Long Reads

“Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”

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):

Watchmen, From Hell, The Killing Joke, LXG

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?

Uncovering V, The Revolutionary Leader in V for Vendetta

“Verily”.

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.

Analysis: Why TikTok is open for business

“Hi there.”

“Fuck off.”

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.

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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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“You’ll see Peter. People need to believe. And nowadays, they’ll believe anything.”

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:

  1. Oh no! The Daily Bugle is being menaced by a gigantic red snake!
  2. Huh?! The snake was just a red sock on a stick and the use of forced perspective.
  3. 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 Black Widow‘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.

Marvel's Runaways Talk Cloak & Dagger Crossover | Den of Geek

“We exist!”

 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.

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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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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unscrupulous Mouse: Artemis Fowl

“So I said to him: “Sir, if your attempts at neo-realism were any more bourgeois, they would have political rights in the Ancien Regime!””

 

NPG x133037; Martin Amis - Portrait - National Portrait Gallery

“Very droll.”

 

Zadie Smith - Interview Magazine

“Yes. Quite.”

 

“Sick burn, Salman.”

 

“So Mouse, before we invite you to join our exclusive club for novelists, what were you doing before you took up the quill?”

 

“Oh, you know. One blogs a little. Film reviews. Cultural critiques. All very serious and highbrow. No talking maps.”

 

“Talking…well, very good. Very good. I’m delighted to welcome you..”

Breaking Down The Wall on Make a GIF

“MWA HA HA HA! Nobody move!”

 

“Dude, not cool! I’m with people who matter!”

 

“Mouse! Who is this rakish, uncouth rodent?!”

 

“Sigh. This is my evil twin brother the Unscrupulous Mouse. He’s a supervillain”

 

“I think you should leave.”


“Yeah, no shit, Salman. Okay, asshole what are you doing here?”


“What the hell is wrong with you?! Disney release a movie set in Ireland and it’s the worst thing ever and you don’t review it?! That’s three of your wheelhouses right there!”


“I reviewed Darby O’Gill, it was fine!”


“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.

“Excellent. I feed on your hate.”

Okay, let’s get this over with.

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Bat versus Bolts: The 2010s

Question: is the Dark Universe dead?

You remember the Dark Universe, surely? Universal’s attempt to create a shared cinematic universe with rebooted versions of their classic monsters? Is that still a thing? Because it seemed to be DOA with the failure of The Mummy. But then The Invisible Man came out this year and did really well and apparently is supposed to be part of the Dark Universe except the director says it isn’t and Universal are apparently refusing to admit its dead despite the fact that all of its upcoming movies appear to be either cancelled or delayed indefinitely and now the whole project seems (appropriately enough) neither alive nor dead.

And that kinda sucks. Not because I was particularly psyched for any of these proposed films but it’s gotta be galling for Universal to keep getting portrayed as failed Marvel wannabes considering they invented the whole concept of a shared cinematic universe all the way back in 1943. I mean obviously they wouldn’t be doing this if the MCU hadn’t made enough money to air condition Hell, but I personally feel that if any movie studio has a right to rip off Marvel, it’s Universal.

Turnabout, after all, is fair play.

In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to find two non-comics characters who’ve had a bigger influence on comics as a whole than the Universal versions of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. For starters, as public domain characters, both DC and Marvel have incorporated their own versions of these characters into their respective universes. Marvel, in particular, made fantastic use of Dracula in their series Tomb of Dracula, which lasted a whopping 70 issues. And that’s not even counting the dozens (hundreds?) of characters in both of the Big Two publishers that take influence both subtle and overt from these two monsters. You can see Dracula’s lineage in Batman, Doctor Doom, Morbius and Count Nefaria whereas pretty much every hulking, misunderstood monster has a bit of Adam in him, whether we’re talking about the Thing, Bizarro, Solomon Grundy or the Incredible Hulk. So if Universal want to start turning their properties into ersatz superheroes to compete with Marvel, I say it’s less a case of stealing from your competitors than breaking into your neighbour’s house in the dead of night to take back the lawnmower that he “borrowed” from you eighty years ago and never bothered returning. And, like in that analogy, while it may be satisfying and even morally justified, it’s probably not a good idea.

I’ve spent this entire intro talking about Universal, but truth be told only one of today’s movies, 2014’s Dracula Untold, is from that studio. I would have preferred to pit two modern Universal monster movies against each other but according to the Dark Universe wiki (which is a thing that exists) the Dark Universe Frankenstein is just putting the finishing touches on.

Suuuuuuuuure it is.

so today Team Bolts is represented by I Frankenstein, a 2014 movie from Lionsgate that’s also trying to do the “shove a public domain monster into a superhero cape and see if he flies” thing. And guys, I swear to God, I’m not setting Team Bolts up to fail deliberately. After the last installment, I really didn’t want to see another curb stomp. But there’s no getting around it, I, Frankenstein is a staggeringly bad film, and leagues worse than Dracula Untold. Cunning and savvy reader that you are, you will notice that is not the same thing as saying that Dracula Untold is good.

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Bats Versus Bolts: The Silent Era

Okay, paws in the air, I kinda goofed with this one.

My whole concept (nay, vision!) for Bats versus Bolts is taking a Frankenstein movie and a Dracula movie that are contemporaneous and comparing them side to side to see whatever random insights on movie-making or film history or social trends or whatever crap shakes loose basically. The point is, they’re supposed to be films from the same era. Frankenstein and Dracula  were both released in 1931. Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula were a year apart. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein followed two years after Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Conversely, while the better known of today’s movies, Nosferatu, came out in 1922, our representative for Team Bolts was released a full dozen years previously. Frankenstein was released in 1910, and the more I’ve come to work on this post the more I’ve realised that comparing these two movies is kind of farcical. Firstly, while both movies do belong to “the silent era”, that’s a definition so broad as to be almost useless. The silent era lasted over forty years, and went through multiple evolutions and revolutions in style, technology and presentation. Secondly, while all of the other matchups in this series were made in the same country (America, the UK and America again), here we’re comparing a very primitive silent American short from 1910 and one of the greatest examples of German expressionism in all of film from over a decade later. Is that in any way a fair or meaningful comparison to make?

Is it bollocks. But here we are.

Anyway, let’s talk about the amoral scientist and the bloodsucking monster. Let’s talk about Thomas Edison.

Top 11 Things You Didn't Know About Nikola Tesla | Department of Energy

“Ha! Good one!”

“Nikola Tesla? I thought you were dead!”

“Oh you are adorable.”

I have way too many immortal, dark haired, mustachioed men in my life. Far too many.

Anyway, age before beauty, so let’s talk about Frankenstein first. The movie was the product of Edison Studios, who produced and screened the first commercial motion pictures in the United States using the kinetoscope, drooling neanderthal ancestor of the modern movie projector which Edison may even have invented because fuck it, anything’s possible in this crazy world of ours. Now, although Edison’s name is all over this movie he actually had next to nothing to do with its creation (I know, shocking). Being on the ground floor of the new medium, the Edison company could claim many firsts such as the first romance, the first boxing film and the first Western filmed in America The Great Train Robbery (hilariously, the very first Western, Kidnapped by Indians, was filmed in Lancashire four years previously). While they may have done it first, Edison rarely did it best and the studio’s output is not very highly regarded amongst silent era fans, although more recent re-discoveries have helped rehabilitate their reputation somewhat.

Rather charmingly, Frankenstein was a movie that was thought dead and then brought back to life. The film was thought irretrievably lost like around 75% of all silent films made in America, due to being filmed on nitrate which had the durability and flammability of a rummy’s fart. Thankfully, a copy of the film was discovered in the seventies, somewhat the worse for wear but still viewable. And by viewable, I mean “you can watch it right now” as it’s only 12 minutes long and the copyright on it has expired and it’s not like Thomas Edison is going to rise from the grave demanding it be taken down from YouTube.

“…right?”

“Oh no. He’s definitely dead. Heh heh heh.”

“Not gonna ask.”

Anyway, enough talking about the production of Frankenstein because we need to talk about the production of Nosferatu like right now. One of the greatest horror films of all time. Terrifying even to this day. What kind of production company could create such a thing?

If told you that it was a production company created by a mysterious German occultist to produce supernatural themed films which then folded suddenly after creating this one, terrifying masterpiece would you, as I did, punch the air and say “Oh fuck yes“? Because that’s what we’ve got here, people. That’s what happened. Fuck yes.

Now, granted, the reason why occultist Albin Grau’s Prana Films folded does not include mysterious drained corpses showing up every which way, and more’s the pity. It actually had to do with Bram Stoker’s widow suing his Teutonic testes for filming an unauthorised version of her husband’s novel.

Do not come between an Irishwoman and her royalties. She will cut you down.

Anyway, despite the film-makers hunnish perfidy, what they created still stands almost a century later as the greatest vampire film of all time. And yes, it’s also public domain so you can watch that too.

The adaptations

Frankenstein really is a film from a time before anyone knew what the fuck they were doing in terms of pacing and staging.

Scene 1: Frankenstein goes to college and says goodbye to his fiancée and father.

Scene 2: Frankenstein discovers the secret to LIFE ITSELF.

And, from a modern understanding of cinematic language, both of these scenes are treated with equal importance. The story is extremely faithful to Shelley’s novel with a few minor changes like the monster no longer being created from body parts, the monster no longer pursuing Frankenstein across Europe, the monster now being a manifestation of Frankenstein’s dirty thoughts who vanishes once Frankenstein’s love for his bride reaches “full strength and freedom from impurity” like some kind of isotope, the monster apparently being jealously in love (?) with Frankenstein and the story ending with the monster vanishing and Frankenstein happily married. But other than that, y’know. Pretty much a page for page retelling.

Alright, it’s easy to scoff, but remember. This was a time when people couldn’t see a train coming towards them onscreen without running screaming from the theatre. A jig-sawed together shambling corpse man might have led to a fatal epidemic of the vapours.

In Germany in the 1920s, of course, they were made of sterner stuff. Young German lawyer Jonathan Harker Thomas Hutter travels to Transylvania at the behest of his employer Mister Renfield Herr Knock to sell a house to the mysterious Count Dracula Orlock. Upon suspecting that his host is a vampire and a threat to English virtue pure Aryan womanhood*, he escapes the castle and returns home to save his wife Mina Ellen from Draculock with the help of Abraham Van Helsing Professor Bulwer.

“See ALL you motherfuckers in court.”

WINNER: BATS

The Monsters

Edison Studios specifically set out to make a tamer, uncontroversial version of Mary Shelley’s story, which is why, instead of sewing his monster together out of cadavers, this Frankenstein makes his monster like he’s microwaving some popcorn or something. This scene, incidentally, was described by Edison’s own publicity as “the most weird, mystifying and fascinating scene ever shown on a film” which is probably true considering that the medium was so young that people would pay to watch a dude sneezing. But fair is fair, the creation scene where the monsters flesh slowly forms on a dancing skeleton is genuinely creepy. Actually, the silent era may have been a perfect time for horror films. The jerky unreality of the motion, the complete absence of any human voice, it all combines to give the queasy sense of watching a nightmare unfold.

As I mentioned, the monster (played by Charles Stanton Ogle) is not a reanimated assemblage of dead body parts, but a manifestation (I guess) of the evil in Frankenstein’s soul that he has to purge, adding in a bit of Jekyll and Hyde to the story. It’s not a great film, but it’s honestly a pretty great monster.

But. Y’know. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Count Orlok GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

He may not be the most layered Dracula. He may not be the most compelling Dracula. He may not be the most faithful Dracula. He may not, strictly speaking, be a Dracula.

He is by far the most terrifying Dracula.

Nearly a century later, no director, no actor, no special effects maestro has come close to creating the pure, skin-crawling wrongness of Max Schreck’s Orlock. If Lugosi’s Dracula is still the default for this character in the collective consciousness, it’s because Lugosi is safe. Cuddly, goofy, easily imitated. Schreck, I think, never had the permanent residence in all our minds that Lugosi does because we fundamentally do not want him there.

WINNER: BATS

The Scientists

Augustus Phillips’ performance as Victor Frankenstein is…well, it’s a silent movie performance from 1910. Big expressions, big gestures, not exactly bringing forth the subtle and nuanced layers of the character, you feel me? This is definitely the most innocent Frankenstein we’ve seen so far. For all that the film makes his inner evil the source of the monster, we see absolutely nothing of that in his interactions with the other characters. He seems driven a by a pure, childlike urge to discover. He doesn’t even engage in grave robbing! Frankly, I don’t see this Frankenstein fitting in very well with the rest of the gang.

“….”

“He hasn’t said anything in FIVE HOURS!”

“Possibly a mute. A vivisection of his throat might yield the answers we seek.”

“Oh! We could replace his tongue with an eel! And then use amniotic fluid…”

“And who, pray tell, let you out of your box?”

Our Van Helsing analogue, Bulwer, doesn’t really do much besides hanging outside Ellen’s bedroom looking worried so we’re going to give Team Bolts the win here just to prevent this from being a total blow-out.

WINNER: BOLTS

The Dashing Young Men

Okay. Straight face. So.

*giggle*

Sorry, sorry. Serious now. So. Thomas Hutter is played by GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIM.

That was his name and it is perfect.

“Why is this funny, please?”

“Oh nothing, nothing you gorgeous teutonic slab, you.”

Anyway, Nosferatu skillfully avoids the Too Many Dudes problem by just…not having the extra dudes. I mean c’mon. It’s 1922.

“You expect Quincey Morris? In this economy?!”

Hutter is basically German Johnathan Harker, and so is more efficient and hard working and is basically a more traditional hero than most Harkers in that he retains the main narrative focus for most of the film. Like most silent movie stars Wangenheim seems to have got the job for his ability to look VERY HAPPY or VERY SCARED as the scene requires but hey, that was what the medium needed.

Frankenstein doesn’t really have a male lead outside of Frankenstein himself, so Bats gets this by default.

Winner: Bats

The Perpetually Imperilled Ladies

I wish there was more I could say about Mary Fuller’s Elizabeth Frankenstein but…it’s kind hard to judge this performance because a) she’s hardly in it b) the picture quality is terrible and c) every scene she’s in is just terribly, terribly framed.

“What a perfectly staged shot” said someone in 1910.

I went down a bit of a wiki wormhole with Mary Fuller, honestly, and this film really doesn’t do her justice.

Maryfuller-1914-sideview-silentfilmactress.jpg

She was one of the biggest movie stars in the world for a few years in the late teens as well as being a successful screenwriter. But after a few flops she suddenly became persona non grata in Hollywood. She tried to re-start her career in the twenties to no avail and suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of her mother and spent the last 26 years of her life in a mental institution. It’s heartbreaking.

In Nosferatu, Greta Schroder plays Ellen, our Mina who is quite a fascinating character, honestly. On the one hand she is portrayed as a demure, wilting virgin who doesn’t even like to see flowers killed. But by the end, she’s actually one of the more pro-active and heroic Minas. Entirely on her own bat (heh) she researches vampires and then sacrifices her own life to lure Orlock so that he can be destroyed by the dawn’s sunlight (an invention of Murnau, vampires had never been depicted as being harmed by daylight prior to this). Couple that with quite a lot of screentime, and you could argue she’s actually the movie’s principal hero.

No vampire ladies unfortunately because it was the twenties and feeding on the blood of the living was considered unladylike.

Winner: BATS

Are either of these movies actually, y’know, scary?

Frankenstein is a little creepy which is far more than I expected from a 110 year old film.

But Nosferatu…shit. Did you hear that? Sounds like someone’s coming up the stairs…

Winner: BATS

Best Dialogue:

Real close contest here. I do love the line “……………” from Frankenstein but Nosferatu has the absolutely iconic “……………..” (even though it’s been ruined by being quoted so often).

WINNER: TIE

FINAL SCORE: Bats 5,Bolts 1

NEXT UPDATE: September 24th 2020

NEXT TIME: Bats versus Bolts month continues and it’s time for us to jump to the other end of movie history. It’s the 2010s. Which means it’s time for sexy superhero monsters who FUCK.

* Okay, because nothing originating in Weimar Germany can be discussed without bringing the fucking Nazis into it let’s get this out of the way. The movie has been accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes with Orlock and Herr Knock. It’s not entirely invalid reading but honestly I think it’s people reading things into the movie with the benefit of hindsight rather than anything consciously placed there by the film-makers. Murnau emigrated to the States long before the Nazis came to power and as a gay man who worked with many Jewish collaborators, I doubt he was a fan.

Night of the Hunter (1955)

How quickly things change.

Not so long ago my awareness of Night of the Hunter boiled down, essentially, to this:

Creating The Night of the Hunter - The American Society of ...

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.

” Gasp!”

“Right?”

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.

“I don’t know what words mean!”

(more…)

“Some of it is very much me. Some of it isn’t.”

One of the most persistent and unkillable myths in the history of comics is the “saving” of Batman by Frank Miller. You’ve probably heard it. The Batman comics were just a giggling campy mess after the sixties TV show and it was only with Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 that Batman became dark and gritty again. Cool story, but complete guano (and one I’m pretty sure I helped spread at a much earlier point in my career as a semi-professional nerd rodent). Truth is, the comics had been pushing back hard against the BIF BAM KAPOW image from as early as 1970 in an attempt to bring Batman back to his roots as a grim, brooding nocturnal hero.

What The Dark Knight Returns did do was bring that darker Batman that was already present in the comics to a much wider audience. DKR was published in 1986, the year that also saw the release of Watchmen, and the release of these two comics in the still relatively new graphic novel format made about as big an impact as it is possible for comics to make.

Batman was the first attempt to reframe Batman in the popular consciousness from the Adam West incarnation into something closer to his comic depictions. Did it succeed?

“Yeah. Yeah, just a bit.”

To put it another way, this is by far the single most influential depiction of Batman in any medium in the eighty year history of the character. This movie was where Batman went from “Flagship comic book character and star of a pretty popular TV show” to “Modern Secular God”. In terms of box office, merchandising revenue and pop culture impact it was on the Star Wars tier.  “Fine Mouse”, you say. “But what’s it done for us lately? Does it stand up?”

To which I say, “Yes. It does stand up. And then it flaps its wings, like a pretty, pretty butterfly.”

(more…)