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New Podcast! The Movie Palace – “Batman! (1966)”

I’m currently caught up in the middle of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, but it’s not all festival coverage this week.

I had the pleasure of joining the great and generous Carl Sweeney on his excellent classic Hollywood podcast The Movie Palace. Recovering a bit from last weekend’s Oscars, Carl decided to take things a bit lighter this week, and so invited me on to talk a little bit about Batman!, the classic Adam West adaptation of the Caped Crusader, and one of the defining images of the Dark Knight in popular culture.

The discussion was quite broad, covering everything from the origins and appeal of the Caped Crusader to the charm of Adam West, and the lasting impact of the various “special guest villains” on later interpretations of the characters. The whole thing was a delight from beginning to end. It’s always a pleasure to talk films with Carl, but especially to talk Batman.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

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Star Trek – Spock’s Brain (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Spock’s Brain is not the worst episode of Star Trek ever produced.

Indeed, Spock’s Brain is not even the worst episode of the third season as a whole. More than that, Spock’s Brain is not even the worst episode of the third season to this point. Spock’s Brain is a pretty bad piece of television, but it seems difficult to argue that the episode is quantifiably worse than Elaan of TroyiusThe Paradise Syndrome or And the Children Shall Lead. However, the episode’s reputation looms large in the broader context of the Star Trek canon. Many would point to this as the worst episode that the show ever produced.

"Check out the big brain on Spock!"

“Check out the big brain on Spock!”

To be fair, Star Trek fandom has never been entirely consistent or even-handed when it comes to identifying the worst that the franchise has to offer. This is a fandom that decided that Star Trek Into Darkness was somehow a worse film than Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or Star Trek: Nemesis, and that Threshold was somehow the worst episode of Star Trek: Voyager despite sharing a season with episodes like Tattoo and Alliances. When dealing with consensus fan opinion, it is always interesting to wonder why such things matter over others.

Spock’s Brain is pretty dire. It is sexist, it is ill-judged, it looks cheap, and its underlying premise is beyond absurd. It was also the first episode of the third season to be broadcast. In a way, it seemed like the ultimate affront to fandom. After all, these fans had worked really hard to convince NBC to bring the show back for a third season. Having those same hardcore fans tune into the new time slot to catch Spock’s Brain must have seemed like the ultimate insult, a hokey sci-fi b-movie premise executed on a tiny budget from a show that normally did much better.

The brains of the operation.

The brains of the operation.

There is an element of nostalgia to this reading of Star Trek. The franchise has always had a goofy side, even beyond the necessity for science-bending budget-saving plot devices like warp drive or the transporter. The franchise has a long history of misunderstanding the concept of evolution (see GenesisThreshold or Dear Doctor) or embracing Erich von Däniken (see Return to TomorrowThe Paradise Syndrome or The Chase). Star Trek has always run on ridiculous ideas, opening with a story about how voyaging outside the universe turns a person into a god.

Indeed, goofiness is part of the joy of Star Trek, from the giant green space hand in Who Mourns for Adonais? through to the pleasures of space!Lincoln in The Savage Curtain. More than that, the goofiness can even lead to truly spectacular episodes and stories in its own right, as with the weird space!amoeba in The Immunity Syndrome or the “planet of the gangsters” in A Piece of the Action. (Similarly, the “planet of the Romans” in Bread and Circuses and “planet of the Nazis” in Patterns of Force are also underrated episodes.)

Okay, Kirk. It's not THAT painful.

Okay, Kirk. It’s not THAT painful.

It is perhaps a combination of factors that accounts for the hatred directed at Spock’s Brain. It is not just the goofy premise, because there have been goofier premises before. It is not just the sexism, because there has been more overt sexism before and there is more overt sexism to follow. It is not just the bad script, because there have been terrible scripts before. It is not just the cheapness of the episode, because the show’s ambition always outstripped its production budget.

It is a combination of these factors, culminating in the decision that Spock’s Brain should be the show to open the third season of Star Trek on television. This is the stalking horse for the disjointed and uneven third season, and it seems like it is the first show caught in the cross-hairs.

Matters come to a head.

Matters come to a head.

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Non-Review Review: The Three Musketeers (2011)

“Guilty pleasure.” That’s a phrase that feels strangely appropriate when referring to Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers. It’s silly and daft, and has two fairly fundamental flaws, on top of the cheesiness that’s going to divide audiences straight down the middle. However, despite these fairly central and hard-to-avoid problems, it also features a knowing self-awareness, an appealingly straight-forward approach to the fact that is so very silly, a (mostly) great cast and some rather wonderful steam-punk production design. It’s not going to appeal to everybody, but I actually warmed quite a bit to it.

Four of a kind?

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Non-Review Review: Batman & Robin

It takes a lot to kill Batman. Just ask Bane. That character broke Batman across his knee, discarded him and claimed Gotham for his own… only to have Bruce claw his way back and reclaim the mantle. The evil New God Darkseid once decided not only to kill Batman, but to send him back to the dawn of time to live through a cycle of death and rebirth in the hopes of destroying the Caped Crusader… Batman just sorta shrugged that one off. He’s a tough nut to keep down, is that Dark Knight.

However, Joel Schumacher managed to nearly knock Batman out for the count (at least on film) with Batman & Robin, the movie which – if it didn’t kill the Batman franchise – at least put it into a coma for several years.

It's some kinda storm (it's not "snow", but it begins with "s")...

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Non-Review Review: Diamonds Are Forever

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

When George Lazenby refused to come back to do a follow-up to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the producers were left with a bit of a problem. Three actors playing Bond in three films would perhaps be a little bit too much for audiences to grapple with, so an emergency appeal was made to Sean Connery to return to the role which made him iconic. Charging a then-astronomical fee, which he donated entirely to charity, Connery donned the tuxedo once again. Reteaming with Guy Hamilton, the man who directed Goldfinger, once would assume that we were pretty much assured a winner – a return to the good old days. What we got was something of a flash-forward. If I didn’t know better, I would suspect that somebody had pulled a “George Lucas” on us, using wondrous new technology to digitally superimpose Sean Connery into a Roger Moore film.

Adam West was considered to play James Bond in this film. I think that tells us everything we need to know.

Sean Connery's Bond was never afraid of wetwork...

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Non-Review Review: Congo

The problem with Congo is simply that it’s not entirely certain whether it wants to be taken seriously (even a little bit) or simply wants to veer off into a camp B-movie-style “killer apes” flick. Unfortunately, it never rally picks a definitive approach, and fluctuates between the two – making it difficult to take seriously during its action scenes and yet hard to accept the camp humour when it’s offered. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s a hevily-flawed one. I can’t help but get the impression that the movie might have been better accepted had it gone for a more fitting title like “Attack of the Killer Apes of King Solomon’s Mines!”

Not everything is better with monkeys...

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Non-Review Review: Land of the Lost

What an odd film. Part buddy comedy, part adventure movie parody, Land of the Lost is a chronic mess of a film. However, I see cult appeal looming on the horizon. At the very least, it should become a solid stoner movie.

The only thing scary than one lumbering extra in a fake-looking reptile costume is five lumbering extras in fake-looking reptile costumes...

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