Reader’s requests

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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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

As a general rule, I don’t watch the “Making Of” features of the movies I review, because:

a) The movie should be able to stand alone as a discrete work without additional media required to appreciate it.

b) I’m hella lazy, y’all.

But after…experiencing the subject of this review, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension, I felt that I might need to read the manual. During the “Making of” there’s a moment where director WD Richter is asked what the movie is about and responds with a deep sigh and a muttered “Oh God…”

It’s that kind of movie.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension is what happens when a lot of very smart, very talented people decide to take twenty million dollars of someone else’s money and have as much fun as it is possible to have legally. This is a cult film. No, scratch that. This is a CULT film, engineered to be so from the atoms making up the film stock upward. You are either in on the joke, or you aren’t. And I have to confess, my first watch through I was very conscious of what I like to call “The Rocky Horror” effect, the sensation that you would really be enjoying the movie you are watching if you weren’t alone and stone cold sober. It’s not a “watch at home alone on a cloudy afternoon” movie. It’s a “crack open a few beers with some rowdy friends” movie. Or possibly a “watch under the influence of hallucinogens and then found a religion” movie.

What’s it about? Oh God.

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Back in the thirties, they laughed when Walt Disney said that he was going to make a feature length animated film. “Oh, how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little cartoon man thinks he can make movies”.

The little cartoon man then proceeded to make Snow Whiteone of the most successful movies of all time. Then, a decade later, Disney announced that he was branching out into live action movies.

“Oh how quaint” the fat studio execs chortled through solid walls of cigar smoke as they sat stewing in their leather-bound rooms “The little animated feature man thinks he can make movies with real people”.

At which point Disney fixed them with a steely glare and said “Okay, just for that? I’m going to own you. All of you. It may take decades but I now dedicate my every waking moment to ensuring that one day, everything you own will belong to me. Every movie you’ve ever made, every studio, every piece of merchandise, every character. You sneeze, I will own the dirty hankie. Every red cent you ever earn will one day BELONG TO WALTER ELIAS DISNEY SO I SWEAR ON THE OLD GODS AND THE NEW.”

And they chortled at that because some motherfuckers never learn, do they?

An important step on Disney’s path to total global conquest were their live action films of the 1950s. These were usually classic tales of derring do from literature dressed up real nice with a few catchy songs. Probably the best remembered film of this era was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on Jules Verne’s staggeringly prophetic novel about how big an impact submarines were going to have on all our lives.

Leagues marked something of a watershed moment for Disney’s live-action fare as it was the first Disney film to get a really top-tier cast with household names like Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason. In fact, even though Disney had already made several fairly successful live action movies at this point, Kirk Douglas needed quite a bit of coaxing, with his part being substantially altered at his request.

“Okay, so Ned Land should be introduced with two hotties on either arm.”

“Fine.”

“And he has to win every fight he’s in!”

“Fine.”

“And everytime he’s not onscreen, everyone should be wandering around going “Where’s Ned? Where’s Ned?”

“Fine.”

“And I want my son to play Ant-Man!”

“That is a WEIRD ask, but okay.”

As director, Walt hired director Richard Fleischer, much to Fleishcer’s surprise as he was the son of Max Fleischer, Disney’s long-time rival.

“Don’t you hate him?”

“Richard my boy, I keep my friends close, my enemies closer and the people my enemies care about in the same building where I work. Under armed guard.”

“Ah. So. Am I a director or a hostage?”

“The job calls for you to fill several roles.”

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

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

Hello all you beautiful readers! This is just a quick word to say thanks for your patience, thanks for all your congratulations and an especially big thank you for all your kind words and wishes for the wee Mump-stricken Mini Mouse (it actually turned out to not be mumps, just a viral infection so that was a relief). Anyway, at long last here is the Tintin review.

***

The popularity of Tintin fascinates me like a Victorian lady of mysterious background.

I don’t mean that I’m surprised that the Tintin books are so stupendously popular across the civilized world.

“Never heard of ‘em.”

“The devil you say?”

That’s just a case of the market rewarding good product. Hergé’s Tintin books are visually appealing, well-told adventures with humour that translates very well across cultures. It’s not surprising that they sell well. I mean the popularity of the character Tintin himself fascinates me, because he shouldn’t work as a protagonist. In my Asterix review I called Tintin “one of the most generic characters in all of fiction” and I stand by that. He doesn’t have a single defining trait that you can really hang your hat on. He has the traits a character needs to get reliably in and out of adventures; curiousity, bravery, quick wits and a willingness to help others, and that’s about it. He’s just Adventure Hero in its most pure and undiluted form with no distinct personality or identifying traits. And lest you think I consider him “generic” because he’s a white male, consider that he’s not even all that white or all that male. Although nominally Belgian, if I hadn’t mentioned it would you even know he was? Does he come across as particularly Belgian?

Other than that time he cut a bloody swathe across the Congo, I mean?

Nor is he particularly “male”. You could swap out Tintin for a female character and her dialogue and actions wouldn’t seem jarringly out of place. And then there’s that matter of his orientation. Despite all the fandom speculation about his relationship with Captain Haddock, I’d argue that there’s more textual evidence for Tintin being asexual, (of course, these were originally comics for children published in a conservative Catholic magazine so it’s not like you’d expect to see much of the hard fucking, regardless). Tintin is almost defiantly featureless. Even as a hero he’s distinctly middle-of-the-road. He’s a capable fighter, but he’s no Batman. An able detective, but hardly a Holmes. He’s a crack shot, but he uses a gun so infrequently you might read several books and never know. And then there’s his personal history. Who are his parents? Does he have any siblings? What paper does he, supposedly a journalist, work for?

“You ask a lot of questions, Mouse. People who ask questions often come to sticky ends, I hear.”

And it’s not like Hergé was just bad at characterisation, the stories are filled with memorable and distinct oddballs. So what gives? Why does Tintin have such appeal?

I have a theory. Do you know which character Tintin actually reminds me of more than any other?

Related image

I’d argue that Tintin, like Mario, is less a character in the conventional sense and more like a player avatar, a figure who provides an entry point into the story for the reader and is non-descript enough to allow them to be fully immersed in the adventure. I wouldn’t have thought it would work, but then I’m not the guy who’s sold 200 million copies worldwide so what do I know?

Image result for hergé

“Jacques merde, monsieur.”

Mais oui. Anyway, 200 million Tintin books have been sold worldwide and they’ve been read by people all over the globe, including five or six Americans. One of those Americans was Stephen Spielberg who first became aware of the series when reviews of Raiders of the Lost Ark kept comparing Indy to Tintin.

Hergé, luckily enough, was a big Spielberg fan and after his death his widow agreed to give Spielberg the movie rights. A live action version of Tintin went into pre-production in the early eighties, with Jack Nicholson being considered for Captain Haddock. Because it was Hollywood in the eighties and cocaine is a hell of a drug.

That version never got traction and the rights bounced back between Spielberg and the Hergé estate for a few decades until finally Spielberg committed to a CGI motion-capture film with effects work provided by Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop.

The movie finally came out in 2011. Got great reviews. Did excellent box office. And then…

That was kinda it. Call it the Avatar effect, where a movie manages to be a huge success while leaving next to no mark of the cultural landscape. Spielberg’s been talking about completing the trilogy but it’s been eight years now and I don’t think there’s any real interest or appetite for it. Call it the Avatar effect.

“You already used that.”

“It can be two things!”

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Ladyhawke (1985)

Hey everyone, before I introduce you to the wonderful Rutger Haur-blessed world of Ladyhawke, I need to explain why this review is a little on the short side. I don’t discuss my job on this blog because my employer has a fairly, shall we say, broad remit in policing what its staff say about them online and I try to err on the side of caution. That said, I may have hinted over the years that I am…

“A criminal mastermind?”

“Oh for goodness sake, I occupy a MINOR position in the Irish government.”

Currently, work is absolutely crazy owing to the ongoing spectacle of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland going boom boom in its big boy pants. A French minister recently joked that she’d named her cat “Brexit” because it keeps howling to be let out into the garden and then refuses to leave when the door is opened.

I would say that the metaphor is accurate, except that the cat also has a bomb strapped to it and I’m not sure the garden is far enough to be outside the blast radius.

Anyway… 

That’s why this review is a little short. As to why I’m only getting around to reviewing it years after the original request…that’s totally Brexit’s fault too. I swear.

***

Ladyhawke is an eighties fantasy movie with a cult following, he said, redundantly, because every eighties fantasy movie has a cult following. Find me a Wikipedia page for one of the breed that doesn’t include the words “cult following”. Can’t be done.

On dark nights, the adherents of Hawk the Slayer can be heard chanting in the woods, every solistice, the Cult of Krull sacrifices a virgin in a moonlit grove and don’t even get me started on what the Willow fans get up to. But Ladyhawke actually earns its cult status for two reasons:

1)      It was a massive flop on release.

2)      It’s actually quite good.

Now, let me qualify that. It’s good. But it’s eighties as fuck. In fact, take a look at the opening credits for me and imagine that it’s actually the start of a cop show about a hawk police officer busting cocaine cartels in Miami beach.

Image result for tubbs miami vice

“Dammit Ladyhawke! I may be your partner, but you crossed the line back there in that warehouse!”

“Until we take down Espinoza and the Marinos cartel, there IS no line!”

You’ll also notice some pretty high calibre talent in those credits. There’s Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Haur of course, Richard Donner who famously directed Superman and Stuart Baird, one of the most respected film editors in Hollywood. But then, he also directed Star Trek Nemesis, so fuck that guy.

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Tales from Earthsea (2006)

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

Goro Miyazaki breaks my goddamned heart, you know that?

I feel for the guy, I really do. When faced with having to live up to the legacy of his father, a man who will be remembered as the Michaelangelo of the 21st century, Goro wisely tried to forge his own path in a different field and be his own man. He studies landscaping, becomes a construction consultant and even helped to design the Ghibli museum which he then became the director of. At 34. I mean, this guy has done some amazing things, right? That is a damn impressive resume. More than I’ll ever accomplish, that’s for sure.

And then, he gets called in by his father’s studio to contribute some landscapes for a movie. They take a look at them and say “Hey, these are really good and also your father is basically the God of Animation who walks among us in the form of a man, you should totally direct this movie.”

And suddenly, he’s exactly where he never wanted to be, directing an animated movie where he has to be compared to his father and there is just no way he can win. And, despite bringing the movie in on time and on budget, he will forever be known as the guy who directed Tales From Earthsea, the “bad” studio Ghibli film.

And now, this incredibly accomplished young man is viewed as a failure. A fuckup. Someone defined by not being as good as someone else.

And that is just so unfair to the guy. I mean, I know I dunked pretty hard on From Up On Poppy Hill  but it wasn’t bad. Okay, it was boring and uninteresting and unengaging and I guess that does kinda mean it was bad but, shit, like I could do better?

“No” is the answer to that.

This was the question that was dogging me all through watching Tales From Earthsea. How do I justify giving this movie a bad review when it has better animation and more striking visuals that probably a good 90% of the movies I’ve reviewed on this blog. I wanted to like this one. I really did. I committed a cardinal sin of reviewing in wanting to give this one a pass because of the person who made it and not on a fair assessment of the work. Taken on its own merits, without comparison to the rest of Studio Ghibli’s output, Tales From Earthsea is a beautifully animated work  and a veritable feast for the eyes.

It is also, unfortunately, a pretty terrible movie.

Dude, I’m sorry.

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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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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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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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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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