unshavedmouse

UK Cover Reveal!

Oh I have been itching to show you guys this one!

This is the cover for the UK edition of When the Sparrow Falls and it is a feast for the eye.

See what I did there? Matt Needle, the artist, gave us three concepts for the cover and honestly picking one was one of the hardest parts of this whole process because they were all so beautiful. But I think we picked the right one. It manages to pack in so many of the themes of the book in one deceptively simple image. I love it. And if you want to get a first peek at the inside of the book, Rebellion have released and excerpt which you can read here.

Bats Versus Bolts: The Silent Era

Okay, paws in the air, I kinda goofed with this one.

My whole concept (nay, vision!) for Bats versus Bolts is taking a Frankenstein movie and a Dracula movie that are contemporaneous and comparing them side to side to see whatever random insights on movie-making or film history or social trends or whatever crap shakes loose basically. The point is, they’re supposed to be films from the same era. Frankenstein and Dracula  were both released in 1931. Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula were a year apart. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein followed two years after Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Conversely, while the better known of today’s movies, Nosferatu, came out in 1922, our representative for Team Bolts was released a full dozen years previously. Frankenstein was released in 1910, and the more I’ve come to work on this post the more I’ve realised that comparing these two movies is kind of farcical. Firstly, while both movies do belong to “the silent era”, that’s a definition so broad as to be almost useless. The silent era lasted over forty years, and went through multiple evolutions and revolutions in style, technology and presentation. Secondly, while all of the other matchups in this series were made in the same country (America, the UK and America again), here we’re comparing a very primitive silent American short from 1910 and one of the greatest examples of German expressionism in all of film from over a decade later. Is that in any way a fair or meaningful comparison to make?

Is it bollocks. But here we are.

Anyway, let’s talk about the amoral scientist and the bloodsucking monster. Let’s talk about Thomas Edison.

Top 11 Things You Didn't Know About Nikola Tesla | Department of Energy

“Ha! Good one!”

“Nikola Tesla? I thought you were dead!”

“Oh you are adorable.”

I have way too many immortal, dark haired, mustachioed men in my life. Far too many.

Anyway, age before beauty, so let’s talk about Frankenstein first. The movie was the product of Edison Studios, who produced and screened the first commercial motion pictures in the United States using the kinetoscope, drooling neanderthal ancestor of the modern movie projector which Edison may even have invented because fuck it, anything’s possible in this crazy world of ours. Now, although Edison’s name is all over this movie he actually had next to nothing to do with its creation (I know, shocking). Being on the ground floor of the new medium, the Edison company could claim many firsts such as the first romance, the first boxing film and the first Western filmed in America The Great Train Robbery (hilariously, the very first Western, Kidnapped by Indians, was filmed in Lancashire four years previously). While they may have done it first, Edison rarely did it best and the studio’s output is not very highly regarded amongst silent era fans, although more recent re-discoveries have helped rehabilitate their reputation somewhat.

Rather charmingly, Frankenstein was a movie that was thought dead and then brought back to life. The film was thought irretrievably lost like around 75% of all silent films made in America, due to being filmed on nitrate which had the durability and flammability of a rummy’s fart. Thankfully, a copy of the film was discovered in the seventies, somewhat the worse for wear but still viewable. And by viewable, I mean “you can watch it right now” as it’s only 12 minutes long and the copyright on it has expired and it’s not like Thomas Edison is going to rise from the grave demanding it be taken down from YouTube.

“…right?”

“Oh no. He’s definitely dead. Heh heh heh.”

“Not gonna ask.”

Anyway, enough talking about the production of Frankenstein because we need to talk about the production of Nosferatu like right now. One of the greatest horror films of all time. Terrifying even to this day. What kind of production company could create such a thing?

If told you that it was a production company created by a mysterious German occultist to produce supernatural themed films which then folded suddenly after creating this one, terrifying masterpiece would you, as I did, punch the air and say “Oh fuck yes“? Because that’s what we’ve got here, people. That’s what happened. Fuck yes.

Now, granted, the reason why occultist Albin Grau’s Prana Films folded does not include mysterious drained corpses showing up every which way, and more’s the pity. It actually had to do with Bram Stoker’s widow suing his Teutonic testes for filming an unauthorised version of her husband’s novel.

Do not come between an Irishwoman and her royalties. She will cut you down.

Anyway, despite the film-makers hunnish perfidy, what they created still stands almost a century later as the greatest vampire film of all time. And yes, it’s also public domain so you can watch that too.

The adaptations

Frankenstein really is a film from a time before anyone knew what the fuck they were doing in terms of pacing and staging.

Scene 1: Frankenstein goes to college and says goodbye to his fiancée and father.

Scene 2: Frankenstein discovers the secret to LIFE ITSELF.

And, from a modern understanding of cinematic language, both of these scenes are treated with equal importance. The story is extremely faithful to Shelley’s novel with a few minor changes like the monster no longer being created from body parts, the monster no longer pursuing Frankenstein across Europe, the monster now being a manifestation of Frankenstein’s dirty thoughts who vanishes once Frankenstein’s love for his bride reaches “full strength and freedom from impurity” like some kind of isotope, the monster apparently being jealously in love (?) with Frankenstein and the story ending with the monster vanishing and Frankenstein happily married. But other than that, y’know. Pretty much a page for page retelling.

Alright, it’s easy to scoff, but remember. This was a time when people couldn’t see a train coming towards them onscreen without running screaming from the theatre. A jig-sawed together shambling corpse man might have led to a fatal epidemic of the vapours.

In Germany in the 1920s, of course, they were made of sterner stuff. Young German lawyer Jonathan Harker Thomas Hutter travels to Transylvania at the behest of his employer Mister Renfield Herr Knock to sell a house to the mysterious Count Dracula Orlock. Upon suspecting that his host is a vampire and a threat to English virtue pure Aryan womanhood*, he escapes the castle and returns home to save his wife Mina Ellen from Draculock with the help of Abraham Van Helsing Professor Bulwer.

“See ALL you motherfuckers in court.”

WINNER: BATS

The Monsters

Edison Studios specifically set out to make a tamer, uncontroversial version of Mary Shelley’s story, which is why, instead of sewing his monster together out of cadavers, this Frankenstein makes his monster like he’s microwaving some popcorn or something. This scene, incidentally, was described by Edison’s own publicity as “the most weird, mystifying and fascinating scene ever shown on a film” which is probably true considering that the medium was so young that people would pay to watch a dude sneezing. But fair is fair, the creation scene where the monsters flesh slowly forms on a dancing skeleton is genuinely creepy. Actually, the silent era may have been a perfect time for horror films. The jerky unreality of the motion, the complete absence of any human voice, it all combines to give the queasy sense of watching a nightmare unfold.

As I mentioned, the monster (played by Charles Stanton Ogle) is not a reanimated assemblage of dead body parts, but a manifestation (I guess) of the evil in Frankenstein’s soul that he has to purge, adding in a bit of Jekyll and Hyde to the story. It’s not a great film, but it’s honestly a pretty great monster.

But. Y’know. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Count Orlok GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

He may not be the most layered Dracula. He may not be the most compelling Dracula. He may not be the most faithful Dracula. He may not, strictly speaking, be a Dracula.

He is by far the most terrifying Dracula.

Nearly a century later, no director, no actor, no special effects maestro has come close to creating the pure, skin-crawling wrongness of Max Schreck’s Orlock. If Lugosi’s Dracula is still the default for this character in the collective consciousness, it’s because Lugosi is safe. Cuddly, goofy, easily imitated. Schreck, I think, never had the permanent residence in all our minds that Lugosi does because we fundamentally do not want him there.

WINNER: BATS

The Scientists

Augustus Phillips’ performance as Victor Frankenstein is…well, it’s a silent movie performance from 1910. Big expressions, big gestures, not exactly bringing forth the subtle and nuanced layers of the character, you feel me? This is definitely the most innocent Frankenstein we’ve seen so far. For all that the film makes his inner evil the source of the monster, we see absolutely nothing of that in his interactions with the other characters. He seems driven a by a pure, childlike urge to discover. He doesn’t even engage in grave robbing! Frankly, I don’t see this Frankenstein fitting in very well with the rest of the gang.

“….”

“He hasn’t said anything in FIVE HOURS!”

“Possibly a mute. A vivisection of his throat might yield the answers we seek.”

“Oh! We could replace his tongue with an eel! And then use amniotic fluid…”

“And who, pray tell, let you out of your box?”

Our Van Helsing analogue, Bulwer, doesn’t really do much besides hanging outside Ellen’s bedroom looking worried so we’re going to give Team Bolts the win here just to prevent this from being a total blow-out.

WINNER: BOLTS

The Dashing Young Men

Okay. Straight face. So.

*giggle*

Sorry, sorry. Serious now. So. Thomas Hutter is played by GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIM.

That was his name and it is perfect.

“Why is this funny, please?”

“Oh nothing, nothing you gorgeous teutonic slab, you.”

Anyway, Nosferatu skillfully avoids the Too Many Dudes problem by just…not having the extra dudes. I mean c’mon. It’s 1922.

“You expect Quincey Morris? In this economy?!”

Hutter is basically German Johnathan Harker, and so is more efficient and hard working and is basically a more traditional hero than most Harkers in that he retains the main narrative focus for most of the film. Like most silent movie stars Wangenheim seems to have got the job for his ability to look VERY HAPPY or VERY SCARED as the scene requires but hey, that was what the medium needed.

Frankenstein doesn’t really have a male lead outside of Frankenstein himself, so Bats gets this by default.

Winner: Bats

The Perpetually Imperilled Ladies

I wish there was more I could say about Mary Fuller’s Elizabeth Frankenstein but…it’s kind hard to judge this performance because a) she’s hardly in it b) the picture quality is terrible and c) every scene she’s in is just terribly, terribly framed.

“What a perfectly staged shot” said someone in 1910.

I went down a bit of a wiki wormhole with Mary Fuller, honestly, and this film really doesn’t do her justice.

Maryfuller-1914-sideview-silentfilmactress.jpg

She was one of the biggest movie stars in the world for a few years in the late teens as well as being a successful screenwriter. But after a few flops she suddenly became persona non grata in Hollywood. She tried to re-start her career in the twenties to no avail and suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of her mother and spent the last 26 years of her life in a mental institution. It’s heartbreaking.

In Nosferatu, Greta Schroder plays Ellen, our Mina who is quite a fascinating character, honestly. On the one hand she is portrayed as a demure, wilting virgin who doesn’t even like to see flowers killed. But by the end, she’s actually one of the more pro-active and heroic Minas. Entirely on her own bat (heh) she researches vampires and then sacrifices her own life to lure Orlock so that he can be destroyed by the dawn’s sunlight (an invention of Murnau, vampires had never been depicted as being harmed by daylight prior to this). Couple that with quite a lot of screentime, and you could argue she’s actually the movie’s principal hero.

No vampire ladies unfortunately because it was the twenties and feeding on the blood of the living was considered unladylike.

Winner: BATS

Are either of these movies actually, y’know, scary?

Frankenstein is a little creepy which is far more than I expected from a 110 year old film.

But Nosferatu…shit. Did you hear that? Sounds like someone’s coming up the stairs…

Winner: BATS

Best Dialogue:

Real close contest here. I do love the line “……………” from Frankenstein but Nosferatu has the absolutely iconic “……………..” (even though it’s been ruined by being quoted so often).

WINNER: TIE

FINAL SCORE: Bats 5,Bolts 1

NEXT UPDATE: September 24th 2020

NEXT TIME: Bats versus Bolts month continues and it’s time for us to jump to the other end of movie history. It’s the 2010s. Which means it’s time for sexy superhero monsters who FUCK.

* Okay, because nothing originating in Weimar Germany can be discussed without bringing the fucking Nazis into it let’s get this out of the way. The movie has been accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes with Orlock and Herr Knock. It’s not entirely invalid reading but honestly I think it’s people reading things into the movie with the benefit of hindsight rather than anything consciously placed there by the film-makers. Murnau emigrated to the States long before the Nazis came to power and as a gay man who worked with many Jewish collaborators, I doubt he was a fan.

“I love you 3000.”

One of the hardest things about telling any story is sticking the landing.

A bad ending is not only bad in and of itself, it’s like a cancer that reaches back in time and kills everything that went before it. I can’t enjoy Sherlock anymore. All the clever writing and great performances and wonderful little tricksy puzzles turn to ash when you remember that it’s all leading up to Sherlock defeating his previously unknown little sister with superpowers.

The violin of Eurus Holmes (Sian Brooke) in Sherlock S04E03 | Spotern

I’d say “spoilers”, but shit doesn’t spoil.

If I had had to write the script for Endgame I’d probably have gone mad with the pressure. I remember marvelling (heh) at Joss Whedon’s script for Avengers back in 2012 and how it managed to juggle seven (SEVEN!) main characters and serve as a satisfying conclusion to five (FIVE!) films. My, how young we were. So imagine the weight of expectation resting on the shoulders of Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and the Russo Brothers, having to juggle a story with dozens upon dozens of named characters AND has to serve as a capstone to a 22 film cycle. I mean, Christ. I’ve only had to review these things and it feels like I’ve climbed Everest.

Did they pull it off? You probably have your own opinions on that but, well…this thing made 2.8 billion dollars at the box-office so somebody liked it.

So, because this thing is over three hours long, this review is going to be a two-parter. Also, I’m not going to do a big introduction explaining the history of these characters and the background to this movie because, well…

“What do you think I’ve been DOING for the last five years?!”

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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.

(more…)

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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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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Ladyhawke (1985)

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

“A criminal mastermind?”

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

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

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

Anyway… 

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

***

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

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

1)      It was a massive flop on release.

2)      It’s actually quite good.

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

Image result for tubbs miami vice

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

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

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

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Announcing the Unshaved Mouse 20/20 Oscars!

People in the past are idiots. Look at them there, waging pointless wars, dying of diseases that we can now easily cure and not appreciating the genius of Van Gogh. Bunch of putzes.

Here in the future of course, we know better. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go back in time and show those darn pasties how do to do things right? Well, here’s the next best thing.

Every year the Oscars roll around and every year I mark the occasion by doing absolutely nothing. You see, despite being a movie buff I just can’t frickin’ stand the Oscars. I hate the whole dull circle jerk. I hate that the “right” movie almost never wins, and that even when it does it inevitably suffers a hipster backlash from insufferable  up their ass movie nerds like…well…me. But I also object to the whole idea. What was the best movie last year? I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. Because that shit takes time to sort out. It takes years of watching and re-watching and cultural commentary and perspective to mark a film as being a true classic. That’s why, this year, I am announcing the 20/20 Oscars, a (hopefully) annual event here on Unshaved Mouse. Every year we will look back on what was being considered 20 years ago and vote in the major categories and this time we will get it right.

So, 19 years ago the 71st Academy Awards were voting on 1999’s crop of movies. It was a pretty good year overall, with plenty of films that could benefit some hindsight. Vote below and we will announce the results on Oscar night.

Best Picture