comedy

The Rise of Skywalker I saw (and nobody else did)

Spoilers for The Last Jedi from the outset, spoilers for Rise of Skywalker after the jump. 

I sense a great disturbance in the fandom…

Rise of Skywalker has begun its inevitable conquest of the global box office and people are about as mad at it as it is possible to be at something while still giving it a billion dollars. Call me Nostradamouse but I have the feeling this is going to end with two extremely angry, polarised factions dominating the fandom, those who love The Last Jedi and those who love Rise of Skywalker. And, while history shows that eventually the changes to canon Rise of Skywalker has wrought will be grudgingly accepted just like the New Editions, Midi-Chlorians, Leia being Luke’s sister, Jar Jar and the Ewoks…things are still pretty raw right now.

This is not my review of Rise of Skywalker because I’m not going to be doing a review of Rise of Skywalker because other than the occasional obscure bit of media here and there Star Wars is a picked clean zebra carcass on the Serengeti of the internet. Honestly, I don’t think I have anything to add by reviewing any of these movies. But in the coming great Jedi/Skywalker debate this is where I am:

Rian Johnson tried something bold, gutsy, admirable and radically deconstructive with The Last Jedi. Unfortunately, he did it with Star Wars, possibly the one major franchise least suited to that kind of take. Star Wars is very purposefully echoing the ancient tales laid out in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. They are supposed to be hero tales of the very oldest sort. What Johnson did was give us a fairy tale where the prince finds out he’s actually the heir to a small pub in the Netherlands, then gets eaten by the dragon, and the Princess frees herself and goes on to found a successful chain of business schools. It’s…different. Certainly. It subverts your expectations, no doubt. It’s probably got something frightfully clever to say about privilege and gender roles and such but it is also, on a very fundamental level, unsatisfying.  During Last Jedi I felt the following conversation was taking place.

“Ha! Isn’t this great? You don’t want to see some boring story about a Chosen One discovering a shocking secret lineage and fulfilling their Destiny as the galaxy’s saviour!”

“Of course not, why else would I be watching a Star Wars movie? Now please do something about all these ghastly space-ships.”

As for Rise of Skywalker, while the desperate back-peddling Abrams carries out to undo two of Johnson’s most significant choices would be hilarious if it wasn’t so bloody artless, I do kinda feel for the guy. Johnson left him with some very large corners to paint himself out of and precious little paint to do it (may cover that in another post). And yeah, Rise of Skywalker is a big messy, fan-servicey mess of fan-service (I’m a writer, me) but you know what? It’s fun. It’s got Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley having adventures and shooting flying storm troopers with C-3PO and Chewie and that is a good time. And Star Wars should be fun. Last Jedi feels like a slog, slowly watching our heroes being winnowed down and ground under by disappointments and betrayals.

Rise of Skywalker is like your typical Irishman. He has faults, and be God he has many of them. But he’s mad craic.

 But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the version of Rise of Skywalker that I saw and no one else did…

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Disney(ish) reviews with the Unshaved Mouse: Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

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Guys, tell me the truth. Am I going soft?

Do I just not have the same bile and critical killer instinct I once had?

Because I feel like I just don’t hate the way I used to. Maybe the Christmas spirit has managed to claw its way into my chest and lay its eggs along my cardiac wall. To put it another way, I’ve reviewed three Disney sequels/continuations this year and gave a positive review to every durn one of ‘em.

“Hey, it’s Old Man Mouse, let’s throw snowballs at him!”

“Why you little…beat it, you sequels!”

“Ooooh, whaddya gonna do? Give us a mixed to positive review?”

“Gasp! They’re not AFRAID of me anymore.”

It was with this in mind that I decided to review Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, Frozen short (well, I say “short”) that got people’s dander up something fierce two years ago when it was released preceding Coco. Whereas people were expecting a nice light, seven minute appetiser, they instead got a hefty twenty-one minute late lunch and the backlash was fierce enough that some theatres actually had signs warning ticket-holders that the snowman movie would be taking up more of their precious lives than they might have budgeted for. And, because it’s the 2010s and life is hell, the movie was also accused of racism, with the reasoning being that Disney were too racist to trust people to come and see a movie about Hispanic people without it being preceded by a short set in Scandinavia before the movie about Hispanic people that they had spent $175 million dollars making.

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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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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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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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The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

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In 1959, scientist CP Snow gave his highly influential lecture; The Two Cultures where he posited that Western civilization had prioritised literature and the humanities to the point that even the most educated members of society were functionally scientifically illiterate. Snow argued that we needed to spend less time on the arts and more time on mathematics and the hard sciences.

Flashforward to 2019 and, as I write this, the most pressing question in contemporary culture is which of a series of interchangeable slabs of orange bacon some wan from Longford is going to put her leg over first so good news, Mr Snow!

“Excellent, so presumably you are all now well versed in the noble sciences?”

“Feller, fer an egg-head you sure do say some dumb shit.”

The influence of The Two Cultures can be seen in The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s novel. Originally released to poor sales, it quickly surged on strong reviews and is now considered one of the classics of 20th century children’s literature something something something segue CHUCK JONES!

Okay, when it comes to the question of who was the greatest Looney Tunes director there are no wrong answers as long as that answer is CHUCK JONES! No disrespect to Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob McKimson or Bob Clampett (well, a little disprespect to Bob Clampett the credit-hogging cad). Together, these men created some of the greatest, most timeless cartoon characters of all time and also Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe LePew.

But the cartoons by Chuck Jones are just on another level. They’re not only hilarious (though, my God) they are art. They transcend their medium.

But by the late 1960s Jones had left Warner Bros and was working for MGM, trying to salvage the Tom and Jerry series after the studio had rather disastrously experimented with continuing the series with cheap Czech animation.

Yes, that’s what this was referencing.

The Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons were better received but to be perfectly fair Jones’ subtle poised style was always a bad fit for the frenetic Tom and Jerry shorts. I do love his re-designs for the characters though.

But Jones’ last animation for MGM was their adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is also the only feature length animation he ever directed (not counting various Looney Tunes compilation films). This movie was on heavy rotation in the mouse house when I was growing up, and when the grainy VHS tape that we had used to tape it off BBC 2 was lost there was much wailing and gnashing of incisors which is why my brother requested that I review it.

“Yeah. I did. FIVE YEARS AGO.”

Sorry bro. This one was an absolute bear to track down. I’ve been waiting to do this review for so long that all the Trump jokes were originally going to be Tea Party jokes.

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Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #57: Ralph Breaks the Internet

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So occasionally I will actually watch movies made for grownups and recently Ms Mouse and I saw Rocketman, which I can best describe as “Bohemian Rhapsody but not terrible”. Apart from quality the two movies are scarily similar but then I suppose that’s just the nature of musical bio-pics. They all follow the same pattern: You  start out with our protagonist living in grim, post-war Britain, all cobble-streets, glass milk bottles and tuberculosis. You have the unsupportive parents saying “Yew’ll nevah make nuffin o’ yoself” and then the moment where they decide to rename themselves from Rodney McBorningname to Elvis Stardazzle and then fame, fortune, a sleazy manager played by a Game of Thrones alum, rises, falls, break-ups, breakdowns and a moment where the protagonist’s oldest and dearest friend from childhood reads them the riot act.

What does this have to do with Ralph Breaks the Internet? Because if the Disney canon was a musical biopic, this movie would be the point in the story where Elvis Stardazzle is slumped over a table in a trashed mansion covered in a thick layer of cocaine and groupie juice, having driven away all the people who ever loved him with his massive ego and unwillingness to see how far he’s gone off the rails.

Guys, I’m not going to toy with you on this. I fucking hate this movie. My brother, the Unscrupulous Mouse, declared this the worst Disney canon movie since Dinosaur and, while I can’t agree, I really want to.  Can I sit here and tell you that animation is worse than Chicken Little? No. Can I tell you that it’s worse directed than Home on the Range? Well…I mean…no. No I can’t do that. What’s wrong with Wreck It Ralph 2 isn’t anything to do with the animation or direction or voice cast but with an attitude of insufferable all-encompassing smugness that sets me little mouse teeth right on edge. Everything from that FUCKING title to the instant datedness of the references to the obnoxious “what you gonna do about it?” reminders of the Disney corporation’s near cultural stranglehold on every nook and cranny of pop culture. I hate it. I hate this. I hate what Disney’s become.

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