Ithaca comedians and movie buffs will tear up history's worst Batman movie

April 18, 2014 by Mark H. Anbinder

The Batman mythos has spawned about as many screen adaptations as the arguably more-recognizable Superman, from the campy '60s TV series to multiple movie outings and a hugely popular and well-regarded animated series. Nearly everyone can agree that 1997's "Batman & Robin" is the absolute worst. That's the film that's getting a comedic roast treatment at a downtown shop this weekend.

1997's "Batman & Robin" starred George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell, complete with rubberized nipples on their costumes.1997's "Batman & Robin" starred George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell, complete with rubberized nipples on their costumes.The fourth film in the series that began with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as a brash Joker, "Batman & Robin" stars George Clooney as the Caped Crusader and Chris O'Donnell as the Boy Wonder, with an all-star supporting cast that included Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, John Glover, Vivica A. Fox, Alicia Silverstone, and Uma Thurman. "I watched it a few months ago when I was thinking about doing this," says Ithaca-based movie reviewer and comedian Bryan VanCampen, the master of ceremonies for this Saturday night's screening. "There's a lot of fertile ground for mockery."

"It was an overblown Hollywood concoction that makes it a great target for the MST3K treatment," agrees Aaron Pichel, whose Movie Poster Store is hosting the comedy and movie event. "MST3K" refers to "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a television series in which a host and his futuristic robotic sidekicks offer a running commentary on some of cinematic history's worst movies.

Instead of robots, VanCampen will be joined by a trio of fellow comedians: Annie Lin, Josh Soldiers, and Mandy Mackin. They're all among the performers who've appeared at local open-mic stand-up comedy nights at Lot 10, Pixel, and Crossroads. "Annie and Mandy come up with the most cracked observations you'll ever hear," VanCampen says, "and Josh is simply one of the best one-liner guys I've ever met."

Dynamic Duo: Bryan VanCampen (right) with his own sidekick, Sheldon the Sheep, performing at Pixel Lounge.Dynamic Duo: Bryan VanCampen (right) with his own sidekick, Sheldon the Sheep, performing at Pixel Lounge."The Movie Man," as VanCampen has been known thanks to his longstanding movie review column and on-screen reviews, says "I missed the dynamic duo aspect of my TV career," when he and fellow cinema critic Beth Saulnier co-hosted a popular local TV dialog. "Since I started doing stand-up last June, I've been trying to combine the two things, and find a new forum for all of these cool, funny comedians I've been meeting and working with." He also hosted a public screening of "Pulp Fiction" at Cornell Cinema to mark the 20th anniversary of his Ithaca Times column.

"We hope to make this an ongoing series, and since I'm partnered with a great guy like Aaron Pichel, I kind of see us sticking to comic book movies for a while. As good as Marvel movies are now, there are a lot of terrible comic book movies out there," VanCampen says. "I'm inclined to chase the ones that were so bad they've haunted me, like "Howard the Duck" or "Highlander II: The Quickening." The opening night audience for that at the State Theatre turned into an MST3K type of situation. As soon as the crowd saw how bad the movie was, boy, they turned on it."

Pichel says "Kull the Conqueror" is another candidate. "If this event is successful, you will see more shows that will be sure to delight." He's been collecting comic books since the late 1960s, and was the founding president of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca, which he says is "the longest continiously running comic book club in the world." The club just held its 39th Ithacon convention.

We asked BVC about the previous Bat-incarnations, starting with the 1960s TV series starring Adam West (who's enjoyed a career resurgence playing himself on "Family Guy) and Burt Ward. "I adored the TV show since I was a kid," VanCampen says. "It was bright, it was weird, it was pop art on mainstream American TV. In fact, I really didn't see the humor in the show until I was much older. I loved the characters, the costumes, and the sets. I believed." He's thrilled that West is back on TV, even if it's just as an animated semi-parodic version of himself. "There were a lot of years where he probably didn't work apart from Batman appearances at car shows and carnivals, so as an actor, I can appreciate the wonders of employment!"

"Nicholson is pretty great anytime," he says of the 1989 "Batman" that rebooted the character for a mainstream audience following the success of Christopher Reeve's "Superman" movies. "But I think Heath Ledger's Joker is the most original take on the character. I also really like Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy's vocal work on 'Batman: The Animated Series.' People are screaming about Ben Affleck in the next Superman movie, but they haven't read the script. Right now it's just an idea, a choice. I'll have an opinion after I see him, trust me."

Of the more-recent iteration, Christopher Nolan's trilogy starring Christian Bale, VanCampen says, "I love the first two films, but the third one really disappointed me. Batman doesn't retire."

"Batman & Robin" will get what it deserves at 9pm on Saturday, April 19th, at The Movie Poster Store on the Commons in Downtown Ithaca. The store, at 135 The Commons, offers posters and other movie memorabilia, as well as comic books and graphic novels, for sale. Tickets are $5 and refreshments will be available.

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