time Emporium wasn’t nearly as hellish as all that, but it did arise from another legendarily troubled production; Godfather 3. Winona Ryder had been cast by Coppola to play Mary Corleone, but dropped out, leading to Coppola having to cast his daughter Sofia in the role. Ryder was worried that Coppola resented her for that (like the rest of the human race) so she brought him a script for Dracula that she had found as a peace offering. Coppola had been a fan of the book since he was a teenager and was taken with James V. Hart’s screenplay (I don’t know that the “V” stands for vampire, but I also don’t know that it doesn’t stand for that). Filming began in…

“AHEM?”

“Yes?”

“What about me?”

“What ABOUT you?”

Sorry Team Bolts, if it seems like your movie is kind of an afterthought this time around, it’s because your movie is kind of an afterthought this time around. Whereas Dracula was one of the ten highest grossing movies of 1992 worldwide and a veritable icon of nineties cinema, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein…well be honest. You’d forgotten it existed, hadn’t ya? If this bout was decided on pop culture legacy alone, Bats would take it in a walk. But is that really fair? Did Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein really deserve to be forgotton? Did Bram Stoker’s Dracula really deserve to be acclaimed? Did you know that they actually had the stones to release a novelisation of the movie and call it “Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Fred Saberhagen”? All these questions, and more, shall be answered!

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Gregory Horror Show (1999)

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“Keep up Mouse, we’re almost there!”

“Yeah, but where are we going? It’s Halloween and I’m Irish, I should NOT be running around creepy forests with undead warlocks on Samhain that is just asking for trouble.”

“I’m looking for an old friend of mine and I have a hunch he’s somewhere around here. Check into this hotel for us while I have a look around.”

“Yeah. No. That’s a death hotel. That’s clearly a death hotel.”

“Would you rather stay at the Days Inn?”

“Okay, okay, jeez. I’ll book us into the death hotel.”

“And make you sure get a twin room. If you pull any of that “oh they only had a double available” shit I will melt your eyes.”

“Wow. You have completely misread my feelings towards you.”

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