Long Reads

“Saying “sorry” is stupid! When you do something wrong, learn from it! Then you won’t make the same mistake again.”

Thank GOD for Rifftrax.

I keep doing this, y’know. This is like when I reviewed the Universal Dracula and Frankenstein, and just assumed that because they were both horror movies made in the thirties by the same studio they must be roughly equivalent in quality.

Not so, dear reader. Not so.

Now, The Batman, the first big screen outing of the caped crusader, was not a good film. Even looking past its use of yellowface and a stance on the internment of Japanese Americans that could charitably be called “a bit unwoke”, it was very much a movie serial of its time: cheap, poorly paced and of interest to the modern viewer mostly as a curiosity. But hot damn, compared to its sequel it is a masterpiece.

Take it from me, the gap in quality between The Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949) is on par with that between The Batman (2022) and Batman and Robin (1997).

So much so, that I genuinely needed to resort to watching the Rifftrax version to even make it through the damn thing.

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“When did we become the joke?”

Before we begin, please take a look at these quotes:

“So one of the things that surprised me about this movie on re-watching was that it is much better than I remembered, or at the very least far more interesting. Thor exists in a much richer emotional universe than the two Iron Man movies or Hulk.”

“Something that I don’t think gets talked about when it comes to [Thor 2] is just how gorgeous it is. Seriously, the art design in this is just jaw dropping, it is hands down the best looking picture in the MCU.”

“A thought occurred to me as I watched Thor and the Revengers speeding towards a giant wormhole called the devil’s anus while blasting spaceships with lasers while Mark Mothersbaugh’s awesome techno score rippled in the background: is this movie the greatest thing ever? Yes. Yes it is.”

“Wow” you might ask. “What pathetic, gushing, blinkered, Thor-fanboy said THAT?”

“Um, me” I reply.

“Oh. Well, this is awkward” you might answer.

“Yeah. Yeah, maybe think before you say something really hurtful” I sob.

Sorry, feeling a bit emotional today. I put those quotes above to give some context. If there’s an internet reviewer who’s been as unstintingly positive to the Thor series as me I am unfamiliar with their work. I have gone to bat for this series again and again. I made Thor my highest ranked of the Phase 1 origin movies. I made Ragnarok my number one movie of the entire MCU. I HAD NICE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THE DARK WORLD.

So when I say that Love and Thunder is not only the worst Thor movie but the worst movie in this entire 30 film franchise, I hope you understand that this is a big deal. Something that I loved has betrayed me and left me angry, appalled and ready for revenge.

“See? This guy gets it.”
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The Polar Express (2004)

It’s probably a testament to just how jaded I am that my first thought when watching The Polar Express was “actually, this animation isn’t half bad”. The Polar Express is notorious for being the start of Robert Zemeckis’ turn to the dark side, where one of the most respected directors of genre cinema became a professional corporate necromancer.

Oh shit, I acknowledged its existence. Someone fetch my flail.

And The Polar Express was his first attempt at making an all CGI mocapped film and is infamous for being utterly, skin-crawlingly unsettling in its depiction of human characters. And yet, maybe it’s because I‘ve seen the absolute depths to which this accursed path would lead Zemeckis I found myself not minding the animation too much, for the most part at least. It just looks like a computer game cutscene. And, if I’m being scrupulously fair, there are even shots that I think are honest to God beautiful.

My, this review is trending rather positive isn’t it? I wonder if that will last.

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Heavy Metal (1981)

Heavy Metal began in 1977 as an American translation of Metal Hurlant, a French science fiction fantasy magazine that featured seminal work by such legendary creators as Moebius, Enki Bilal and Jean Claude Forest and had a massive influence on the entire comic book medium because TITS.

Tits tits tits. Melons. Gazongas. Knockers. Hooters. Tatas. Jugs. Boobies. Yayas. Bosoms. Chesticles. Mazumas. Badonkadonks. Big ol’ greasy Baps.

Was there some genuinely thought provoking and visually spectacular sci-fi in its pages? Absolutely! Playboy also published plenty of great articles, what’s your point?

Heavy Metal, the 1981 anthology animated film that adapts many of the magazine’s most iconic stories, has tits. It has many tits. It has big tits and small…actually no, it only has big tits. In the ancient swamp of the pre-internet age, that really was enough. The marketing campaign could literally have been the words “CARTOON BOOBS, YA DIG?” plastered on every available surface and this movie would have been a success.

But for a jaded, modern reviewer who sees boobs once (maybe even twice) a month, it’ll take more than that. So, is there more to Heavy Metal than awesome bewbage? Let’s take a look.

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Rock and Rule (1983)

Imagine you go to a Burger King and the guy at the counter serves you with a smile, promptly brings the food to your table, thanks you kindly for your custom and wishes you a good day. Someone, in short, who doesn’t have to put nearly this much effort into their job but does it anyway because, gosh darn it, if you’re going to do a job you might as well do it well.

That’s Nelvana. Nelvana is an extremely prolific Canadian animation studio who produced basically any cartoon you saw in the eighties or nineties that wasn’t made by Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation or Warner Bros. They’re probably most famous (if you’re my age, at least) for their many, many licensed animations for properties like Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and My Pet Monster. Nelvana were front and centre in the saccharine, corporatised swamp that was the American TV animation scene in the Reagan era. Like many of their peers, Nelvana had to make ends meet in the burger joint by cranking out barely concealed animated toy commercials. Unlike many of their peers, Nelvana actually seemed to give a damn. Their shows were, broadly speaking, better than they needed to be and demonstrated real skill and craftsmanship in their animation. There were always hints that, if given time and a budget and a premise slightly less anodyne than “Will Grumpy Bear ever get that stick out of his ass?”, Nelvana had the talent to make something truly special. And, if ever there was a time to do it, it was the early eighties.

The late seventies/early eighties were the “Warring States” period of American Feature Animation. The senile old king, Disney, had fallen from his throne and seemingly every animator who could hold a pencil was scrambling for the crown. This was the heady time when Rankin Bass, Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth battled for control of the artform, right up until 1989 when the old king came back and was like “I’m feeling a lot better now everyone, thank you for your concern“.

But all that was in the future. Nelvana was formed in 1971 by Patrick Loubert, Clive Smith and Michael Hirsh with the stated intent of creating a Canadian Disney.

“You fucking hoosers, eh?”

After several well received Christmas specials and animating literally the only part of the Star Wars Holiday Special that deserved to be spared the flame (the cartoon that introduced Boba Fett), the studio began work on their first feature length animation; Rock and Rule. It’s an obvious passion project, clearly made by a young team just bursting with talent and ambition and love for what they were doing. It’s also something that was very obviously begun without a complete script or even a set plot. It’s weird. It’s uneven. It’s a wild, uncontrolled shambling mess of eighties animation that failed when it was dumped into theatres with no marketing by a distributor that neither loved nor understood it. Which obviously means that it was made for me, Mouse, personally.

“I shall take this movie, and raise it as my son.”
“Poppa!”
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Devilman Crybaby (2018)

If you’ve spent any time reading about animé you will have come across the name “Osamu Tezuka”, almost certainly accompanied by the phrase “Godfather of animé/manga”. And that’s true, as far as it goes. Tezuka absolutely kickstarted post-war animé as a genre. But…it kinda feels like we’re missing something, doesn’t it? How exactly did we get from this:

To THIS:

Well to understand that we need to talk about the other godfather of manga and animé. For Osamu Tezuka created animé as a beautiful, innocent garden. But into that garden, there came a serpent. There came Go Nagai.

Hired as a writer and illustrator for Weekly Shonen Jump in 1968, Nagai became an instant cultural lightning rod and enfant terrible of manga with his series Harenchi Gakuen. An erotic comedy set in a school, the series attracted massive controversy in Japan (damn prudes!) with its boundary smashing depictions of nudity and sexuality in a comic ostensibly aimed at children (sometimes have a point!). Nagai’s entire career has been one long game of seeing what he can get away with. His work is categorised by coarse humour, extreme violence, body horror and a pessimism often bordering on nihilism.

“What’s nihilism?”
“Doesn’t matter.”

Also, Nagai is notorious for a, shall we say, somewhat cavalier attitude to the ethics of depicting sexual assault against women. To put it another way, much of his work is rapier than a full orchestral production of Blurred Lines at the Global Fencing Championships. Shit. Gets. Messed. Up. And his influence cannot be overstated. If you’ve ever watched some disreputable animé late at night and found yourself wondering…why?

Go Nagai. Go Nagai is why.

Go Nagai is why so much of animé is so violent, so weirdly horny and frequently so goddamned awesome. It’s a…complex legacy, to be sure. And much of Nagai’s work is definitely not for me. But he also blazed a trail that was followed by many of the most important and respected creators in the medium, like Katsuhiro Otome and even (I would argue) Miyazaki.

Now, the most important part of Nagai’s oeuvre is the massive Devilman franchise, a constellation of manga, animé adaptations, remakes and spin-offs. There’s a lot of overlap and differences between the various iterations but it usually goes like this; Akira Fudo is an ordinary Japanese schoolkid who gets recruited (or sometimes just duped) by his childhood friend Ryo Asuka into a war to protect humankind from demons. In order to do this, Ryo has Akira become possessed by an ancient warrior demon named Amon to fight other demons. Akira then becomes a superhero named “Devilman” (pronounced “DEEEEEEVILMAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNN!!!!”). From there, the story usually proceeds through a few monster of the week episodes with certain series-standard demons appearing to get the ever-loving demonic shit kicked out of them before taking a sharp left turn with humanity becoming aware of the existence of demons whereupon things get fucking dark.

Very violent. Very horny. Not for everyone. Go Nagai.

Now, there have been several animé adaptations of the original 1972 manga. There was the ridiculously toned down seventies Toei series which was kinda like if The Human Centipede was remade as a Saturday Morning Cartoon about a bunch of people who change into a giant centipede to fight baddies through the power of friendship. Then there was the far more faithful (and pretty damn kickass) OVA in the eighties, a couple of other OVAs in the nineties and early aughts and finally the subject of today’s review Devilman Crybaby, a mini series created by Science SARU for Netflix. Now, one of the reasons I pushed this review back to Halloween (other than just to have a horror themed review for Halloween) was that I knew nothing about this franchise and had a suspicion I would need the extra prep time. And I’m glad I did. Devilman Crybaby was an absolute juggernaut when it was released, becoming one of the most watched and successful animé series in years with a rabid fanbase. The kind of thing you really need to research and read up on before you come out with something like “I watched it and I didn’t really care for it”.

Anyway. I watched it.

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Sailor Moon R: The Movie

This is one of those reviews where I feel like literally every single person interested enough to read it already knows far, far more about the topic than I do and is just waiting for me to make a massive ass of myself. I never watched Sailor Moon growing up and was only vaguely aware of it as the animé that most people think of when they hear the word “animé”. So I went on a rather fascinating tvtropes binge (did you know that the entire Japanese magical girl genre was inspired by the American sitcom Bewitched?) and I’m proud to report that I’ve gone from being absolutely clueless to loveably befuddled in record time.

Okay. So. Let’s start at the end and work our way backwards.

What is Sailor Moon R: The Movie?

Sailor Moon R is a movie based on Sailor Moon R.

What is Sailor Moon R?

Sailor Moon R is the second season of the Sailor Moon animé.

What is the Sailor Moon animé?

The animé adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga about schoolgirl Usagi Tsukino who discovers that she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior princess from a kingdom on the Moon. As Sailor Moon she battles evil monsters with the help of other girls/reincarnated warriors such as Sailor Mars, Sailor Venus, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Jupiter. It’s a fusion of the magical girl genre with the sentai superhero genre.

What is best in life?

To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the women.

Why don’t girls like me?

Because you’re not actually a person, you’re just a rhetorical device I’m using for this review.

What? Wait come back!

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Redline (2009)

“Hey Mouse have you seen the new Pino..

Nope. Not gonna do it. Not gonna watch it. Not gonna blog about it. Not gonna contribute to THE DISCOURSE. Not, in short, gonna give the bastards the satisfaction.

Here is what I am going to do. I am going to talk about my new boo.

Redline, a 2009 animé movie released by Madhouse, instantly became one of my all time favourite animations and it didn’t even break a sweat doing it. Which is not to say that it’s one of my favourite movies, necessarily, but as a perfect sugar rush high of the purest joy animation can deliver I struggle to think of its equal. This thing took 7 years to make, comprising 100,000 cels of some of the most gorgeously detailed hand-drawn animation I’ve ever seen.

The movie is the debut feature of animator Takeshi Koike, whose Animatrix short World Record I reviewed a few weeks ago (all part of my cunning plan). But what is this “Red Line”, you ask. What’s it all about, eh?

Okay, so take 2000 AD comics, the works of Jack Kirby and Moebius, Mad Max and pretty much every Franco-Japanese Saturday Morning cartoon from the eighties and put them in a blender. Take enough LSD to turn into a pineapple and serve. That’s Redline. It is AWESOME. If I had seen this when I was ten years old I might have actually died from excitement.

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“Another Batman killed, eh? I hope that this is the last of them.”

Hello everyone, and welcome to a new series here on Unshaved Mouse where I review every Batman movie except for the ones that I’ve already reviewed. Well, most of them. I mean, some of them. Look, the character’s been featured in over eighty films at this point and I have a life, allegedly. But let’s kick this off with a thematically appropriate question. Riddle me this! What is the first superhero movie?

Well, not to get all Bill Clinton on ya, but that really depends on your definition of “movie”, “superhero”, “first” and “the”. You can argue, and many do, that the superhero genre has always been with us. That Superman and Batman are just the latest iterations of characters like Enkidu, Herakles, Thor and Cúchulainn. At the opposite end of that maximalist take is the concept that the first superhero was Superman, because he was the first to embody three fundamental elements; a secret identity, superhuman powers and a comic book origin. And between these two poles there are characters that are kinda liminal, sort of superheroes and sort of not. Characters like Zorro and The Shadow. Pulp heroes? Superheroes? It’s not entirely clear. I know one guy who claimed that the first true superhero was Baroness Orczy’s 1905 creation the Scarlet Pimpernel. And since that guy was frickin’ Stan Lee. Yup. Good enough for Mouse.

If so, that would make the now-lost 1917 silent film The Scarlet Pimpernel the first superhero movie.

Well, clearly all the pieces are in place.

So, (if you’re willing to stretch your definitions), the superhero movie genre is over a century old, and even pre-dates superhero comics. And yet, if you ask the average person what the first superhero movie is, what do you think they’ll say? 1978’s Superman? The 1966 Batman? Why has around half of the genre’s history been essentially memory holed?

Well, part of the problem is that most superhero cinema prior to the 1950s came in the form of serials. Serials were essentially the precursors to TV shows. A cinema would screen a new episode every week. Each episode was typically between 10 and 30 minutes long, low-budget and would end with a cliff-hanger to get you back in next week. In the forties, many famous superheroes were adapted to the form, including Captain Marvel, Captain America, Superman and, of course, Batman.

The second reason why this era of superhero cinema is so obscure is that they were all mostly terrible.

Okay, let me walk that back a little. They are products of their time. Because of the nature of the format, serial plots tends to cycle in place for around ten episodes before abruptly sprinting to the climax. This makes them, as you might imagine, not exactly bingeable.

And yet, I feel like Colombia’s 1943 picture The Batman should have a bigger pop culture presence. It’s the first Batman film, after all. And it was influential, in its way. It created several hugely important parts of Batman’s mythos. And the sixties series was arguably more an adaptation of this serial than the actual comic it claimed to be based on. And yet, if fans even know about it it’s usually “that weird old Batman movie that’s super racist”. And you know what? That’s unfair.

It’s not just racist. It’s also very boring.

And look, I’m just going to say this up front. I’m not doing my usual scene by scene analysis on this one. Why?

BECAUSE THIS BEAST IS THREE AND A HALF GODDAMN HOURS LONG

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“You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair.”

“And I know he’s here…”

I had a realisation when I heard that line. In the eighth episode of Wandavision, “Previously On”, Wanda Maximoff enters SWORD Headquarters to try and retrieve the body of her lover, the Vision. And something about how Elizabeth Olsen delivers that line. Some mixture of ragged sorrow, aggrieved entitlement and barely contained rage…like a soul that’s been crushed into diamond-hardness by life’s cruelties. It’s absolutely terrifying. And that’s when I realised that Elizabeth Olsen is the best actor in the MCU.

Now, a while back I said that I would be reviewing all of the Disney Plus Marvel shows as part of this series, but, in my defence, that was before I had seen most of them. In fact it was right around the time that Wandavision had me convinced that it was one of the most exciting, radical genre TV shows I’d seen in years. That’s…not how it turned out. The Wandavision finale wasn’t terrible, by any means, but for something that was shaping up to be the MCU’s answer to Twin Peaks to end in just another CGI blob fight in the sky…

Well, I wasn’t angry. But I was disappointed. And it turned out that Wandavision was the highpoint, so let’s just breeze quickly through the rest.

Not bad, really liked the John Walker arc, the Isiah Bradley stuff was cool but the villain was just nails-on-a-chalkboard and the two leads were the least compelling part. C+

Didn’t see it. I mean, I watched it but the whole thing was so underlit I don’t even know what happened. Picked up a bit towards the end with the Kang reveal but the writing needed to be a lot sharper for a show about the MCU’s wittiest character. C-

Damn, Marvel just does NOT like Star Lord, huh? This one’s hard to judge, any anthology show is going to have ups and downs. Overall, I think it balances out to be a B-.

Quit after episode 3. Automatic F.

Okay, a Hawkeye series is a tough lift. Fair enough. But how do you fuck up Moon Knight? I quit this twice. I tried to power through because I love the character but life is too damn short. Two Fs.

And I haven’t seen Ms Marvel or She Hulk yet.

Oh, but it looks GREAT.

So that’s us all caught up.

Multiverse of Madness is basically a thrown gauntlet to the audience. Prior to this, the TV corner of the MCU (whether that was on ABC, Netflix, Hulu or Disney +) was completely vestigial to the films. In fact, prior to Charlie Cox showing up as Matt Murdock in No Way Home, I can’t think of a single instance when the TV properties were even acknowledged in a main series movie (prove me wrong in the comments, folks). MoM though? If you are not at least fully caught up on Wandavision, Loki and What If?

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