controversy

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Endless Eight

“Hello, Mr Mouse. I’d like to make a donation to your blog.”

“MOUSE LIKE MONEY.”

“Would you be willing to do a blog post setting out your thoughts on the latest developments in the field of Quantum Chemistry?”

“Well I don’t know anything about Quantum Chemistry and in fact had never even heard of it before but I’m sure an hour or so of research on the internet should be all I need to get up to speed.”

“I’ve made a HUGE mistake.”

Replace “Quantum Chemistry” with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and that’s pretty much where we’re at, folks. I…I misjudged this one, not gonna lie. I thought “Sure, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a cartoon! I can review cartoons, I do it all the time!”. But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a cartoon show in the same way the Bible is a novel. I didn’t know what it was before, and after many hours of research I still feel like I’m missing pretty vital information. This is a show with no clearly defined genre packed with references to advanced scientific and mathematical concepts. This is the kind of stuff I was coming across when researching these episodes:

Ah. Of course.

Okay, let’s start with the facts. The Melancholy of Haruhi Susumiya is the animé adaptation of Naguro Tanigawa’s series of light novels featuring the eponymous schoolgirl. Haruhi is really bored with her everyday life and the boring people around her and founds a school club with her friend, Kyon, to find aliens and other supernatural creatures and…just…hang out with them. Oh, and Haruhi is actually an all-powerful reality warper  who has to be kept in the dark about her abilities in case she does untold damage to the world around her.

Ah, that old saw.

The TV adaptation was first broadcast in 2006 and became one of the biggest hits in the history of animé, achieving worldwide success and becoming an unstoppable cultural behemoth. Apparently. Because, as I hinted before, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING AND NOW I THINK I’M GOING CRAZY. DID I SLIP INTO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?

“WHY DOES NO ONE REMEMBER THAT NELSON MANDELA DIED IN PRISON AND WHY CAN’T I FIND SHAZAAM ON NETFLIX?!”

But apparently yes, this show was huge. So after the first season was released the show seemed unstoppable. The second season was announced in 2007 and the fandom was whipped into a frothing lathery frenzy. And then…

Hooooo boy.

What followed was one of the most spectacularly misjudged testings of fan loyalty that I have ever heard of. Within a single story arc, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya managed to piss away every last drop of audience goodwill it had accrued over the years. The franchise carried on after this for a while but it was a dead toon walking. No third season has been announced, and the franchise is now effectively dead. The arc in question was called The Endless Eight. So, what did this animé about a Japanese schoolgirl do to honk off its fanbase to the point that they abandoned it en masse? Did it involve tentacles? Surprisingly, it did not.

The Endless Eight is a story that sees Haruhi, Kyon and their friends trapped in a time loop in the last week of summer. The first episode ends with them still in the timeloop. The second episode is the first episode repeated. Because they’re still in the time loop, y’see. And each week, increasingly bewildered and enraged fans would tune in, only to be forced to watch the same episode again and again and again and again and again and again and that is not hyperbole because no lie they did this EIGHT GOD DAMNED TIMES. For real. Eight weeks of the same episode. And here’s the thing, it’s not like they just re-screened the same episode. Each episode was re-animated from scratch, each line of dialogue recorded eight times but the script remained the same with a few changes here and there. Every time.

I…just…that’s brilliant? Is it? No? I…no. It’s stupid, isn’t it? It’s real stupid. But at the same time…the balls that takes, right? But still, no. That’s just…no. But, isn’t it brilliant? But…GAWD. That’s the kind of reckless, devil-may-care creative choice that I can’t help but admire.

So here’s the thing, I know nothing about this franchise. I do not have the time to devote to exploring its mysteries and subtleties and its place in animé history. So I’m just gonna throw myself into this headfirst and review all four hours of the The Endless Eight because, fuck it. You only live once. Or eight times. Whatever.

(more…)

Fritz the Cat (1972)

“Heeey everyone.”

“Heeey everyone.”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

250px-Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule. You hurt the ones I love?”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule: You hurt the ones I love?”

"I WILL FUCK YOUR FUCKING SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK UP."

“I WILL FUCK YOUR FUCKING SHIT RIGHT THE FUCK UP. IF YOU EVER PULL ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN I WILL TRACK YOU DOWN THERE IS NOWHERE YOU CAN HIDE. PAIN? I WILL MAKE YOU LONG FOR SOMETHING AS SWEET AS PAIN.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

***

 Do you know what it’s like to review Fritz the Cat? To sit in the dark watching that cat fuck everything that moves, to feel your brain slowly coming apart from the constant assault of surreal, messed up, toked out, crazy shit? No. You don’t. Because you’ve never been out there, man. Out in the real deep shit. This movie man. You don’t know, man. It’s like, you think you have a handle on things, man, like life and art and truth and beauty man like they’re all just packaged and sold in these neat little Styrofoam boxes, man, and then this movie comes along and it’s like, you know man? Like, what does it all mean, man? I…I…I shouldn’t be doing this man, I should be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas, man…
“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

"YOU WERENT THERE MAN!"

“YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN!”

 Sorry. Sorry. I’m alright. Okay. Let’s do this.
For as long as there have been comics there have been “underground” comics, the kind of comics that aren’t read in a newspaper at the breakfast table on a lazy Sunday morning but are more usually read at night. Under the covers. With a flashlight.
Jerkin’ it.
Pornographic comic books or “Tijuana Bibles” were especially popular in the Great Depression and usually featured well known comic book characters or public figures engaging in what scripture calls “the hard fuckin’”. No one was safe. Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman you name it, someone drew them doin’ it.
Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

By the 1960s the underground comics (or “comix”) scene had merged with the broader counter culture movement. In contrast to mainstream comics which had to abide by the Comics Code Authority, comix were uncensored and didn’t abide by jack shit. These books were absolutely steeped in sixties drug and music culture, often politically radical and transgressive and extreme in their depictions of sex and violence. They also, it must be said, frequently had a streak of misogyny a mile wide. But at its best, the comix scene produced some of the finest American sequential art of the twentieth century (Art Spiegelman, for example, honed his craft in indie magazines in the seventies).
The one creator who is probably more associated with the comix scene than any other is Robert Crumb and his most famous creation is almost certainly Fritz the Cat, an anthropomorphised cat who’s kinda like Felix crossed with Roosh V. The Fritz strips first appeared in the magazine Help! where the editors famously responded to his submission with a letter saying; “Dear R. Crumb, we think the little pussycat drawings you sent us were just great. Question is, how do we print them without going to jail?” The comic became a genuine breakout hit and was read by many a long-haired hippie degenerate, one of whom was our old friend Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi had set up his own animation studio and was looking to create animation for adults. He came across one of Crumb’s books and bought the rights to the strip. Warner Bros originally were going to fund it but then they saw Bakshi’s early shoots.
Vapors
Instead, the movie ended up being funded by Cinemation Industries, purveyor of such highbrow classics as The Black Godfather, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and The Eighteen Year Old Cheerleaders.
It’s important to remember that there was a weird period from the late sixties to around the mid-eighties where porn was pretty much mainstream, and you could just go to the cinema and watch a big budget porno made and financed by a large studio as opposed to some dude with a camera and a couch. Fritz the Cat is very much a part of that. It’s not solely a porno but it’s got relatives who are pornos if you catch me. So before we get into this review please take note that this is a movie with sex and nudity, pretty grotesque ethnic caricatures, frequent homophobic and racial slurs and some generally fucked up shit.
What I’m trying to say is…
“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

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Watership Down (1978)

In the 1970s Richard Adams, a British civil servant and WW2 veteran wrote down a story about rabbits he had told to his daughters. He sent it to a few publishers who rejected it before it was finally printed by a small London based publisher, became an instant international bestseller, won the Carnegie medal and allowed Adams to quit his job and work full time as a writer.
This, and I cannot stress this enough, does not usually happen.
The book’s success was so stunning that it immediately gave birth to a sub-genre of animal fantasy stories. Colin Dann’s  The Animals of Farthing Wood was published a few years later and it feels like half the books I read growing up were about a group of some species of animal trying to get from point A to point B without getting run over by Toyotas. Seriously, there were Watership Down-esque books about hares, owls, squirrels, foxes, otters, even fish.
Yes. This was a real goddamn thing.

Yes. This was a real goddamn thing.

Some were good. Some were terrible. Some were about fish. But none were ever able to match the popularity of the original. Because there is only one Watership Down. Well, until Adams published the sequel in the nineties. Then there were two. Anyway, my point is; other books have fans. Watership Down has cultists. And I’m one of them. I fell in love with this book in primary school and checked it out of the school library so many times that the librarian finally said “You know what? Just keep it.”
Yeah, pretty much.

Yeah, pretty much.

So what makes it so good? Well at the most fundamental level Adams is just a phenomenally good writer with a lovely, clear, elegant prose style that can switch between bucolic descriptions of the English countryside to a muscular blow by blow account of two rabbits kicking the hraka out of each other. Coupled with that, the personalities of the various rabbits are simple but distinct and vivid. Adams based the personalities of the main rabbits on his squad from the war back when he was a smouldering, sensitive young officer with dark unfathomable eyes and a soft voice that could win the heart of any army nurse who crossed his path.
"Jerry's an alright sort. He's just being lead by a bad egg."

“Jerry’s an alright sort. He’s just being lead by a bad egg.”

But the most important trick of any fantasy novel is to bring you into its world. It’s why Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are so beloved, because the amount of detail and thought that has gone into crafting Westeros and Middle Earth makes reading the books almost like taking a holiday in a foreign country, albeit one filled with rampaging orcs (so, like Lanzarote).
This is the real genius of Watership Down. Adams gives his rabbits a language and a mythology and threads details of it throughout the larger narrative. And while they have been anthropomorphized to an extent, they’re still very much rabbits. They behave and react like wild animals, and they have difficulty understanding sophisticated concepts like art or, say, numbers higher than four.
Today’s movie was released in 1978, a mere six years after the book was published. And given the length of time it takes to get an independently financed feature length animation off the ground we can probably take it that the movie was in the works almost as soon as the ink was dry on the first print run. The film is now regarded as a classic of British animation and Total Film named it as one of their greatest British films of all time. But it’s also been at the centre of controversy ever since the British censorship board rated it “U” or suitable for all ages, a decision that they are still getting complaints about almost forty years later. And loathe as I am to side with the Helen Lovejoys of the world, yeah. No way in Inlé should this have gotten a U rating.
Yes. "Mild" violence. If youre a fucking DROOG!

Yes. “Mild” violence. If you’re a fucking DROOG.

 

  But is the movie really as good as all that? Let’s take a look. Spoiler warnings for both the movie and book ahead.
AD

(more…)

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

Previously on Unshaved Mouse: After learning that he’d been secretly manipulated into destroying the career of Don Bluth, Mouse swore revenge against his former mentor Walt Disney, promising to review “The Worst Disney Movie”. However, it seemed that the two had finally buried the hatchet after Mouse reviewed Big Hero 6 in an attempt to boost his flagging page views just ‘cos. But then, Walt was kidnapped by Mouse’s entire rogue’s gallery who it turned out had been led by none other than…Mouse.
Now read on.
“You’re kidding. Saving Mr Banks? That’s your pick for worst Disney movie?”

“You’re kidding. Saving Mr Banks? That’s your pick for worst Disney movie?”

“Yup.”

“Yup.”

“Not one of the straight to video sequels? Not the High School Musical movies?”

“Not one of the straight to video sequels? Not the High School Musical movies?”

“Nope.”

“Nope.”

“Pff. Lemmings. Who cares? Buncha racists.”

“Pff. Lemmings. Who cares? Buncha racists.”

"FUCK YOU, MAZERUNNER!"

“FUCK YOU, MAZERUNNER!”

“Saving Mr Banks was a critical darling! It grossed over a hundred million dollars! How can it possibly be the worst Disney movie?”

Saving Mr Banks was a critical darling! It grossed over a hundred million dollars! How can it possibly be the worst Disney movie?”

"Well, "worst" can have very different meanings."

“Well, “worst” can have very different meanings.”

Pamela Lyndon Travers, born Helen Lyndon Goff was a remarkable woman who led a remarkable life. At various times a Shakespearean actor, a scholar of Native American cultures, a propagandist during the second world war, a member of the literati who rubbed shoulders with the likes of AE and WB Yeats and the creator of Mary Poppins, one of the most popular children’s characters in English language literature. She was also, by most accounts, a bit of a pill. In fact, it’s been said that she died “loving no one, and loved by no one.” Who said that? Her own grandchildren. Yikes.
A question I got asked a lot after my review of Mary Poppins was whether I had read any of the original books and the answer was “No.” I have since had a chance to rectify that, or at least, I’ve managed to read the first book, the one that the 1964 film was based on. In my opinion it’s a charmingly written, often very witty book that’s let down by a somewhat ramshackle episodic structure and the fact that the main character is WORSE THAN HITLER.
Sorry, I know a lot of people love these books and prefer the literary version of Mary Poppins but oh my God, no. No, no, no, no, no, She is awful. Vain, mean, borderline emotionally abusive, contemptuous of everything and everyone, snobbish, nakedly hostile to anyone who is not on their knees kissing her very shoes and she sniffs. Constantly. “Mary Poppins sniffed…” it was like a goddamn tic. By the end of the book I was like…
Sniff again
And today’s movie, Saving Mr Banks, is about how that book  and its fairly unlikable author and its deeply unpleasant main character were somehow corralled into making one of my favourite movies by one of my favourite film-makers. You could not engineer a safer audience for this movie than me. So how badly do you think they had to fuck it up for me to hate this movie, to hate the Disney corporation that made it and even for a little of that hate to wipe off on my memories of the original film? How hard do you have to try to fail that badly?
Let’s take a look.

You’re making a sitcom about what now?

When it comes to comedy, I always feel that “You can’t make jokes about X.” is a non-starter. As long as X is a part of our shared experience as human beings it’s something that humour can and should be drawn from.
Even if X is something awful?
No, not even.
Especially.
Our ability to mock and make light of life’s many horrors is often all we have to keep us from going insane. Now, that’s not to say that some jokes can’t be cruel, tasteless, despicable or flat out evil. Of course they can. But if you look at the reasons why those jokes are offensive it’s never the subject matter in and of itself. It’s a question of presentation, delivery, target (are we laughing at the Nazis or the people they killed?) and most importantly of all, whether or not the joke is funny. A comedian who makes a joke about shocking subject matter because it’s genuinely funny is doing his job. A comedian who makes a joke about shocking subject matter because it’s shocking is a hack.
I firmly believe this, that it’s not what you’re writing about but how you write about it that matters most in comedy.
You can make good comedy about anything…is a principle that I have never had reason to doubt until now.
Ohhhhhhhh Lord.

Ohhhhhhhh Lord.

So there’s been a storm brewing here since the Irish Times interviewed Dublin writer Hugh Travers who casually let slip that he is working on a new sitcom called Hungry with British broadcaster Channel 4 set during the Irish Famine of 1845. My Facebook feed right now is half people calling for petitions and boycotts and the forcible retaking of the six counties and the other half calling for everyone to lighten up or at least wait until the damn thing has aired before getting in a lather. Now normally, I would absolutely be in the lather/latter camp. Don’t judge the work until you’ve actually had a chance to see it, and I suppose I still am in that camp. But on the other hand, I absolutely get why people are angry or at least, very, very worried about this.
Okay, so a little background.
By the middle of the nineteenth century around two thirds of Irish people were farmers, most of them tending tiny plots of land that were barely large enough to feed them and their families (whole host of political and historical reasons for this, no time to go into here). As a result, the vast majority of the peasantry lived almost exclusively on potatoes because you get more calories per acre from them than just about any other crop that was available at the time. So everything was fine (barring the crippling poverty, awful living standards, cultural erasure, and brutally incompetent foreign rule) as long as the potato crop didn’t fail.
Who, apart from 175 ignored governmental inquiries, could have foreseen this!?

Who, apart from 175 ignored governmental inquiries, could have foreseen this!?

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The Unshaved Mouse’s Top 5 Guilty Pleasures

 

Irish comedian Dara O’Brian has a great bit where he rants about the term “guilty pleasure”. Liking a certain band or movie, he argues, should not make you feel guilty and the term “guilty pleasure” should be reserved for things that should actually make you feel guilty, like smelling women on public transport. He’s probably right, and part of me thinks that if you’ve found something in this often scary and uncaring world that makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else, more power to you. I, however, was raised Catholic, which means that pretty much all pleasures are guilty pleasures. These ones though? These are the things that I love that just make me feel dirty.
 
5) Family Guy
family-guy
 
Why I love it.
 
Alright, I know that this is a terrible show. It commits basically every writing sin there is, there’s no structure, zero consistent characterisation and it leans way, way, waaaaay too hard on shock value to try and get its laughs. And, just so we can put this to bed, racist humour is not edgy.
It's not "cutting edge" if it predates the frickin' talkies.

It’s not “cutting edge” if it predates the frickin’ talkies.

And yet, and yet…in any given episode of this show there will be at least one joke, one gag, one little bit of surrealist humour that will make me laugh out loud. Law of averages I guess. This show’s modus operandi is flinging gags at the wall at a rate of knots and hoping that they stick. And, as much as the scripting is bad in a kind of big-picture, overall sense, there are often little scenes and vignettes that contain some frankly beautiful writing. There’s a scene (incidentally from one of my least favourite episodes) where Stewie takes the entire cast of Next Generation to the drive though and it just captures perfectly the frustrations of trying to order for a large group of people and that is something I think that Family Guy can do very, very well. Just capturing the truth of little day to day moments. Also, whatever you may think of his comedy, Set McFarlane is an absolutely phenomenal voice actor.
 
Guilt Level: Parking in the disabled zone.
So why do I feel guilty? 
smartermaid
Yeah.
 
4) “Ill Mind 5” by Hopsin
 
WARNING: SO, SO, SO FUCKING NSFW
Why I love it
 
I first came across this song on That Guy With the Glasses when RapCritic named it his best song of the year. After one listen it was already my favourite rap song of all time. Over the course of three verses addressed to, in turn, a white high school dropout, a white teenage girl and a black wannabe gangsta Hopsin takes his entire benighted generation and goes through it for a shortcut, lambasting his contemporaries as shallow, driftless, lazy, celebrity-obsessed jackasses. With impeccable flow and timing, pitch black wordplay and white-hot rage Hopsin makes a lecture essentially telling kids to stay in school, study and eat their greens sound like the most hardcore, revolutionary thing you’ve ever heard.
 
Guilt Level: Shouting “bollocks” in a crowded church. 
 
Yeah, as Rap Critic himself pointed out, it’s that second verse that really raises the alarm bells. It’s not even that I particularly disagree with Hop’s central premise viz; that if you’re a young woman who’s primary method of meeting guys is to go down to a skeezy nightclub and essentially give the patrons a strip show gratis then it’s maybe slightly disingenuous to then complain that the men you’re attracting aren’t exactly the gender’s A-team. But let’s be honest, am I going to sit here and pretend that lines like “You want Romeo, you’re not worthy/You’re cock-thirsty, nasty and probably got herpes” aren’t horribly misogynistic? No. Because I speak English as a first language and know what all those words mean. Does that mean it’s a bad song? Um…no. Great art does not have to be nice, and great artists often aren’t nice people (for example: pretty much every great artist who has ever lived).
 
3) Hannibal
 
hannibal1_2553735b1
Why I love it
 
Bryan Fuller’s retelling of the pre-incarceration years of Hannibal Lecter may be one of the most beautifully shot and scored series ever made for American TV. The cast (Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishbourne, Gillian Anderson) is A list, the performances are magnetic and the whole thing just drips with atmosphere.
 
Guilt level: Realising you’ve shot the wrong Captain Kirk.
 
There’s an episode in season 2 where Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishbourne) recalls how Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) objected to the name of the FBI’s “Evil Minds Research Museum”. Graham’s objection being that the name glamourizes and mythologises serial killers, making merely mentally ill criminals seem like mystical creatures. No word of a lie, when I heard that line I laughed milk out my nose at the show’s chutzpah, because glamourizing serial killers is Hannibal’s whole raison d’etre. Whether it’s the title character or any one of this universe’s seemingly inexhaustible stable of gimmick based recreational homicide enthusiasts, the series constantly presents serial murderers as terrifyingly brilliant, tortured, beautiful, otherworldly monsters. But, hey, it’s TV. I can look past that. I can also look past the show’s depiction of the seriously suspect practice of criminal profiling as essentially magic, allowing the writers to skip to the next phase of the investigation whenever they feel like it. No, it was around the end of season one when the murders became less “lurid crime scenes” and more “fucking art installation pieces”that I finally realised that this ostensibly VERY SERIOUS show was running on pixie dust and dream logic.
"Our killer just arrived, spent two weeks assembling this and the POOF! He was gone..."

“Our killer just arrived, spent two weeks assembling this and then POOF! He was gone…”

2) Warhammer 40k
W40K
 
Why I love it
 
Weirdly, I consider myself a fan of Warhammer 40k despite never actually having played the tabletop game. I’m just a fan of the setting (and I’m also an addict of the tie-in PC game Dawn of War). In the 41st Millennium, the Imperium of Man, a vast despotic empire spanning thousands of worlds, battles enemies on all sides while crumbling under the weight of its own corruption and the malicious influence of the dark gods of Chaos. The Warhammer 40k universe may actually be the grimmest in all of fiction. Take the Tau. They’re an expansionist alien empire base on Imperial Japan, forcibly conquering other alien races and annexing them in service of “The Greater Good”. In any other science fiction setting these would be the bad guys. In 40k, they’re the closest thing to heroes. Then there’s the Eldar, an ancient species so spectacularly racist that they would happily let an entire alien civilization die to save one member of their own, the Orks, who wage massive intergalactic rampages for fun, the Imperium, a ruthlessly xenophovic theocracy that want to murder anyone who’s not human, the Necrons, who want to murder everyone, period, and the Tyranids who want to murder everyone and then eat them. Oh, and then there’s the forces of Chaos. Who are the bad guys. 
Guilt level: Recounting your time in the Khmer Rouge to an international tribunal
 
Because it makes me a massive hypocrite. I’m the guy who’s got a quote on TVTropes “Silly Rabbit, Cynicism is for Kids” page about how the most important and worthwhile thing in fiction is to write something uplifting that doesn’t give in to cynicism and nihilism. And yet, here I am, a fan of probably one of the most nihilistic fictional universes there is. But I can’t help it, it’s just so sumptuously gothic, so meticulously detailed in its awfulness that I can’t help but love it. There’s something about the Imperium especially, basically Gormenghast crossed with the Galactic Empire, that I find incredibly compelling. Lemme tell you, if they ever make a movie based on this, they need to get Terry Gilliam to direct it.
 

1) Reading bad reviews.

 Critic
Why I love it
 
Probably my favourite piece of internet movie criticism, and probably the one that inspired me to begin reviewing movies myself, is Doug Walker’s evisceration of The Legend of the Titanic. I remember thinking that what Doug was doing was almost artistic reclamation, taking a movie that had almost no redeeming features and using it as material to create something hilarious and quite brilliant. I like the idea that any movie, no matter how bad, can be put to good use and made into something entertaining. And let’s be honest, there is just something so satisfying about seeing some piece of hackwork torn apart with a single, withering put down. I don’t really write that many negative reviews myself (of the 65 movies I’ve reviewed only 13 have scored over 50% or lower) but whenever I see a one star review or an F-Grade on the AV Club I am all over that like white on rice.
 
Guilt level: Hearing that damn heart beat under the floorboards.
 
‘Cos it’s schadenfreude, pure and simple. Because, at least it part, it’s an act of mockery. And because as a writer I know that getting bad reviews is part and parcel of being a writer, actor, director, successful hotel chain, whatever, and I have no right to be smug. Am I going to stop reading bad reviews? Absolutely not. But as it happens, I’m going to be reviewing several plays in the upcoming Dublin Tiger Fringe and Dublin Theatre Festivals for Meg.ie. And some of those shows I may have to pan. But in the back of my mind I will always be thinking that that could be me. And really, in the interest of fairness, if I’m going to read other people’s bad reviews, they should be able to read mine.
 
***
Neil Sharpson aka The Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, blogger and comic book writer living in Dublin. The blog updates with a new animated movie review every second Thursday. He’s also serialising his novel The Hangman’s Daughter with a new chapter every Saturday. Like Unshaved Mouse? Let the good people at the Blog Awards Ireland know what’s what by voting for me HERE.

Walt Disney Reviews Foodfight!

 

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is the property of the Walt Disney Corporation.  The Walt Disney Corporation reserves the right to protect its copyrighted material from any and all infringement. Violators will be shot and fed to the shareholders. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

"Mouse! Mouse! Where are you!"

“Mouse! Mouse! Where are you!”

"Walt!? What are you doing?! Get out of here while you still can!"

“Walt!? What are you doing?! Get out of here while you still can!”

 Awful
"My God, it’s even worse than I imagined. The animation…so awful…the characters…so…ugly…"

“My God, it’s even worse than I imagined. The animation…so awful…the characters…so…ugly…”

"Disney. You came."

“Disney. You came.”

"Huh. I had a feeling the Horned King wasn’t smart enough to pull something like this off. You must be the man behind the man."

“Huh. I had a feeling the Horned King wasn’t smart enough to pull something like this off. You must be the man behind the man.”

"Indeed."

“Indeed.”

"Well played."

“Well played.”

"Thank you."

“Thank you.”

"It was you…"

“It was you…”

"Obviously."

“Obviously.”

"But then how?"

“But then how?”

"Don’t you see?"

“Don’t you see?”

"Ah. Brilliant."

“Ah. Brilliant.”

"So you understand?"

“So you understand?”

"Of course."

“Of course.”

"Good. Then there’s no reason for me to explain."

“Good. Then there’s no reason for me to explain.”

"Of course not. It’s simplicity itself. You’d have to be an idiot not to understand."

“Of course not. It’s simplicity itself. You’d have to be an idiot not to understand.”

"What are you talking about?"

“What are you talking about?”

"Your witness."

“Your witness.”

"It was I who resurrected the Horned King, you furry fool. I who suggested to him that he trap you in this movie."

“It was I who resurrected the Horned King, you furry fool. I who suggested to him that he trap you in this movie.”

"Why? What did I ever do to you?"

“Why? What did I ever do to you?”

"You? My poor deluded Mouse. This was never about YOU. I did all this to get HIM here."

“You? My poor deluded Mouse. This was never about YOU. I did all this to get HIM here.”

"Why? Who are you?"

“Why? Who are you?”

"Someone who owes you a lifetime of torment. Someone who has suffered at your hands like no other. Someone whose desire for revenge burns like the fire of a thousand white hot suns."

“Someone who owes you a lifetime of torment. Someone who has suffered at your hands like no other. Someone whose desire for revenge burns like the fire of a thousand white hot suns.”

"That could literally be anyone. Care to narrow it down for me?"

“That could literally be anyone. Care to narrow it down for me?”

"P.L. Travers maybe?"

“P.L. Travers maybe?”

"Ooh! Good guess! Pamela, is that you?"

“Ooh! Good guess! Pamela, is that you?”

"NO I AM NOT PAMELA TRAVERS! NOW REVIEW THE MOVIE! REVIEW…AND DIE!"

“NO I AM NOT PAMELA TRAVERS! NOW REVIEW THE MOVIE! REVIEW…AND DIE!”

The origins of Foodfight are shrouded in mystery and occultation. It is said to have been the creation of “Larry Kasanoff”, a figure who appears in Arab folklore as a wandering trickster and teller of evil tales. Legend has it that Kasanoff was entranced by Pixar’s Toy Story, and tried to make his own version set in a supermarket, with corporate mascots instead of beloved toys. He approached the masters and lords of coproate America and with honeyed words filled their hearts with greed. “My Lords” he said “Think of it, a film that was an advertisement. Two hours of product placement made for little, impressionable children. Is it not glorious?” And, so, the story goes, they agreed to let Kasanoff use their mascots for his diabolical scheme. For many long years he toiled at his black work, suffering many setbacks. Indeed, his early work was stolen in what Kasanoff called “industrial espionage” but what we can only call “true heroism”. This forced Kasanoff to start again from scratch. Whoever that nameless thief was, we must thank him for seeking to spare us this monstrosity, even if ultimately his work was for nothing.
"Many Bothans died trying to stop this movie."

Many Bothans died trying to stop this movie.

Then again, this is all supposition. Perhaps there never was a “Larry Kasanoff”. We may never know who created Foodfight! Maybe it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that it exists. I am Walter Elias Disney, The Doom of Bahia, Master of the Black Mouse and defender of this world. And today, at last, I know fear. Today, I review Foodfight!

(more…)

Well…that’s that.

Mr Neil Sharpson and the Sunday Independent

The Press Ombudsman has decided that the Sunday Independent made an offer of sufficient remedial action to resolve a complaint by Mr Neil Sharpson that an article published on 25 August 2013, reporting certain claims about alternative technologies, was in breach of Principles 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

The article reported on what it said was a groundbreaking new Irish technology that “could be the greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough.”

Mr Sharpson complained that the claims made in the article were not justified and that the newspaper had compromised its authority as a source of public information by publishing them. The newspaper responded that the complainant was perfectly entitled to enter into a debate on the merits or otherwise of the claimed breakthrough, and invited him to submit a letter for publication.

The complainant submitted two letters strongly challenging the scientific claims reported in the article and the newspaper’s decision to publish it. Neither of these, however, satisfied the newspaper’s requirements that the response should be a measured one capable of being published in a national newspaper as opposed to on a blog, and left open its offer to consider publishing a more appropriate version of his letter subject to the usual legal and editorial constraints.

It is clear that, in matters of controversy, newspapers provide a service to their readers by making space available to the protagonists of different points of view and this article was, on the face of it, likely to give rise to substantial controversy. At the same time, the newspaper was within its rights in limiting its offer to publish a letter from the complainant to one that would comply with the necessary legal and editorial constraints and, for this reason, the offer constituted an offer of sufficient remedial action to resolve the complaint.

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #33: Pocahontas

 

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

***

We’d been working it on it for a couple of months and then Jeffrey calls a “breakfast meeting”. And in the meeting, we have the whole crew from Pocahontas and Lion King. And Jeffrey said “Pocahontas is a home run! It’s West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet with American Indians! It’s a smash hit!  Lion King on the other hand, it’s kind of an experiment, we don’t really know if people are going to want to see it.””

Rob Minkoff, Co-director of The Lion King.

Guys. You know me. I’m not a hatchet artist. I don’t enjoy tearing movies to pieces. I didn’t start this blog because I wanted to take cheap shots, I did it as a cynical promotional tool to advance my writing career because I love this gorgeous, hilarious, deeply weird gaggle of animated films we call the Disney canon. And I know a lot of you have been looking forward to seeing me feast on this thing’s entrails like a rabid boar but I honestly cannot think of anything more dispiriting to write and unpleasant to read than one long, unending rant.
So…
I’m laying down a few ground rules right from the start. Think of these as handicaps to give this movie a fighting chance so that it doesn’t just turn into a complete bloodbath.
  1. I’m not going to mark this movie down for its inaccurate portrayal of Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, Amerindians, Native Peoples
These guys.

These guys.

Not that the movie doesn’t get a lot of things wrong (I have it on good account that it does) but it’s not like I’m an expert so I don’t really feel qualified to call the movie out on its failures in that regard. See, the thing is…it is damn hard to write a portrayal of Those Guys in any medium that doesn’t end up annoying somebody. There are just so many stereotypes and tired tropes floating around that it is almost impossible to write a character that doesn’t fall into at least some of them. (Actually, if there are any Native Americans or people of Native American ancestry reading this I would be very interested to know if there are any portrayals in TV or movies that you feel actually got it right. Let me know in the comments.)  I am under no illusions that by deciding to make this movie Disney wasn’t setting itself up for a lose/lose situation.
Having said that, let’s be clear: They FUCKING LOST.
  1. I’m not going to mark this movie down for its historical inaccuracy.
It’s a cartoon. Not a historical document. So I don’t particularly care that Pocahontas is not twelve and John Smith is not a forty year old ginger. I will still mock this movie like the dickens for comedic effect, but it’s not going to have an impact on the final score.
  1. I’m not going to mark this down for failing to address the issues of genocide, forced relocations, slavery et al.
It’s a movie set in 1607. Short of one of the characters getting their hands on a time machine, how can the movie address events that wouldn’t happen decades or even centuries into the future? Granted, it hangs like a big black hanging thing over the entire movie, but that’s more history’s fault than the film’s. Besides. Do you really want to see a Disney movie that gave a realistic depiction of the Jamestown settlement? (Answer: No, no. Not even a little. No.)
I’m laying down these rules because, honestly, if this movie was good? If I cared deeply about the characters? If I was entranced by the story and thought the script was witty and emotionally satisfying? If I loved the art style and didn’t find the songs insufferably smug? None of the above would matter. You think I care that Mulan is set in the wrong dynasty or that Jungle Book makes no reference to India’s struggle for independence from British rule? Not a bit. So if it doesn’t matter to me when the movie’s good, why should it matter when the movie’s bad?
Oh yeah. The movie’s bad. Really bad. Like, a failure on all but the most technical level. Technically, it’s fine. The story structure is pretty much text-book. The animation is largely excellent if joyless and devoid of any real inspiration. But this thing is dead inside. It’s like someone killed a Disney movie and staged a macabre puppet show with the body. It’s the worst kind of formula driven, corporate movie making trying to hide its soullessness behind  a vague veneer of empty New Agey spirituality. And it’s dumb. It’s really dumb. There are dumb movies, and there are smart movies and the great earth is big and rich enough for both but one thing I cannot stand is a dumb movie that thinks it’s smart.
So. How came we by this travesty?
Being Irish, I know a thing or two about booms and busts and when I read about the giddy optimism that was bubbling through Disney by the mid-nineties I can’t help but feel a little twinge of Celtic Tiger PTSD.
True story. Where I live was right in that thing's crotch.

True story: Where I live was right in that thing’s crotch.

Under the guidance of the Katzenberg/Eisner/Disney triumvirate the Disney animation studio had gone from being a financial liability to a money making machine. Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King. One after the other.

"HEY! WHAT ARE WE, INVISIBLE?!"

“HEY! WHAT ARE WE, INVISIBLE?!”

Four of the biggest animated movies, hell, four of the biggest movies of all time in a six year span. Couple that record box office take with equally record breaking VHS sales and merchandising and you are talking about a billion dollar enterprise. I wouldn’t be surprised if years later it turned out that the real reason Katzenberg left was that Eisner kept cheating during their daily money fights. And, to their credit, Katzenberg and Eisner made sure plenty of that money got to the people who made it all possible. Suddenly, the animators’ parking lot was filling up each day with Bentleys and Jaguars. Generous bonuses were being lavished all around and the animation wing had a brand new state-of-the-art office building built just for them. But there was a cost to all this. Whereas the animation studio that Walt Disney had founded would slowly and methodically work on one film, release it, and then start on the next, Roy Disney had decreed that a new full length animated film would be released every year. As well as working on Pocahontas, the animation studio was finishing off Lion King, prepping for Hunchback of Notre Dame and working on A Goofy Movie and Nightmare Before Christmas. This massive workload resulted in long hours, stress and more than a few ruined marriages. And the toll wasn’t merely psychological either. Watch interviews and footage of the Disney animators of this period and you’ll see a lot of people rubbing their wrists, flexing and unflexing their fingers, squinting…we don’t normally think of artistic fields of endeavour as being physically gruelling but animation can put an absolutely brutal toll on the human body. Then of course there was the tragic death of Frank Wells, a huge psychic shock to the company made worse by the ugly fallout and Katzenberg’s departure from Disney.

It’s not possible to recount why Katzenberg left without getting into a lot of “he said she said” bullshit. From what I can gather Katzenberg’s version of events was that Eisner promised Katzenberg the  position vacated by Wells but then withdrew the offer because he was jealous of how Katzenberg was getting all these press accolades for having turned things around at Disney. Eisner, for his part, says that the position was Katzenberg’s for the taking if he’d just waited a while and not been lobbying for it so soon after Wells’ death. Did Katzenberg resign? Was he fired? Don’t know, honestly don’t really care. The point is, halfway through production of Pocahontas Katzenberg had left Disney vowing revenge.
"Fools! I shall destroy them all!"

“Fools! I shall destroy them all!”

I think all these factors, the over-work, the shock of Wells’ death, the sheer weight of expectation to keep the gravy train on the tracks and the bad blood caused by Katzenberg’s departure all combined to make Pocahontas a thoroughly miserable experience for the animators to work on. I have no proof of that, maybe it was an endless merry go round of delight, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way. There is a sense of joylessness that pervades this thing, like everyone was just gritting their teeth and thinking of the paycheck.

Kind of like me, except I don’t get paid.
Sigh. Let’s just get this over with.

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #25: The Black Cauldron

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

 

***

By the mid nineteen eighties, something had gone very wrong at the Disney animation studios.

To an outsider, this might not have been immediately apparent. Sure, the movies weren’t as good as they had been, but Rescuers had been a huge hit, and The Fox and the Hound had been a decent success financially. But inside the studio, things were starting to go sour. The last of the Nine Old Men were retiring, and the animation staff had dwindled to a mere two hundred or so, a situation made worse when Don Bluth essentially said “screw this noise” and left with a fifth of the studio’s animators.

Just threw them in his truck and drove like hell.

Just threw them on his truck and drove like hell.

The animation department, once the heart and soul of Disney, was increasingly being seen as more of an appendix, and an inflamed, extremely expensive appendix at that. Some members of the board were openly asking if the Disney company should even be making animated films, and instead suggested focusing on the theme parks and merchandise.

Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew and a senior executive of the company, fought tooth and nail to keep the animation wing open, saying that without new characters being created, the theme parks were essentially museums, commemorating something wonderful that was now dead.

At the heart of this dispute was the Black Cauldron. Twelve years in production, massively over budget, the Black Cauldron was supposed to be the movie that put Walt Disney animation back on the map, charting a new course away from the traditional children’s movies the studio was famous for and moving into darker, edgier territory. But it was quickly reaching the point where even if it was a massive hit, it would be hard pressed to earn back the money that had already been spent on it. The movie’s two directors Ted Berman…

Ted Berman

and Richard Rich…

Richie Rich

…were not hugely experienced, and Disney management was starting to have serious misgivings about what was going on over in the animation building.

Jeffrey Katzenberg (yes, that one) had been brought in by new Chief Operating Officer Michael Eisner to run the motion picture division, which included turning around the animation unit. On arriving at the animation unit’s new facilities (a crappy little industrial estate where they had been sent after being unceremoniously evicted from the main Disney lot) Katzenberg asked to see the partially completed film. Production Manager Don Hahn described what happened next:

Katzenberg entered the screening room and closed the door behind him. We waited, not a man among us dared to speak so much as a word. Occasionally, from behind the door would emerge strange sounds, a low growling like some strange beast from the tropics, or a whine of pain and horror. At last, Katzenberg emerged from the darkened room and I think I may have cried aloud in horror, such was the change that had come over him! His hair had turned purest white and his fingers now shook as he raised a cigarette to his trembling lips and desperately drew upon it. His eyes stood stark and white in his face, now gaunt and greenish. He seemed too weak to stand and slumped into a chair, muttering darkly to himself, his gaze oscillating about the room but not meeting the eyes of any man there. And then, with a terrible fury that seemed conjured from the aether he leapt to his feet and cried “You fools! You monomaniacs! Have you no care for this abominable thing you have unleashed?! This thing will be the death of us all, I say!”

For you see, in their desperation to replace the magic and inspiration of Walt Disney, the animators had turned to a false power. A most powerful and ancient evil. A being known…as the Horned King.

And he’s standing in my living room right now.

help me…

Begin the review Mouse.

Begin the review, Mouse.

Yeah…see. I really don’t want to watch this film.

Then you shall die. You must review the film and proclaim me the greatest Disney villain of all time.

Then you shall die. You must review the film and proclaim me the greatest Disney villain of all time.

YOU ARE THE GREATEST DISNEY VILLAIN OF ALL TIME can I please go now?

Pull yourself together Mouse! Just stay calm and finish the review! You can do this!

Pull yourself together Mouse! Just stay calm and finish the review! You can do this!

You mean, if I can watch this movie from start to finish and review it I might survive?

Whoah, whoah, whoah. Don't go putting words in my mouth.

Whoah, whoah, whoah. Don’t go putting words in my mouth.

Alright. It’s fine. I can do this. I mean…it’s a Disney movie for God’s sake! How scary can it really be?

A PG RATING!?Oh bollocks...

A PG RATING!?
Oh bollocks…

The movie begins with the following narration:

Legend has it, in the mystic land of Prydain. There was once a king so cruel, and so evil, that even the gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron.  There his demonic spirit was captured, in the form of a great black cauldron. For uncounted centuries The Black Cauldron lay hidden, waiting, while evil men searched for it. Knowing whoever possessed it, would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors. And with them, rule the world.”

STONEHENGE!

STONEHENGE! WHERE THE DEMONS DWELL!

Surprised I didn’t go with a Lord of the Rings joke? Trust me, my supply is limited and must be used sparingly.

(more…)