This week's episode serves as the third part of our shows where we pluck a comic book character and explore the numerous on-screen iterations of them over the years. This episode sees the team place Superman under our proverbial spotlight. We examine which actors and films were able to deliver our favourite versions of the character and perhaps address the broader question of why is there such a problem in delivering on a Superman movie?
This week's episode serves as part 2 in an ongoing series of shows where we pluck a comic book character and explore the numerous on-screen iterations of them over the years. This episode sees the team place Spider-Man under our proverbial spotlight. We examine which actors and films were able to deliver our favourite versions of the character and the difficulty in striking the right tone with our friendly neighbourhood superhero.
Episode #18 of the Close Encounters podcast saw the team (and long time broadcasting buddy) Denis-Jose Francois delve into the many on screen iterations of Batman.
And there sure have been a lot. Like, considerably more than I initially thought.
By my count - and at the time of this writing - Batman has amassed over 14 live action castings (excluding the upcoming Robert Pattinson depiction) with a further seven actors who have portrayed the role through various animated series/movies, TV shows as well as video game roles. And while Adam West may very well be the go-to answer to the question of 'who played the first live action Batman?'... well, as I recently found out, that answer would be very wrong.
Lewis Wilson actually played the first live action iteration of Batman as far back as 1943 for a 15 episode series entitled 'Batman'. This version of Batman pit the Caped Crusader, not against revered enemies like Joker, Penguin or Riddler, but against the "treacherous" Dr Daka who attempted to take over America for Japanese control. Actor Robert Lowery would replace Wilson in the sequel series ('Batman and Robin') which followed in 1949.
Looking back at the YouTube clip here, there really are frightening similarities between this version and the subsequent Adam West depiction which followed fifteen years later. The only difference is that Adam West & co seemed to be completely aware of the show's absurdity while this version perhaps wasn't. "Step up to him... slap his face... hehehe... step back".
That's always been the brilliance of Batman though. The multitude of these intrinsic layers attached to the character that enable storytellers to take Batman in completely new directions: the mildly camp hero, The Dark Knight, the World's Greatest Detective, local billionaire, traumatised youth, etc. Each of these facets have absolutely served as varying inspirations for different filmmakers when bringing to life their vision of Batman over the years and will undoubtedly continue to do so for years to come. Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' (2008) practically reinvented the superhero movie, proving a comic book movie could be included in the same conversation alongside some of the best intelligent and thought-provoking thrillers.
Following the release of Tim Burton's 1989 'Batman', the phenomenal success of the movie spawned a now notorious quote, "Batman wasn't a film, it was a franchise".
I think the word 'franchise' has now evolved since then to refer to the movie series as a whole but back then it was intended to refer to the wave of commercialism attached to the product - toys, clothing, lunch boxes, posters, etc, etc. It was a comment certainly true for Batman and certainly true for the wave of superhero movies that came afterwards.
This week's episode is intended as the first in an ongoing series of shows where we pluck a comic book character and explore the numerous on-screen iterations of them over the years. And first up under our proverbial spotlight is DC Comics' own, Batman. We examine our favourite versions of the character, which actors and directors were able to deliver our favourite versions of the character, what makes a good "Batman" and what are some of our most iconic moments.
And joining Dan Collacott, Tee-J Sutherland and Imran Mirza on this week's excursion is long-time friend and broadcasting companion, Denis-Jose Francois. Harking back to our days on the Liberation Frequency podcast this reunion has been long overdue so we very much hope you enjoy the podcast as much as we did.
This week's episode sees Dan, Tee-J and Imran each exploring our own connections and capacity when it comes to the horror genre and answering the question of "What scares us?". We look back at our earliest memories of being exposed to horror as well as what type of movie constitutes horror in the 21st century. Give us a listen... if you daaaaaaaaare!
I Sell The Dead (film review)
by Dan Collacott
Director: Glenn McQuaid
I Sell The Dead isn't really a traditional Zombie film, in fact only in the second half of this low budget period horror comedy does it wave a big spade at that genre.
The film centres on the slap stick-esque grave robbing antics of Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). The story is told through a series of death row conversations between Blake and Father Duffy (Ron Perlman).
The first half anecdotes/flashbacks concentrate on how a young Blake and Grimes first became a notorious grave robbing partnership. The second half shifts to their more profitable and specialist acquisition of the undead, and not to mention their less fortunate encounters with a deranged rival gang.
The setting of a fog soaked period England creates a perfectly macabre and bleak atmosphere throughout the film, yet somehow the morally obscure duo's humorous exchanges keeps the mood light. The film isn't really laugh out loud funny but certainly has its fair share of very comic moments, it also refreshingly avoids too many cliché buddy/bromance set pieces, or boy meets woman yawns. In fact aside from the main partnership there is little other character depth there and nor is it needed!
Monaghan and Fessenden's on screen chemistry is both well pitched and believable, as is the world they inhabit and the protagonists they tackle. Perlman (Hellboy) puts in a neat turn as the priest and Irish director Glenn McQuaid's direction is tight and effective throughout.
Although I Sell The Dead breathes knew life into a tiring genre, it feels more like a TV film or an introduction to a series than a feature film. Now I don't mean it is in anyway bad, in fact it is very watchable but it just feels like there is a lot more mileage in each individual story told and in the characters themselves. I would watch a HBO series based on the film in a heartbeat, as for me 90mins wasn't enough.
The twist is evident early on (and doesn't really pretend to be that complex) and the actual main plot strand feels like an after thought. But the fact I wanted to see more really shows that the film both frustrated and delighted me in equal measures.
I Sell The Dead gets some kudos for originality, it's worth checking out the Graphic Novel the film is based on.
Well let's get this out of the way very early. Throughout this series, there will be some controversial comments and perspectives so we may as well get the first one out of the way right off the bat... I like 'The Incredible Hulk'.
Inexplicably to me, this film has developed a considerably bad reputation and perhaps ranks fairly low amongst the films on offer within the MCU. But there's genuinely a lot I like about it. I thought Ed Norton did really well in the role - unfortunately due to whatever reasons there were, he was unable to continue as Bruce Banner - but despite his fairly dignified silence regarding the split, he clearly had a vision for the role that contradicted what Marvel had in mind.
There's something about every live action iteration of Hulk which involves him being chased - from the TV series to Ang Lee's 'Hulk' (2003) - and while this film doesn't deviate from that template, there is a lot of firsts that we did get, namely, Hulk in an actual fight. Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky was perfectly played as the past-his-prime marine hungry for the limitless power being wasted by Banner and their final confrontation, with Blonksy having evolved into Abomination, still makes for a great watch today.
While we know that William Hurt's General Ross reemerges in 'Civil War', unfortunately there are a lot of loose ends in the movie including the notable absences of Liv Tyler's Betty Ross and the Tim Blake Nelson's The Leader who have not even warranted a mention in subsequent MCU movies which, bearing in mind we've not had another Hulk movie, I suppose is understandable.
Conversely though, the film does deliver on planting seeds towards MCU's future: the introduction of the super soldier program that Captain America is born of makes its debut by demonstrating its darker characteristics, namely the negative effect it has on Blonsky. And then there's the introduction of Tony Stark at the film's conclusion - the first character within the MCU to cross over into another movie was such a big deal at the time.
His scene ends with the tantalising line of "We're putting a team together" which, in some ways, could be argued as being a little ambiguous. When 'Iron Man' came out, there were rumours that the upcoming Avengers movie was actually to pit Iron Man, Thor and Captain America against the Hulk before, I imagine, ultimately aligning with him. I don't know if that was ever a legitimate plan but it was an intriguing one.
As I say, for me, this is a really good movie and I think a real shame that we've not had a follow-up standalone movie for Hulk. If you're someone who put this in the thumbs down camp, it would definitely be worth an open-minded reviewing as you may have a different perspective this time round.
Written by Imran Mirza
The arrival of Disney+ in the UK has given me the opportunity to delve into something I’ve wanted to do for the past year – actually it’s been exactly a year as April 2019 saw the release of the MCU’s ‘Endgame’ which brought to conclusion a story that started in 2008 and was masterfully told over the course of 22 movies.
So existing in the midst of a quarantine and with an inexplicable refusal to get any sleep I figured let’s relive the magic of this ground-breaking experiment, chart the incredible journey of these characters and try to keep up with everyone who at one time or another was in possession of The Tesseract. With that said, spoiler-filled reviews start now…
I vividly remember the first time I heard that Marvel had set up a studio with the plan of releasing four standalone movies for Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America with the intention of bringing them together in a fifth ‘Avengers’ film. Now, I fully understand that Phase 1 was small fries compared to the scope of Phase 3 but it’s so important that people remember that nothing like Phase 1’s basic plan had ever been attempted before – characters from one film appearing in a completely different film was unimaginable back then. I mean, yes, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprised their roles as Mortimer and Randolph Duke from ‘Trading Places’ (1983) appearing in a cameo in ‘Coming To America’ (1988) but, as cool as that was, probably wasn’t on the same level. (It was very cool though.)
The other thing I vividly remember was the announcement of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark. Genius, I thought. Flawless casting. And that casting of an actor in a superhero role holds up against any since and there have certainly been some great ones but Downey’s Stark, for me, was the beating heart – or the beating Arc Reactor – of the MCU from this film going forward. ‘Iron Man’ has a strong reputation as being the catalyst for a successful MCU and while you may have strong memories of this being a good film – if it’s been some time since you last saw this – then I’d urge you to watch it again as it’s a great film that holds up against everything that came after it.
The arc that Tony’s character would go on to be defined by throughout his nine MCU appearances is established fairly early in his overall story – the desire to right his past wrongs, the desire to do all he can to protect those around him. And, yes, that desire in some ways slowly turns to obsession whereby some questionable decisions are made – namely his “suit of armour around the world” quest established in ‘Age of Ultron’ – but that’s what’s made Stark so compelling in that he wasn’t the goody-two-shoes hero; he retains the asshole-like characteristics that Stark begins the film with.
And now let’s talk about the suit. As films have progressed, we’ve seen the technology employed evolve at an incredible rate with the only limitations being that of Marvel’s imagination. From the lengthy time taken to put on/take off the armour in ‘Iron Man’ to the almost magical materialisation of it in ‘Infinity War’ has been an absolute joy to see develop over the years. It’s as though every film had to feature upgrades in some aspect be it the efficiency or the devastating arsenal at the suit’s disposal.
The final point that absolutely warrants a mention here is the fact that this movie also sparked the beginning of Marvel’s tradition and subsequent ownership of the post-credits scene – a trick I remember being distinctly unfamiliar with at the time so completely missed Nick Fury’s introduction upon my initial cinema screening of ‘Iron Man’. But these post-credits scenes have established themselves as such a staple of Marvel’s storytelling that in my mind, the most bizarre or rudest thing someone can do in the cinema is to leave as the credits start. I’m always overwhelmed with the desire to heckle people as they leave – but thankfully I never have.
Anyway, this is getting long and there’s another 21 movies to cover so I’ll wrap this up here even though there’s so much I didn’t get to talk about. We’ll be back fairly soon as we get to grips with ‘The Incredible Hulk’ in our next post.
Episode #13 of the Close Encounters of the 4th Kind podcast sees Tee-J, Imran and Dan assess how the entertainment industry has managed to adapt to a life of quarantine. We look at the worlds of music, film, TV, pro-wrestling and other sports to highlight some really innovative ways that have been employed to spread the universal smiles.
by Dan Collacott
One of the best things about straight to VHS films was the fact they often toyed with insane concepts that would usually only be reserved for video games. Arena is exactly that, it's like someone went 'what if Tekken was a movie' only Arena actually predated Tekken and is far more crap than that idea.
Arena tells the story of a futuristic fighting tournament where alien species dominate. Only this time lead Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield doing an amazing Christopher Reeve impersonation) is fired from his job as a cook and persuaded to become the first human in a thousand years to try and win (easy right?). The competition also uses some kind of equalising system that levels the fight for each participant, no matter what their physical/strength/limb to teeth ratio differences are (and yes despite this they still cheat like absolute bastards). Steve is assisted by mentor/manager/companion 'Shorty', a Bilbo Baggins-a-like who looks like he wandered from the shire onto the set of Arena, where some FX experts then attached two new but non working arms to his body without telling him.
Directed by B-Movie helmer Peter Manoogian, Arena has plenty of cliches and goofy acting plus a garish 80s wardrobe of horrendous outfits, featuring a lot of make up and clothes borrowed from starlight express, including lots of silver, gold, big perms, wide shoulders and shiny/sparkly things. Steve's initial fighting outfit is so weird and camp it looks like something from a very bad Eurovision pop video. Weirdly most of the creatures Steve fights are incredibly slow and cumbersome looking, one of them is even called Sloth and you can kind of see why.
There is a bit of romance between 'no nonsense' fighting promotor Quinn and Steve and the directors clearly spent most of the film trying to recreate the Cantina scene from Star Wars only with the budget and attire of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.'
Aesthetically watching this film made me feel like they had got extras and actual actors from Babylon 5 and every 80s B-Movie FX specialist to create some insanely weird creature FX on their coffee break (the film is alleged to have had a $10 million budget). In a world before CGI the physical effects are great despite this being a low ball B movie (ok maybe 'great' is an over statement but they sort of work). Released at a time when Rocky was absolutely huge, Arena is a true against all odds underdog story, where humanity gets its mojo back when it realises one of their own can win the biggest tournament there is.
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