Long Reads

The Breadwinner (2017)

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

Fuck Wikipedia.

I had one hell of an intro lined up for this one. I was going to open with a description of the Book of Kells, and detail how the blue dye illustrating this mediaeval masterpiece of Irish art had to be imported all the way from ancient Afghanistan. I would then tie that into a line from The Breadwinner where the character Nurullah describes how the ancient peoples of Afghanistan traded all over the world. Then  I was going to connect that to how director Nora Twomey’s previous film The Secret of Kells led directly into The Breadwinner, showing how Ireland and Afghanistan have, improbably, been transmitting ideas and beauty between each other for millennia. And how even between two incredibly distant nations there can be bonds of shared history and culture. How we are all, truly, one people.

And then I go to Wikipedia and discover that the theory of the Book of Kells being created with ink from Afghanistan has been debunked so never fucking mind then.

“Don’t know why I bother really.” 

Anyway, this is the third film of current animated hotness Cartoon Saloon. Like their previous two movies, this is an international co-production, this time between Ireland, Canada and Luxembourg.

“I helped!”

“Aw, you sure did.”

Directed by Nora Twomey  and produced by Angelina Jolie, The Breadwinner is based on the novel by the same name by Deborah Ellis. Upon the movie’s release in 2017 it was heralded as an instant classic and became the only non-American film to be nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2017.

Boss Baby was also nominated. Because the Oscars are meaningless nonsense.

But is it really that good? Does it really deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as classics like Boss Baby and Ferdinand (seriously, fuck the Oscars)? Let’s take a look at The Breadwinner or, as I call it, Mulan but Everything is Terrible.

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“I’m not going to hurt you, Scott. Unless I have to.”

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“Okay, that’s it. I’m officially done with the Marvel movies.”

‘Uh huh.”

“I mean it. I just don’t care anymore.”

‘Uh huh.”

“I mean, I’ll probably watch Infinity War 2.”

‘Uh huh.”

“And any new Thors.”

‘Uh huh.”

“And Black Panther 2, definitely.”

‘Uh huh.”

“Oh, and I’ll probably check out Captain Marvel.”

‘Uh huh.”

“But other than that, I am DONE.”

“Yikes. Careful hon, going cold turkey is dangerous.”

“Ugh. Curse your sexy irresistible snark and flawless reliability as a narrator.”

Yes, the grim spectre of Marvel Fatigue has reared its skeletal head in the Mouse household, rattling its chains and wailing about lacklustre villains and nondescript movie scores. And while this malignant spirit has claimed my beloved spouse I, thankfully, remain immune.

Or so I thought.

Coming up to this particular review I experienced, for this first time in this series, something in the outer boroughs of dread. The first Ant-Man, was fine but only fine and the closer the time to review Ant-Man and the Wasp crept the more I realised that I just didn’t care and would much rather skip ahead to whatever reader request I should have done like two years ago (I’m trying guys, I’m trying).

So, because I have little to nothing interesting to say about the movie, how ‘bout some comic history? You know you love it.

Janet Van Dyne aka The Wasp was the second major female superhero created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early sixties, coming a few years after Sue Storm and a few months before Jean Grey and the Scarlet Witch. And she was, much like her sisters, originally a bit crap. To put it bluntly, the superheroines of this era were drippier than a melting ice-cream who just stepped out of the shower to answer the phone.

Pictured: The time Stan Lee invented millennials.

Jan was first introduced in the pages of Tales to Astonish as the daughter of Vernon Van Dyne, a scientist who once worked with Hank Pym, the world’s Most Generic Man. When Vernon is killed, Jan comes to Hank looking for help and he’s all:

  1. I’m Ant-Man.
  2. I could make you an Ant-Woman. Would you like that Jan? Would you like to be my Ant-Woman?
  3. Vernon would totally have wanted us to bone.

Hank gives her shrinking powers, making her a god among mortals, as well as some nifty little wings and energy blasts and they fight crime as Ant-Man and the Wasp. They also became founding members of the Avengers, with Jan actually being the one who comes with the name for the team. Originally depicted as shallow and flighty the character has been deepened and expanded on by various writers over the years into one of the most respected superheroes in the Marvel universe.

She’s also the only one of the founding Avengers to never have her own solo series. For some reason.

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Flight of Dragons (1982)

Man, you guys do love your animated fantasies from the late seventies/early eighties don’t you? In fact, I’ve now reviewed enough of these things that they’re starting to run together. Which animated fantasy centring on wizards and a war between science and magic with seriously dodgy gender politics is this again? Nit?

“Yessum?”

“I need some kind of filing system.”

“I have waited many long years to hear you say those words. It was worth it.”

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Bats versus Bolts: Universal Horror

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

New Year, New Mouse, New Regular Feature!

This is Bats versus Bolts!

Someone ask me what Bats versus Bolts is.

“Sigh. What’s Bats versus…”

Glad you asked! Dracula and Frankenstein are two of the most famous and frequently adapted stories of all time. Hell, Dracula alone has been adapted…hang on let me just Google that…

Uh. No, Google. I’m pretty sure that’s not right.

Anyway, in every decade there are Dracula movies and Frankenstein movies that reflect the culture, trends and social forces that created them and I thought it would be cool to take two from each decade and pit them against each other in a no holds barred monster mash. So let’s start with the two most iconic versions, Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein from the nineteen thirties.

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“It’s a mutation. It’s a very groovy mutation.”

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Much like an awesome party where someone suddenly showed up with a suitcase full of tainted MDMA, the X-Men film franchise got real bad, real fast. From the dizzying (well) highs of X2 the franchise had laid two massive turds in a row and was now in the unenviable position of having exactly as many bad films as good ones (also known as the Star Trek ratio). What was to be done?

“REBOOT!”

“Well hang on there, let’s not just go with the most obvious knee jerk response let’s think about the best way to erase past mistakes and inject new life into…”

“GRITTY REBOOT?”

“Okay, good, good, we’re thinking outside the box now, let’s just try a little harder…”

“Urrrrrrrrrr…”

“YOUNG AND SEXY REBOOT!”

“YES! HE CAN BE TAUGHT!”

Alright, all joking aside, the idea for a movie about the early days of Xavier’s School for Gifted Child Soldiers had been knocking about since the shooting of X2, and as an idea it’s pretty damn bad. Making a movie about the earliest adventures of the X-Men is like making a movie about John Lennon and focusing solely on his time in the Quarrymen. That was the worst part. Virtually all the good stuff came later. For a while. Then things got really, really awful.

In this analogy, Rob Liefeld is Yoko.

But First Class also shares much of its DNA with what was originally going to be the second instalment of the X-Men Origins spin off series, Magneto. After Wolverine Origins bombed so hard that the box office was glowing in the dark, the ideas for Magneto were bundled up and worked into First Class.

So how does this grab-bag of sewn together bad ideas and discarded movie bits work as a film?

Surprisingly well! Except when it doesn’t. It’s complicated.

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Norsefire: A Revised History

In the wake of a catastrophe as total as the rise of the Norsefire Party and its continuing control over most of the British mainland, it is only rational to consider the path that led us here and only human to look for someone to blame.

Obviously, the bulk of the blame for the atrocities of Norsefire must be laid at the feet of the party itself. Susan. Creedy. Almond. These names will forever live in infamy. But who laid the groundwork for their rise? Who, through inaction, cowardice, blindness or ignorance, set the stage for the coming horror? As the reader will soon come to realise, there is plenty of blame to go around and precious little praise.
The morning of the second Brexit referendum was greeted by the media and political establishment with a near unanimous sigh of relief. The British people, after three gruelling, terrifyingly uncertain years, had voted by a majority of 53% to reverse their 2016 decision to leave the European Union. The pro-Remain press was exultant, the pro-Brexit papers largely subdued and magnanimous in defeat. The prevailing sentiment, at least in Fleet Street and Whitehall, was that Britain had narrowly avoided economic and social catastrophe and that the entire affair was to be forgotten about as quickly as possible.
But outside London, far from the eyes and ears of nation’s rulers, there were others. These were the people who had fought tooth and nail during the 2016 referendum and who had experienced a joy verging on the ecstatic when, against all odds, they had secured a victory which (to them) had seemed miraculous. Incredible. Ordained by God. But God, apparently, was no match for Brussels.
The people had spoken. And Europe had said “Non”. Their joy now curdled into a fury as all-consuming as it was unforeseen.
To be fair, some of the complaints against the second referendum were legitimate. The choice put to the electorate was between three options:
1) A “no deal” Brexit which would have plunged the nation into immediate economic crisis and resulted in shortages of food and medicine.
2) The “soft Brexit” negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May with the EU which was roundly despised by all sides of the debate.
3) Simply remaining in the EU.
It was pointed out that, by offering two “Brexit” choices to one “Remain” choice, the Brexit vote had been effectively split. This was a talking point often espoused by Susan in the early days of the Norsefire party. But, whatever its merits, Susan can hardly have been said to have been making the argument in good faith. While previous hard right parties had at least made a pretense towards democratic legitimacy, Norsefire had no time for such frippery. Democracy was a sham and Norsefire would not indulge it. The referendum was the final proof; if the elites (subtly and later blatantly implied to be Jewish, Muslim, people of colour, sexually non-conforming or Irish) did not care for a particular democratic result, they would simply reverse it. The secret hand that moved the world had revealed itself. Democracy itself must be discarded.
“Keep your votes” Susan famously said at the first formal meeting of the Norsefire Aesir. “Give us power.”

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The Garden of Words (2013)

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Not so long ago, in the pages of this here very blog what are you reading like, I reviewed Makoto Shinkai’s 5cm per Second and my good Lord, it bored me so. It bored me like Sarah, plain and tall.

Well, Shinkai apparently took my criticisms onboard and went away and created Garden of Words, a movie that has all of 5cm per Second’s stunningly gorgeous visuals and sumptuous sound design but which actually marries them to interesting characters and some class of plot. I mean, I don’t want to take credit for this critically acclaimed film but honesty compels me.

Anyway yes. Okay. I am now on board. I am on the Makoto Shinkai train (and the dude does love his trains).   Like 5cm per SecondGarden is slow and relies heavily on atmosphere but there is a definite sense that it’s telling a story patiently and methodically and not faffing about and wasting your time. The characters are also far more distinctive and memorable, compared to the 5cm per Second’s leads who were so bland and grey you could use them to wallpaper the walls of a dentist’s office.  For instance, one of the main characters, Yukari, spends her days in the local park drinking beer and eating chocolate because her depression has dulled her sense of taste and those are the only flavours she can experience. That’s good writing, because it informs us of an important character trait (her depression) but does it in a way that’s unique and memorable and makes her stand out from all the other sadsacks (I’ve had depression, I get to use that word).

The movie begins with the two things that get Makoto Shinkai out of bed each morning; weather and trains.

“Shit’s my jam, yo.”

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The Return of the King (1980)

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

Way back in the before times I reviewed Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, an important step on my journey to realising that Ralph Bakshi is a pretty terrible filmmaker, his importance in the animated canon notwithstanding. Well, Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (BLOTR, henceforth) was originally intended as part one of a two part series but United Artists never actually got around to making the sequel, despite the first movie turning quite a tidy profit. So Rankin-Bass, proud purveyors of “good enuff” animation, bought up the rights to Return of the KingRankin-Bass had previously done a made-for-TV version of The Hobbit (which I haven’t seen but have it on good authority is good enuff) and together with that movie and BLOTR they form a kind of loose trilogy, albeit the kind of trilogy with wildly different animation styles, voice actors and plots that only have a tenuous narrative continuity. Still, if you were living in a pre-Peter Jackson world and didn’t want to have to sit through three chapters of Tom Bombadil humble-bragging about how hot his girlfriend is, it did the trick.

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“No resurrections this time.”

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Every so often in superhero comics, a character will come along who is so ground-breakingly original, so instantly arresting, that they become an archetype. The obvious example is Superman. Supes shows up in 1938, and creates an entire genre. Every “Cape” type superhero follows in Superman’s footsteps, every “Cowl” has a bit of Batman (who, it must be said, got that bit from Zorro). Got an angsty teenage super-hero with real world problems the audience can relate to? Cut Stan Lee and Steve Ditko a check. When it comes to superheroes there are the archetypes, and the rest are copycats. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. As I mentioned before, Black Panther, Daredevil and Moon Knight are all derived from Batman but manage to put a different enough spin on the archetype to be great characters in their own right.

And the villains have their archetypes too. And no villain casts a longer shadow in comics than the master of Apokolips, DARKSEID.

Who is DARKSEID? Fool. DARKSEID is.

See?

Jack Kirby spent much of his career in comics attempting to create a new American mythology with all new pantheons of gods and heroes. In DARKSEID, he created his Satan, a brooding, pitiless tyrant who can never truly be defeated because he is evil itself. DARKSEID is an archetype, and you don’t have to look far to find his descendants across all comic book companies big and small.

Oh what? You think I’m not going to use this to plug my own work? You must be confusing me with someone who has shame.

The most blatant (and admitted) rip off of DARKSEID is, of course, Marvel’s Thanos. He’s also the most interesting.

Whereas DARKSEID cares for nothing but himself, Thanos is usually depicted as something of a romantic, devoted utterly to the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately, the woman in question is Death itself whom Thanos tries to woo by eradicating as many of the living as possible. There is a kind of primordial mythic scope to that which I love. I mean, imagine you get transported thousands of years into the past and you got adopted by a local tribe and they asked you to tell them one of the stories of your people. And, as you crouch around the campfire, you tell the tale of the great giant Thanos who so loved death herself that he killed half of everything that lived to woo her, and still she spurned him.

That’s the kind of story cavemen would tell each other. It feels ancient and epic. It’s deep shit man.

And of course, that is the element that the producers of the MCU decided to do away with. Now, I’m on record as predicting that the whole MCU project was going to come a cropper because it was building to a final confrontation with Movie!Thanos and that he was a boring character, an awful villain and a terrible lover.

So. Here we are.

“Quit stalling.”

Yes, I was obviously wrong (uuuuugh what is this sensation I don’t like it) but, in my defence, I do still think that Guardians of the Galaxy completely mishandled Thanos. I just didn’t reckon with the Russo Brothers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pulling out the mother of all salvage jobs. Cards on the table, Infinity War is by far my favourite Avengers movie and one of the best entries in the MCU thus far and, bizarrely, that’s mostly down to Thanos, the element I was most expecting to tank the entire endeavour.

How did they do it? Let’s take a look.

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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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