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“It doesn’t have to be good to be a classic.”

Let me tell you about the only comic book to ever make me cry in public.

From the first page of Amazing Spider-Man #121 something is off. There’s no title. Simply a sombre note from editorial telling the reader that they won’t actually learn what the name of the story is until the end. But it’s still very much a seventies Spider-Man story; bright primary colour palette, soap opera melodrama to burn and an exclamation point/period ratio of around 90 to 1. Norman Osbourne, who used to be the Green Goblin but has forgotten the whole thing because of amnesia, is undergoing a psychological breakdown because his son Harry went on a bad acid trip (did I mention that this came out in the seventies?). Suddenly, he relapses and remembers not only that he’s the Green Goblin, but that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Racing to Peter’s apartment to enact his revenge, he instead finds Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacey who he abducts. Peter desperately pursues the Goblin to a bridge (George Washington per the text, Brooklyn according to the art) and Spider-Man and Osbourne have a desperate, thrilling mid-air battle that comes to a horrific halt when Gwen Stacey is thrown of the bridge by the Goblin.

Frantically, Peter shoots his webs to catch her before she hits the ground…and he does! He’s saved her! He’s won! Good triumphs over…

No. This time it’s different. And, on the final page, we at last learn the name of the story we’ve been reading which is, of course The Night Gwen Stacey Died. This is the panel that always makes me well up. :

At this point in the comics, Peter Parker was no longer a teenager. He had graduated college, he was an adult. But he was still very much a children’s character. And I find something indescribably tragic about this child’s superhero cradling the body of the woman he loves, unable to comprehend that his world has changed and that the old rules don’t hold true anymore. Good does not always triumph over evil. The innocent are not always spared. The guilty are not always punished. The people you cannot live without will be taken nonetheless. It’s a story about the loss of innocence we all go through and it’s one of very few single issue comics that I would hold up as an absolute work of art. It’s a piece that’s moved me deeply and that I feel a real personal connection to. And I think one of the reasons why it is such a gut punch is because the brutal tragedy at the heart of story is contained in all this colourful, innocent Silver Age goofiness, like a hand grenade with a pink smiley face on it. It wouldn’t work a tenth as well if done in a moody, gritty “realistic” style.

The Night Gwen Stacey Died became an instant classic and to this day is usually considered the demarcation point between the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, a period marked by a more mature and literary style of comics that produced some of the greatest masterpieces in the genre. Unfortunately it also taught a generation of hacks that they could kill the hero’s girlfriend for some cheap drama and pathos. Nowadays, the phenomenon of female supporting characters being killed to provide motivation for the male lead is usually called “Women in Refrigerators”, a term coined by writer Gail Simone after a particularly notorious Green Lantern storyline, but before that it was called “Gwen Stacey Syndrome” because it was really this story that opened those floodgates. To be clear, this does not make The Night Gwen Stacey Died a bad story (or at least, I certainly don’t think it does). The problem is the raft of imitators who failed to realise that what made Gwen’s death so shocking and effective was that it was so rare. Hard as it might be to believe, prior to 1973 women almost never died in mainstream comics, and if they did (Batman’s mother for example) it was almost always off panel. So what does this have to do with The Killing Joke?

Well, The Killing Joke is a 1988 Batman story by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, and since its release its been frequently lauded as one of the best Batman stories, the definitive Joker story and one of the greatest comics of all time. (thanks to Clifford who pointed out that I actually put it on my list of greatest comics which I had completely forgotten). However, it has also increasingly been viewed as being somewhat…problematic…

Frau_Blucher

Why? Well, because in the course of this story the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralysing her, (possibly) sexually assaults her and then shows her father pictures of it in an attempt to break him psychologically. Like Gwen Stacey, Barbara Gordon is brutally assaulted in order to advance the story of a male character, in this case her father and Batman. So there’s quite a bit of backlash against this book, with even Alan Moore himself effectively disowning it. Although honestly, take that with a grain of salt. Despite being the most influential writer in the history of the medium not named Lee, Siegel or Finger, Alan Moore basically now regards the entire comic book industry the way Captain McAllister views the sea.

My feelings? Well…I basically feel about The Killing Joke the way I feel about 99 Problems.

Is it misogynistic? Yes.

Noticeably so for its time and compared to the rest of its genre? Not really.

To the point where it obscures its artistic merits? No.

Of course, reading it now you have the benefit of knowing how the story ends. That Barbara Gordon was able to overcome this tragedy, and became Oracle, a wheel-chair bound superhero who became an inspiration to many disabled comic book fans and one of the most valued heroes not simply in the Bat family but in the DC universe as a whole.

Barbara Gordon | Batman Wiki | Fandom

And then Bruce just had her fixed so she could become Batgirl again, which was inspiring to comic book fans with billionaire friends who magically solve all their problems for them.

Ultimately, despite the problematic…

Frau_Blucher

…elements of the story I still think it deserves to be considered one of the all time great Batman yarns. And I was really pumped for this animated adaptation. Look at this line up! Bruce Timm, creator of the legendary Batman the Animated Series was producing, well-regarded Batman scribe Brian Azzaerello was writing the script and the voice cast was shit shot: Conroy! Tara Strong! MARK HAMILL COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO DO ALAN MOORE’S JOKER YE GODS!

But then early word had it that the animated adaptation would be greatly expanding Barbara’s role in the story and I was leery. I mean, on the one hand, it’s certainly a laudable impulse to want to address criticisms of the original by giving Barbara Gordon more agency and putting her experience front and centre. On the other hand, that is a radical change to the story. Put bluntly, The Killing Joke is not a Barbara Gordon story. Hell, it’s not even really a Batman story. It’s a story about the conflict between Moral Nihilism as represented by the Joker versus Ethical Objectivism personified by Jim Gordon. So my feeling was that if the creators doubted their source material to the point that they would make such a radical change, they probably shouldn’t be adapting it in the first place.

My worry was that we would get a more progressive, more enlightened, less problematic version of The Killing Joke but probably not a better one.

Oh, oh, oh…

I wish that was what we got.

JESUS.

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The Quiet Man (1952)

Alright. Let’s get one thing straight. Damn straight.

Review Darby O’Gill and the Little People? Perfectly logical, I’m an Irish reviewer still best known for Disney reviews, who else would you be getting?

Review The Quiet Man? Waaaaay the hell out of my wheelhouse but okay, I’m Irish and you want to get my take on what is still, over half a century later, probably the most famous depiction of Ireland ever released by Hollywood, for good and ill. That’s fine. That’s fine.

But if any of you sons of bitches try and get me to review Far and Away there will be bloodshed.

Got it? Okay then.

Like any movie reviewer I have my blindspots. There are genres and actors and even whole eras of movie history that I’m just not very well up on. And one of those genres is Westerns. Just never liked them. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s because when I was growing up Irish television used to show them constantly. Every time you flipped a channel, a horse fell over. Now, obviously, I’m not saying Westerns are bad or even that I don’t like any of ’em. I really liked the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit for example. And I’ve always had plenty of time for Western comedies like Way Out West, Support Your Local Sheriff and of course Blazing Saddles (probably says something that my favourite Westerns tend to be ripping the almighty piss out of the genre). But, by and large, the 20th century’s single most popular film genre and I maintained a respectful distance, meaning I never really figured out how I feel about its most famous star, John Wayne. As an actor, I mean.  And having watched The Quiet Man, I’m still not sure. Of course, Marion Michael Robinson’s skills (or lack thereof) as an actor have been fiercely debated for decades which is a weird thing to say about one of Hollywood’s biggest ever box-office draws with a Best Actor Oscar.

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Heathers (1988)

“Okay everyone, are we ready to review Don Hertzfeld’s “It’s Such a Beautiful Day?”

“Uh Mouse, we got a problem.”

“Oh, what’s up?”

“Well, it turns out “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” isn’t available on any of the main streaming sites.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to order the DVD instead.”

“Well, darn.”

“And the DVD’s not going to arrive until after the review is due to go up.”

“Well, darn.”

“Because the world’s in the grip of a global pandemic the likes of which has never been seen in living memory, the whole country is in lockdown and western civilization has been brought to its knees.”

“Well, darn.”

“So you’re going to have to review something else.”

“Okay, Heathers is next in the queue, let’s just do that.”

“Wait…what was the last one you said?”

Heeeeeeeeeey so things have been a little more immediately apocalyptic around here than usual, huh?

Hope you all are staying safe and indoors. For obvious reasons, this review is going to be on the short side.

“What reasons? You’ve been at home for the last week, if anything you should have MORE written than usual.”

“Yeah, but I was working from home and you’d be amazed how much work you have to do when you’re not being distracted by office politics.”

Anyway, this is going to be less of a plot point by plot point recap and more…a sort of…movie review if you can imagine such a thing.

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Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Whereas other film-makers are driven to explore certain themes or character archetypes or genres, what seems to get Robert Zemeckis out of bed every morning artistically is the tech: How can this or that new special effects technique be used to tell a story that’s never been told? And while I personally don’t think that’s necessarily the greatest starting point for telling a story, fair is fair, it’s lead Zemeckis to create some truly fantastic films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy and also movies that people insist on thinking are fantastic, like Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

Robert Zemeckis is a true film-making pioneer. And by “pioneer” I mean “person who goes to strange new places that it might have been better for all involved if he’d stayed at home”. Specifically, with his 2004 film The Polar Express he discovered the Uncanny Valley and liked it so much he decided to build a cabin and the spend the rest of his career there. Today’s movie is part of a sequence of Zemeckis directed and/or produced movies that used the gimmick of taking famous actors and slathering them in digital paint to create something that eschews the believability of live action while also avoiding the tedious charm and inventiveness of animation (I know, right? Isn’t that the dream?). Seriously though, I am genuinely agog at the amount of time and money Zemeckis has spent on something that could never be anything other than the worst of both worlds. Motion capture can be a wonderful tool, sure, and many films make excellent use of it. But Zemeckis seems to want this one tool to be the whole movie. It’s like he’s trying to build a house entirely out of spanners. It would be pointless, as there are far better materials to build a house out of and a spanner house would be ugly, cold and utterly unsuited for actual human beings so I think this metaphor is doing trojan work.

In case I’m being a little too subtle up in here, Mars Needs Moms is a bad, bad, bad film. It’s the kind of movie that legendary film critic Pauline Kael would have referred to as “a stinking pile of the devil’s ass biscuits”.

She was a treasure.

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Mysterious Girlfriend X (2012)

“All rise for the Honorable Judge Claude Frollo.”

“Please be seated.”

“Good morning, your honour, my client the Unshaved Mouse is here to file a restraining order.”

“I see, and the target of this restraining order is…the state of Japan?”

“Mouse, please! This is all a big misunderstanding!”

“Don’t talk to me, criminal!”

“C’mon Mouse, we had good times! What about Miyazaki?”

“Oh, you mean your BAIT?”

“Order in the court! Plaintiff, what is the basis for your suit?”

“Well, it all began a few weeks ago…”

***

 “If you sat an alien down and screened for him all the movies made in America in any given year, their first question would be “why do most of these have close up shots of dicks going into various orifices?”  See, a huge percentage of films made in North America are hardcore porn because it’s cheap as chips to make and very lucrative. But when we think of “American cinema”, My Ass is Haunted is not usually part of the conversation. We compartmentalise porn and regular cinema, while filing Japanese hentai simply under “animé”. Japan’s porn tends to be animated, but other that there’s no real difference. The Japanese are no more “weird” or “sick” than we are.

I wrote that back in my review of Akira, the first animé I ever reviewed for this blog. It was a plea for mutual respect and understanding between nations, a plea I must now formally retract because oh my God Japan’s weird guys.

Japan is so, so, so weird.

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Disney(ish) Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure

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

Yeah, but why though?

TangledYou gave a sequel series to Tangled? Aladdinfine. Big Hero SixCrying out for it. But Tangled?!

Hey, got nothing against the film. Y’all know that. #9 on my rankings. But of all the canon movies to try and spin a series of ongoing adventures out of why would you…

“Mouse?”

“What is it, SMOWE?”

“I just came to say goodbye. I’m going on a journey to find myself.”

“You’re going to…what?”

“What is my purpose? Who am I, really? Why am I called Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe when most of the time I’m not even that sarcastic? I don’t know where I’ll find the answers to these questions. All I know is, it’s not here.”

“Wait a minute, is this because tvtropes called you a Flat Character?”

“Farewell my friend.”

Well…speaking of characters with hidden layers going off on adventures no one expected or even asked for, what even is this nonsense?

Firstly, what are the two things everyone knows about Rapunzel? She’s got long golden hair, and she’s trapped in a tower. By the end of Tangled, neither of those are true anymore. This is like doing a Robin Hood show where he no longer robs from the rich and has instead become a quantity surveyor. Plus, the movie’s only real villain is dead. And it’s not like this was a particularly rich world that desperately needed exploring.

Nothing against Corona. Lovely scenery, good schools, suspiciously low crime rate. But it’s a pretty generic fantasy kingdom, and fairy light on the fantasy at that. There’s no real magic apart from one flower. No mythical beasts that we see other than a horse who may be some kind of equine god.

And on top of that, we already know how the story ends! Tangled Ever After shows Rapunzel and Eugene getting married with all the main characters from the first movie still alive and the status quo from the end of the first film in rude good health. So what you’ve got is a series where either nothing can happen, or anything that does happen will be reversed and will be ultimately meaningless. Which is why I feel confident in predicting, sight unseen, that this series is garbage and a waste of everyone’s valuable time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to go and validate my obviously correct first impression.

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Bats and Bolts versus Bandages and there are also Werewolves: Sommertime Sadness

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

“But THEN the blogger realised that his next scheduled post fell on HALLOWEEN!”

“Ooooooh.”

“Which meant that he had to review a SPOOKY movie or the commenters would piss and MOAN for all eternity.”

“Oh crap…”

“But THEN…when he went to look at his scheduled reviews…wading through Marvel movies, and Disney films and a metric shit-ton of animé the only horror movie that was left for him to review was…”

“VAN HELSING!”

“AHHHHHHH!”

“DUDE! DUDE! NOT COOL! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

“And the worst part is, this is a true story AND THAT BLOGGER WAS ME!!”

So a funny thing happened when I selected Van Helsing to be this year’s hastily thrown together Halloween offering. I watched it for the first time and it was so utterly awful that I realised I could not watch it again for the review. I am dead serious. Faced with sitting through all two hours and twenty five minutes of that monstrosity my brain temporarily paralysed me in my chair and said to me: “You watch that thing again, I am growing a tumour. Don’t try me, fool.”

And I did not go into this expecting to hate it. I was expecting trash. Fun trash. But this movie isn’t trash, it’s sewage. It’s just…God, I hate it. And this got me thinking, why is this movie so bad when it’s got so much in common with another film that I genuinely, unironically love:

Image result for the mummy 1994

Seriously, this flick’s my jam. Maybe not a top twenty film, but it’s a trusty old friend that I’m always happy to see. Now consider this:

Both these films are written by Stephen Sommers

Both these films were directed by Stephen Sommers.

Both these films are edited by Bob Ducsay.

Both are (at least nominally) action-horror-comedy remakes of Golden Age Universal horror flicks.

I guess my question is; what the fuck happened? Why are these two films, which are so similar on paper, on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of enjoyability? So, because I don’t really fancy getting a tumour, instead of doing the standard beat for beat review of Van Helsing, I thought it might be more interesting to compare these two movies in a Bats Versus Bolts style face off. With the understanding that this is less “Which movie is better?” and more “Why is the terrible one so terrible?”

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

Guys, we need to talk about Genie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How VERY dare you…”

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

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

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

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

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

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Mouse Hunt (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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