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An August Tribute: “The Avengers” and Deconstructing Bond…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing The Avengers on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

This is not a defense of The Avengers.

There is no defending The Avengers. The film is legendary and spectacular failure. There is no belated reclamation project under way, no attempt to salvage its reputation twenty-odd years after it landed in a smoking crater. The film’s production history is storied, and disastrous. The film was subject to internal power struggles within Warner Brothers, falling between a changing of the guard and sabotaged at a test screening with a hostile audience. Twenty-five minutes of the film were unceremoniously cut out, and the score was radically rewritten. The result is monstrous.

More than that, there is little to indicate that The Avengers could ever have been a good film, even its pristine and uncut state. The flaws with the movie run deeper than those definable absences. The two leads share no chemistry, despite the fact that the film hinges on their dynamic. The plot is complete nonsense, haunted by the shadow of countless rewrites rather than simply lost in the edit. The film’s surrealism is halfhearted rather than committed, flirting with deranged brilliance but always landing somewhere on the uncomfortable side of mere camp. The Avengers is bad.

And, yet, in spite of all that, something interesting beats at the heart of The Avengers. Part of this is a result of the movie’s intrinsic late-nineties-ness, the way that it captures the mood of that moment. It is very much a post-Cold War story, its stakes framed in environmental terms that reflect the anxieties of the cultural moment. (Remember when mankind healed the hole in the ozone layer?) Similarly, the movie’s flirtation with the surreal and the notion of collapsing reality echoes (better) films like The Truman Show or The Matrix or Dark City or eXistenz or Fight Club.

However, the most interesting aspect of the film remains its central performance from Sean Connery. At the time, Connery had just successfully reinvented himself as a box office draw in the late nineties, building off the success of his collaboration with Michael Bay and Nicolas Cage in The Rock. The late nineties were were busy time for Connery, with projects including Entrapment, Playing by Heart and Finding Forrester. The actor was undergoing what might be characterised today as a “Conneraissance.”

In the middle of that “Conneraissance”, there is something rather strange about The Avengers, in large part because it’s a performance that exists in dialogue with his most iconic role. Of course, there’s no getting around Connery’s time as James Bond. The Rock rather heavily implies that Connery’s character was a version of James Bond arrested around the time of Diamonds are Forever. However, The Avengers goes one step further. The Avengers doesn’t just cast Sean Connery as a Bond villain. The Avengers casts Sean Connery as James Bond as a Bond villain.

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New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 4, Episode 10 (“Our Man Bashir”)

The Pensky File will return…

Thrilled to join Wes and Clay over at The Pensky Podcast for another episode of their look at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The dynamic duo are fast approaching the midpoint of the fourth season, one of the greatest seasons of television in the Star Trek canon and probably one of the greatest twenty-odd episode seasons of television ever produced.

I was particularly excited to join the pair for a discussion of Our Man Bashir, an episode in which Bashir and Garak become embroiled in a life and death struggle while playing out one of Bashir’s spy fantasies. My position on Our Man Bashir is pretty out there, but I genuinely believe that it’s one of the best episodes of Star Trek ever produced. Do I manage to convince Wes and Clay? You’ll have to listen to find out.

Along the way, we discuss everything from the popularity of James Bond in America, to the evolution of Julian Bashir as a character, to the economics of the holosuite to Avery Brooks’ distinctive performance style. It was, as ever, a huge pleasure and privilege to join the two for the discussion.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #31!

It’s time for the latest Scannain podcast.

This week, I join Graham Day from Speakin’ Geek, Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching and Grace Duffy to discuss the week in film. Topics for discussion include the subtle brilliance of Lorne Balfe’s soundtrack to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the rebranding of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, the “ageing out” of kid actors in long-running franchises, the drama around Danny Boyle’s departure from the latest Bond movie and the possible casting of Idris Elba as James Bond.

New releases include Alpha, Slender Man and The Children Act; the tail end of the podcast includes an extended discussion of Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, which all four panelists have seen.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Our Man Bashir (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Our Man Bashir is an underrated masterpiece.

It is possibly the best holodeck (or holosuite) episode in the history of the franchise; only Ship in a Bottle can really compete. A lot of this is down to the production value of the episode; Our Man Bashir looks and sounds beautiful, a delightfully detailed throwback to its source material. The production team on the Star Trek franchise seldom get enough credit for their skill at realising alien worlds and cultures from scratch, but their beautiful evocation of sixties design is breathtaking. Our Man Bashir is a clear forerunner to Trials and Tribble-ations, less than a year away.

"The name's Bashir, Julian Bashir..."

“The name’s Bashir, Julian Bashir…”

However, there is more to it than that. Like Little Green Men, Our Man Bashir succeeds as a (relatively) light-hearted run-around that never loses track of its characters. The first three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine struggled with the character of Julian Bashir; audience members could wait entire seasons for a good Bashir episode. With the fourth season, three come along at once. Our Man Bashir might look light and fluffy – and it largely is – but it never loses sight of its core character dynamics in the midst of all the fun unfolding around them.

More than that, Our Man Bashir plays into the broader themes and strengths of the fourth season. The climax of the episode feels like Deep Space Nine is ruminating on its new-found place dictating the direction of the Star Trek canon. Bashir’s decision to “save the day by destroying the world” feels oddly prophetic. The fifth season of the show would find the writers destroying some of the most fundamental rules of the franchise in an effort to keep things vital.

Got some bottle...

Got some bottle…

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Non-Review Review: Spectre

Second acts are always tough.

This is very much the case with Spectre, whether in terms of the film itself and its relationship with Skyfall. Despite the considerable backlash that Skyfall has generated since its release – an inevitability in this era of hype – it remains one of the best-loved and best-received James Bond films. It makes sense for the follow-up to try to capitalise on that success, in much the same way that Tomorrow Never Dies attempted to up the ante from GoldenEye and that Quantum of Solace attempted to build upon Casino Royale.

Spectre will suffer in the inevitable comparisons to Skyfall. The film doesn’t have the same clarity of purpose, revisits a few too many of the same things, and lacks the sheer beauty of Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Any direct comparisons between the two films will see Spectre coming up short. This is a shame as, taken on its own merits, Spectre is a remarkably successful James Bond film. Indeed, with three out of his four films firmly in the “hit” category, Daniel Craig assures his place as a James Bond for the ages.

Spectre is perhaps a little over-extended and gets a little lost in its own extended middle section. It perhaps falls a little too heavily into the “origin story” territory teased by Skyfall. However, it is stylish and confident, with charisma to spare. Spectre retains the energy and verve of its predecessor, capitalising on a script that knows what it wants to be about and perhaps the franchise’s most artful director. Spectre is one of the better Bond films, but it suffers from having to follow one of the very best.

A nice ring to it...

A nice ring to it…

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Non-Review Review: Spy

Spy is broad, but it is funny. It might just be the best collaboration between director Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy.

Feig reteams with McCarthy following on from the critical and commercial successes of Bridesmaids and The Heat. Both films were frequently cited as leading a new wave in female-led comedy, proving that audiences and critics would respond to classic comedy movie tropes executed with a largely female cast. Although Spy features an ensemble that is more gender-balanced, it remains a feminist comedy. Feig’s screenplay is never heavy-handed in its gender politics, but it wryly aware of how its female characters are wading into a traditionally masculine space.

I spy a winner...

I spy a winner…

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Non-Review Review: The Kingsman

The creators of The Kingsman either really love or really hate the classic Roger Moore Bond films. Probably both.

Another creative collaboration between Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Mark Millar, The Kingsman is just as juvenile, crass and ultimately charming as Kick-Ass. There is a sense of mischievous and cheeky fun to this classic spy film homage. It is effectively an update of those seventies and eighties spy films with a more cynical and self-aware attitude. There is a sense that The Kingsman is simply more transparent than its inspirations in its infectiously juvenile and borderline offensive sensibilities.

Sound and Firthy...

Sound and Firthy…

It is hard to tell how much of this homage is genuine nostalgic affection, and how much is witty subversion. The Kingsman is a spy film that not only uses outdated (and occasionally insensitive) spy movie tropes, it practically revels in them. Although the third act occasionally feels a little too mean-spirited in its riff on classic Bond sensibilities, The Kingsman has enough boundless energy and raw enthusiasm to keep the audience watching. The script is well-observed and the direction is tight. A superb central cast helps to anchor the film.

The Kingsman is an odd beast. It is that rare homage that seems quite likely to shock and offend many fans that otherwise share its nostalgic inclinations. However, those willing to be a bit more adventurous will find much to love in this updated spy caper.

Matthew Vaughn's fingerprints are all over this...

Matthew Vaughn’s fingerprints are all over this…

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