Thursday, 28 July 2011

Thundercats Week: Day Four

When you're 10 years old, you don't question things like Thundercats. Just everything is amazing. But watching it again 15 years on, you can't help but see it in a whole new light. Their sense of humour (apart from Tygra, who's brilliant) is awful, and how they didn't throw Snarf into the Four Day Drop I'll never know. What an insufferably horrible beast. And Mum-raa, despite his power and intimidating horror, was truly flawed and his plans had more holes than a piece of mouse infested cheese. So, though I still love it so for all its bad puns and ridiculous storytelling, here's a list of some of the standout moments that you just didn't get as a kid.

Top 10 Thundercat Dénouements
(the bit at the end where they all learn a lesson and then laugh their heads off)

Episode 2 - The Unholy Alliance
Tygra on the way to beat Mum-raa: "the evil in its own unspeakable face"

Episode 15 - The Time Capsule
After the thunderkittens get grounded for misusing and breaking one of their space boards, Cheetara truly takes the piss by snatching the last one and asking if she can ride it home... bearing in mind she can run at lightning speed. Worra cheek!

Episode 16 - The Fireballs of Plun-darr
Panthro reveals he hates spiders. "You've hurt Bushy's feelings," tuts Willa. "He likes you." Trivia Alert! Panthro is also scared of this thing:
oh dear God NO, not the Energy Bat!

Episode 24 - Safari Joe
Safari Joe turns out to be a Coward. "Most bullies are, Snarf," muses Lion-o. "Most bullies are..."

Episode 27 - The Thunder-cutter
Nayda telling Lion-o how it is: "When I asked him that, he said you - because you are young and flexible."

Episode 30 - Feliner Part 2
Snarf and his melodramatic non exit - leaving in a spaceship only to come back two seconds later gurgling "what would you do without me?" - HAVE A MORE BEARABLE SHOW, IS WHAT.

Episode 39 - Monkian's Bargain
Panthro's hilarity. "Monkian tried to make his own deal with the sword... but he just couldn't cut it!" HA HA HA HA HA

Episodes 48 ("Mechanical Plague") and 51 ("Excalibur")
Panthro gets bookish: "you know what they say - there's a hidden Hamlet in every comic" - wtf? How is Shakespeare even part of Third Earth? And three episodes later, the show happily informs everyone that King Arthur, and the Lady of the Lake all exist on Third Earth. So is this what England is to become in 5 trillion years time?

Episode 53 - Good and Ugly
One of the classic morals of the show - Lion-o learns that he shouldn't judge someone as bad just because they are ugly. Even the actor playing Lion-o (Larry Kenney) thought it was hilarious - take a look at the bloopers below. These are real bloopers by the way folks, which makes them even better.

Episode 57 - Out Of Sight
Nayda and Tygra banter. "invisibility does have its advantages, but as a way of life..." "I just can't see it!" HA HA HA, oh God they're so funny.

Top 5 "FFS, Mum-raa!"
(He has such great ideas... but just doesn't think them through)

5. The Power of Disguise
Mum-raa plays at being a Berbil, a Thunderian, and of all things, King Arthur. But as soon as he's infiltrated the Lair and gained the Thundercats trust, he starts evilly cackling like a loon and shedding mummy bandages everywhere. Just calm down and get the job done, Mum-raa!

4. Suddenly Remembering...
That he can get the evil priestess to help him. That Hachiman could fight the Thundercats. That Excalibur is a better sword and he can use that. That there's a giant spider on the planet. That there's an evil genie on the planet. That his goodly nemesis Mumrana lives on the planet and he can use mind control on her. That he could seal the Thundercats weapon room up and render them defenceless AT ANY TIME. That he can summon up all their most feared enemies and pit the Thundercats against them. Numerous times.

3. Spying on the Thundercats
Out of nowhere, later on in Series 1 it shows Mum-raa having the ability to look into his psychic purple pool and watch the Thundercats in their own home. Why on earth hasn't he capitalised on this before? Why doesn't he just watch them, get to know their routines, and then break them apart when they least expect it? Because he's too busy snoozing in his tomb, that's what.

2. Getting Too Giddy With Victory
Mum-raa's best chance to beat the Thundercats was in Episode 31, when he manages to steal the power of ancient Pharaoh Wizz-ra...

and get a funky new hat in the process. But when he has captured all the cats except for coma-stricken Cheetara he decides to claim victory and put the hat down IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM and go to sleep for a bit. Ohhhh, Mum-raa. Hang your unspeakably evil head in shame.

1. 3D Glasses
By Episode 45 Mum-raa suddenly realises that his main problem for constantly losing to the Thundercats is being made to look at his the horror of his own reflection - so invests in a special pair of goggles to put on whenever Lion-o is waving the shiny sword in his face. But then he goes and loses them, and has to look at the horror of it, anyway. Why doesn't he just get laser surgery? Plastic surgery? Ban all mirrors? Or better yet, get some counselling?

Mumm-ra's Top 5 Plans
Because he did have some ingenious thoughts occasionally

5. Filling the Lair with Acid
Asking the Driller to bore a hole between the Acid Lake and Cat's Lair so the fumes will poison the Thundercats and kill them. But of course our heroes win the day by getting hold of some sponge fog to neutralise the the acid leak. But of course.  

4. Cloning
Again with the Driller's help (he should just hire the Driller) Mumm-ra kidnaps Panthro and clones his likeness, filling it with an evil entity. When that clone is destroyed, he just resolves to make more of them now he has the mould. But then the evil entity has a hissy fit and wrecks it. So much for genetics.

3. Holding an Exhibition
Having no luck with science, Mum-raa goes for a cultural victory by luring Lion-o into a cave of art dedicated to the Thundercats. Living evil art, more like! The paintings come to life and start attacking Lion-o, leaving him defenceless as Mum-raa then unleashes his ultimate foe - the evil doppelganger Lion-o. This is great thinking by Mum-raa. But unfortunately Lion-o manages to bundle his way to victory again, and learns about the perils of vanity along the way. Oh, boy.

2. Throwing the Sword of Omens into a Black Hole
One of his best ever plans. Only a series of comically annoying coincidental cliches manages to help the Thundercats go in after it, and come out again alive. I'll have you know this involves them floating harmlessly in the middle of space. OF SPACE. No wonder Mum-raa gets so fed up he has to go and have a lie down for a few hundred million years.

1. Drugging Tygra
Not only evil, but also dangerous and inhumane. This is Mum-raa at his most nasty. Let's watch it again!

Yup - definitely a bad trip.

The new Thundercats starts tomorrow, so whilst we ponder that I'll be listing my favourite ever episodes. What will come out top? Curiosity killed the cat*...

*this lame joke was inserted to fit in with the theme of today's blog.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Thundercats Week: Day Three

When Thundera exploded after months of chaos and fighting (yes, I know my stuff), the Thundercats escaped in a spaceship (and in time capsules) and landed on the closest planet before their fuel ran out - Third Earth. Throughout the first season, our heroes set up home in their new surroundings, coming across friendly and fearsome creatures along the way, and mapping out their own coordinates and places of interest - see amazing reconstruction (ahem) above. I was always overjoyed with the imagination of the writers who constructed this place in their own minds - it's what sticks in your head when you're little. Third Earth - every kid's dream holiday destination! Here are my memorable places and inhabitants.

Top 5 Places

5. Tree Top Kingdom
Home to the warrior maidens, and also some of the coolest looking swing rope bridges I have ever seen.

4. Cat's Lair
It was good and all, but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Plus when the cat's head rolled about it was kinda freaky.

3. The Black Pyramid

Mum-raa's pyramid is generally a bit dull, but during the Trial of Evil it opens up to all new levels. The play on Charon and the River Styx is fab.

2. Tower of Traps
Like Knightmare on Third Earth, but instead of flying on a dragon to get to Level 2 there's gargoyles on the roof instead.

1. Castle Plun-darr

I love a good spooky castle. I'd live here instead of Cat's Lair any day. Trapdoors! Dungeons! Stone spiral staircases! Drawbridge! Etc Etc

Top 5 Beings

5. Berbils
If you were new to Thundercats, these ineligible living robot teddybears would probably unsettle you somewhat.

4. The Arrietta Bird
If a nightingale bred with a goose, who then started reading too many girly magazines and buying glitter and false eyelashes

3. Crab Men
They were so incredibly dumb they were actually a bit cute! They'd be well annoying as pets, though.

2. The Vortex

Cheating slightly here, but it is sort of "alive". It was one of the earliest things I remember about Thundercats as it was featured in the 1985 annual. YES I HAD THE ANNUAL ALRIGHT.

1. Black Widow Shark

If you think about it, this concept is actually pretty clever. But in reality - srsly, what the fuck is that thing?!

Tomorrow we get funky with actual video clips. Hopefully. Some of the show's best plot holes and moral lessons to come.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thundercats Week: Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of Thundercats week on culturemouse. Today I'm going to be looking at some of the best inventions and weapons used by the characters on the show. This is mainly just a chance for me to daydream about how fun it would have been to own any of these, and go on a rampage... and thus prove what an utter nutcase I really am.

Top 5 Weapons

5. Superpower Potion 
Vultureman could have beaten the Thundercats with this - but then goes and makes a deal with Mum-raa. The buffoon.

4. Monkian's Shield
Monkian had some of the best weapons, including his magic blue orbs (though technically Mum-raa's). His best was this vomiting shield, though.

3. Bolo Whip
Was there anything this whip couldn't do? Besides lasso-ing, damaging objects and turning Tygra invisible, it seemed to shoot out water one episode!

2. Warp Gas
This stuff was ingenious, but used so painfully little by Slithe! It could turn you insane, enraged, cowardly and hysterical from one moment to the next.

1. Thunderkittens Pellets
They could create huge inflatable dinosaurs! Come on, who doesn't want that?!

Top 5 Machines

5. Hercules
Quite frankly, who wouldn't want to travel around in a giant mechanical frog that's also got the cutest face? AND protects the ocean.

 4. Warbot
Virtually unstoppable except for its achilles heel... or stop button underneath its right foot. D'oh!

3. Thundertank
Good, but not the best. Still amazes me how Panthro managed to devise a new feature coincidentally when they needed it.
2. Space Boards
Totally cooler than the Thundertank. These just looked friggin' awesome. Nuff said! 

1. Skycutter
Oh, how I so desperately wanted a skycutter when I was younger. Christmas this year, yeah?

Creatures and places of Third Earth you ask? Why, pop back here tomorrow and I'll show you some. Including the most hilarious mammal you will have ever not-thought of.


Monday, 25 July 2011

Thundercats Week: Day One

The remake of Thundercats arrives on Cartoon Network this Friday, with snazzy effects, anime graphics and a epic grandeur which puts its originator somewhat in the shade. But there's a lot to be said for nostalgia, and whether this new version can capture the hearts of its faithful audience remains to be seen. The 1980s cartoon had a charm and an innocence combined with a real sense of adventure and imagination that made it so successful, and a story that few fans forget.

I've been watching the original series on DVD recently (a purchase I've wanted to make for a long time) and 80 episodes later I might as well add an worthwhile and interesting blog to justify living as a ten year old for the past few weeks. Curiously, Series 1 was the only series to be shown here in the UK (on the BBC); series 2-4 and the mini film Thundercats Ho! were never distributed over here. Which means everything else I've got to see will be brand new, just as the remake will be on Friday. So bearing in mind I'm up to date with all the events that happened on Third Earth, I've put together my own little guide for all wannabe cats out there. Today it's the Heroes vs Villains.

Top 5 Goodies

5. Wily-Kit
Cooler, braver, and more capable than her useless brother

4. Tygra
I have a new found respect for Tygra, who is actually hilarious.

 3. Nayda
She got to swing through trees! And didn't whine like Willa.

2. Snow Meow
Almost as cute as a dire wolf on Game of Thrones.


1. Cheetara
Because I'm a girl and she was ACE, alright?

Top 5 Baddies

5. Safari Joe
"... DOES IT AGAIN!!!111"

4.The Driller
Oh, Driller. Always seduced by the shiny diamonds.

3. Mongor
Because he was actually one of the best villains they ever fought.

2. Mum-raa
He was great, but he should have got used to his ugly face.

1. Vultureman
Sarcastic, shrewd, and a genius: the most underrated of them all.

Tomorrow I'm looking at kick-ass inventions and the deadliest weapons. Yes, this is actually going on all week.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

FILM REVIEW: The Tree of Life

I've been putting off reviewing this film for a while, mainly because I don't really have much to say about it. I saw it last Sunday (attempting an indulgent post bbq afternoon) and almost a week later nothing has changed in the way I feel about it. In fact I have barely thought about it since then, such is the slightness of the finely spun The Tree of Life.

It's a grand concept, punctuated by a family but filmed in such an abstract way by director Terrence Malick that it's not a film you can latch onto and love straight away. I think you either have time and patience for it, or you don't, and then is the time to bow out. 

It begins with a mother (Jessica Chastain) receiving a telegram with news that her son has died. This event pulls you into the film, but it's certainly not the spearhead of the narrative. There's no story attached to it, and in all honesty it doesn't matter who has died. His death is what it is, what the film chooses to do is to try to explain it in some way, to try and understand the 'bigger picture'. That's not to say it's not dwelled upon - the mother, father (Brad Pitt) and eldest son (Sean Penn) "think about him everyday", but not in a sentimental photo albums and nostalgic trinkets way - they search for peace, forgiveness, and most importantly they search for their faith.

In trying to portray this, Malick's film suddenly descends into a long sequence of cosmic explosions, microscopic life, solar eclipses, jellyfish, waves crashing against one another, and of course - the topic of all post watch conversations - dinosaurs. It was during this point when I thought "I've heard people talk about walking out of films, but I've never really comprehended it... until now". And kept expecting David Attenborough's heavy whisper to come on at any moment.

The film is at its best when it's following family life in the 1950s: the ethereal delicate mother "who lives by grace" and the hot-tempered overbearing father "who lives by nature" and their three boisterous sons. Whilst I wasn't transported back to my own childhood, the film's naturalness was wonderful to watch. I particularly liked the relationship between Brad Pitt and his eldest son (newcomer Hunter McCracken): how deeply unhappy and unfulfilled the father is, and how angry the son is because he doesn't understand, and because his father should be stronger; better. Though nothing of any real consequence happens, this part of the film flies by with a thoughtful, very real tenderness and poignancy to it. 

What I find most disappointing from my own contextualisation is that the film's central theme doesn't play off this. It captures a moment in time, when the boys were fighting hard against who they were, what they wanted to be, and is a time capsule of memories for them later in life. But the middle son's death actually happens when he is 19 - at least 10 years later - and this period of time is not shown in the film. They remember him as this young boy from the 1950s, but it's hard to connect these two events. It's hard to feel anything, is what I'm saying.

Also, Sean Penn is utterly redundant in this. I'm not sure what it is he was supposed to do, but it's irrelevant. That was absolutely no need for him to be there. Jessica Chastain on the other hand, is perfectly believable and lovely as the wife and mother of three young boys, and then later as the grieving parent who is struggling to accept why her son has been taken from her (a son that followed her path and lived by grace, thus signifying she had a greater connection to him, than her eldest who was more like his father and lived by nature) and questioning God, the Universe, and what's it all for.

Some scenes just left me feeling slightly cold - particularly the scenes on the beach - when Malick tries to evoke something a little too personal. It reminded me a lot of Aronofsky's The Fountain (another film I did not get) but wasn't as intriguing, or interesting. I'd want to see that again, but can't muster up the same enthusiasm about The Tree Of Life.

I mean no disrespect, as it's a well-made film and it might offer something more for other people. Certainly the critics love it, but I don't want to champion something I should probably understand, and therefore any criticism will uncover my sheer ignorance. I don't think its vaporous in any way, it just wasn't for me. And with that, I shall take a dignified bow out.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

FILM REVIEW: Heartbeats


Forgive me if this is not purely a coherent, structured review, because a film that blows you away and fills you with such a high like Heartbeats deserves a fan-like spiel that makes absolutely no sense, but will hopefully convey the excitement to others who will then seek out the film, if only for amusement purposes.

It's like no ménage à trois you've ever seen before. It's been compared to Jules et Jim and The Dreamers but Heartbeats is a film which stands completely on its own. There is no real relationship here. Best friends Marie and Francis both fall for the same guy: airhead flirt 'Adonis' Nicolas with his mop of golden curls and an ability to charm everyone in the room. He enjoys spending time with them as a friendship-threesome (or does he unconsciously enjoy playing them off against one another?), but the more time they spend together the more fixated and jealous Marie and Francis become until their own friendship ultimately suffers. But forget all of that, because the plot is just the framework here. The real magic happens around it.

The vision and styling of the film is just spectacular. Modern day Montreal is dressed up in the New Wave: every outfit, hair style, house, cafe, object has a romantic vintage feel to it, the colours fizzing and popping every where you look. Xavier Dolan indulges us more with sumptuous slow-motion sequences, following the characters as they walk down the streets, emphasising every flick of the head and shake of the hips. It's hypnotic to watch. Some of the shots he chooses to use, though simple, have a real sticking power to them: watching Marie's legs as she sits on the stairs, talking to Francis on the phone as cigarettes fly down at her feet "by the way I've quit smoking." And of course, Nico smiling with his eyes closed as marshmallows rain around him. The very notion of sex God!

The acting was great too -  Monia Chokri perfect as wide-eyed smiling Marie who suppresses her feelings in fits and smoke, and director/writer Xavier Dolan puts in the best performance as the tortured gay man who marks off his rejections on his bathroom wall (I was rooting for him throughout). Niels Schneider is probably the weakest link of the three as Nicolas, which is ironic as he is the heartbeat pulsing through the film, the one placed on the pedestal.

But what made the film for me was the music. It was SO good. Not since Garden State have I wanted to rush out and buy a soundtrack as much as this (and to be honest, not since GS have I been so holistically praiseworthy of a film). Unfortunately no such OST exists, so I've had to acquire the tracks individually and make my own. I've had this song stuck in my head for several days now:

And it will forever transport me back to that film (lovely happy memories listening to it again now).

Xavier Dolan is a master. He wrote this, directed it, starred in it, styled the film, picked the costumes, chose the music... and he's younger than me. It's enough to make one feel physically sick, but instead I just want to worship his talent. He is one of only a few people I have ever witnessed translate and visualise complex emotions so authentically. He literally made me light up and want to squeal, "oh my God, I know exactly what she's feeling!" My favourite scene of the whole film was when Nico and Maria go to see a play and discussing it afterwards both found it 'disappointing'. Maria then suggests they go for a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant near her house for a private tête à tête - and is devastated to find Francis and her friends there, whom Nico immediately goes to join. She sits with them, fuming, and when Francis asks her about the play she moodily replies, "it was awful." I also loved how he portrayed the other's reaction when Nico was focusing his attention away - and Dolan himself demonstrated this in his own pitch perfect acting - looking away whenever Nico goes to greet Maria with a kiss as it's too 'hurtful' to watch - amazing stuff. I am in awe of people who can find a way to do this so eloquently, and so truthfully. The only bum note was the last two minutes of the film, where Maria and Francis re-united in their hatred for Nico after he spurns them both so cruelly spot a new Adonis to obsess on, indicating the film will replay itself again. Bit too twee for me - like the ending of 500 Days of Summer. But now I really want to see his first feature: I Killed My Mother.

Heartbeats won't be to everyone's taste; it does take some time to get into the flow of it. One guy sat behind me in the cinema started laughing at the very beginning of the film as the scene was very OTT. But then you realise it isn't, that's just the tone of the film, and I didn't hear him laugh again (...maybe he left). I've been wanting to see this film for months (unfortunately missed it at the London Film Festival last year), and had an inkling I'd love it as I do have a penchant for French Canadian anything (and now want to go to Montreal). The plot was thin but the aesthetic, lush, over the top exquisite filmmaking carried it.  

Heartbeats is now one of my favourite things of ever. SO GO SEE IT IMMEDIATELY. That's not a request.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

FILM REVIEW: Trollhunter

You gotta love the Norwegian sense of humour. It’s the perfect mix of dry wit, visual slapstick and incredulous hand-over-mouth moments – and I’ve enjoyed this immensely in films such as Kitchen Stories and North. Now they unleash a whole new kind of comedy with Trollhunter – wryly making fun of and exploiting the country’s mythology and also stepping into the mockumentary genre. Three kids, being hunted in the woods, armed with only a hand-held camera… but Blair Witch this is not.

The three in question are University students, apparently trying to put together footage for an upcoming project. Their focus is Hans, a lonesome mysterious man who appears to be behind recent bear kills which have shocked the hunting community. Latching onto a potential juicy story, they follow Hans in his truck, filming aborted attempts to interview him (he gruffly shrugs them away) and observing strange markings and dents on his vehicle, which they assume have been made by the bears he poaches… As Hans takes off suddenly one night into the woods the young film crew follow him hoping to catch him in the act. What they encounter instead is something so astonishingly ridiculous (but also, suspending your disbelief here, pretty awesome), their lives are changed forever. Hans is not hunting down bears – he is hunting down 50 foot, triple headed, foul smelling, not-under-bridge dwelling trolls and covertly saving the population of Norway. Feeling somewhat undervalued by his government and co-workers, he agrees to let the students follow him and document events as he tries to uncover why trolls are suddenly beginning to break free of their confined territories.

What I found surprisingly unusual with Trollhunter – and this could just be me and my childlike willingness to believe that everything in fairy tales and folklore actually exists – is that very early on, I stopped watching with my tongue lodged in my cheek and started thinking, “blimey this is all quite exciting.” The concept of a mythological creature actually being frightening real and hidden by the government to avoid a catastrophic fallout makes a tremendous movie, whether they’re playing it straight or not. Even when the trolls start turning to stone when sunlight is shone at them, and when Hans tells the students without a twitch of the eye that the trolls can smell if you are a Christian (all very true in Nordic folklore) the film works as an adventure as you buy into every thing that happens and in my extreme case, start getting a bit too involved: “how has no-one ever seen them? They’re huge and they make loads of noise! Surely if you were living in that remote farmhouse you would have heard booming noises in the middle of the night…”

The CGI and special effects are also amazingly stirring (think of when you first see a dinosaur in Jurassic Park) – teasing the audience at first as the filmmakers get split up in the woods and hear strange noises all around them. Through night vision lens you’re straining your eyes to catch a glimpse of the fictional beasts, wondering whether the director (André Øvredal) will actually show them – though looking at the poster for Trollhunter you’re never in any doubt about that (it’s what made you watch the film in the first place, right? You get to see the actual trolls!). And not only do you see them, but they’re a rare breed of ugliness, with some more powerful and dangerous than others. The stand-offs between the trolls and Hans when they come are brilliant, and what’s more than that is Hans’ attitude towards the trolls – he understands his duty is to kill them and keep their presence a secret, but he’s also affected by the health of these creatures, desperate to stop their suffering and also working with a vet (you think troll doctors exist? moron) to work out why certain species have been showing symptoms of illness which is causing them distress. The film has surprising depth for what it is.

I think the success of the film catches director Øvredal out, as the last scene is somewhat redundant after everything that has gone before it. A press conference with Norway’s prime minister leads him to blurt out the importance of constructing new power lines much to the protest of campaign groups: “because Norway has trolls!”. The look his aide gives him is ingenious, but still, I wish they’d completely done without that and fed into the film’s central mystery. Even the postscript “none of the crew were ever seen again…” comes across as overcooked.

Trollhunter is still going to be a mockumentary by the very nature of its subject (even I, with all my fanciful wishes, have not been made a convert), so why not carry the wave through and leave the ending ambiguous? Was it a joke or was it for real? If it’s going to be a joke then the tone and humour should have been more consistent throughout. It's a bit of a shame it ducked out, and wobbled at the end. Hugely enjoyable though - go and see it with all your mates on a big screen!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Welcome Back, Mr Hayes!

Mmm, summery. This is out now, and the album will follow in...what, October? Balls!