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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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Watch! Tribute to 50 Years of Bond…

It’s no secret that I am a massive James Bond fan. After all, Skyfall was one of my favourite movies of 2012. So when I found this tribute to fifty years of the secret agent – set to Adele’s wonderful Oscar-winning theme song – I had to share it. Check it out below and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

The Spirit Archives, Vol. 26 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s strange reading The Spirit Archives, Vol. 26. Not just because it’s a collection of absolutely everything (from stories to pin-ups to posters to sketches) rather than a set of comic strips. Also because of the scope of this final hardcover collection in DC’s Spirit Archives programme. While, with the exception of the last volume, each book collected six months of the weekly strip, this final book collects pretty-much everything Will Eisner did with the character from the time that the weekly strip ended through to his death in 2005.  I’m a bit surprised that there’s only one book of this material, although it does allow the reader to flick through the decades following the end of the strip as if examining a family photo albums – watching the subtle changes as time marches on.

Despite the fact that he was cancelled, The Spirit never seemed to quite go away. There was a lot of work featuring the character by other writers and artists, but most of that isn’t collected here. Instead, this admittedly disjointed collection reads best as a sort of a documentary charting the on-going relationship between Will Eisner and arguably his most popular creation.

Still making waves…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 16 (Review/Retrospective)

We’re more than half-way through Will Eisner’s tenure on The Spirit, and I find myself struggling, just a bit, to come up with something novel to say about it. After all, I’ve gone on and on (and on and on) about how Eisner has handled the weekly strip for the bones of about 10,000 words at this point. As much as I like to examine each six-month period on its own terms and merits, there comes a point where I have to concede that this is just one giant project, and a lot of what I can say about it I have already said. Sure, there are some new themes and ideas, and Eisner always enjoys putting a new slant on old concepts, but I can’t help but feel that this extended bunch of reviews and retrospectives will wind up tripping over each other. (I say that as if they haven’t already.)

With that in mind, just because I might have a bit less to say about The Spirit Archives, Vol. 16 doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great collection of stories. We are, after all, in the middle of the most celebrated part of Eisner’s run. This collection is pretty consistently smart, funny and moving. Just because this reviewer is struggling not to cover old ground doesn’t mean that Eisner is any less of a master.

A web of deceit...

A web of deceit…

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A View to a Bond Baddie: Ernst Stavro Blofeld

To celebrate James Bond’s 50th birthday on screen, we’re going to take a look at the character and his films. We’ve already reviewed all the classic movies, so we’ll be looking at his iconic baddies, and even at the character himself.

Blofeld is unique among the Bond villains for his capacity to keep turning up. He’s appeared in more on-screen adventures than any other Bond baddie, and he survives in the popular imagination, with a lot of gossip about the next Bond film likely to debate whether or not they’re bringing Blofeld back. The character has endured in the public imagination as the Bond baddie, and he’s perhaps best immortalised as Micheal Myers’ Doctor Evil from the Austin Powers movies. However, watching his appearances again, I’m actually struck by how little consistency there is in the portrayal of his character, and I can’t help but wonder if the reason he endures is because of his versatility as an adversary.

Bond movies have a remarkable adaptability. They can be serious, campy, ridiculous, sombre, mature and juvenile, often all at the same time. As far as Bond villains go, Blofeld’s really the only villain who can compete with that.

He looks like the cat who got the canary…

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