X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When a politician proposes legal limits on people who have been born with special powers, a terrorist called Magneto plots to turn everyone into mutants. Standing in his way is an old friend with a more live-and-let-live approach…

Get used to multiples names…
* The film’s point-of-view characters are Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Marie aka Rogue (Anna Paquin). They learn about the lives and rules of mutants so we can too. Jackman is such an effective leading man – very Harrison Ford-ish – that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role. But he was only cast three weeks into filming when Dougray Scott dropped out because production of Mission: Impossible II overran. Paquin’s good too, and it’s a shame when Rogue becomes a damsel in distress in the second half. After bumping into each other in Canada and forming a touching friendship, Wolverine and Rogue end up at Charles Xavier’s school for gifted youngsters, which is also a front for a team of mutant superheroes.
* Xavier aka Professor X is played by Patrick Stewart, who brings gravitas, soul and a bald head to the role. His lieutenants are Dr Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Ororo Munroe aka Storm (Halle Berry in a dodgy white wig) and Scott Summers aka Cyclops (James Marsden). Jean has a flirtation with Wolverine, which irritates her fiancé Cyclops, but it’s not specified why she doesn’t get a cool codename. Storm is sadly a bit of a non-entity, and is also involved in the film’s worst moment. An uncredited Joss Whedon worked on a draft of the script and wrote a Bondian quip for the character – “Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?” she says when facing off against an evil mutant called Toad. “The same thing that happens to everything else!” However, Halle Berry delivers it without any irony at all and the gag is lost. (Imagine a Buffy character throwing away the second half of the line.)
* Students at the school include Bobby Drake aka Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Kitty Pryde (Sumela Kay) – both will have more to do in sequels.
* On the other side of the mutant divide is a remarkably small team of bad guys. Magneto’s real name is Erik Lehnsherr and he’s played by Ian McKellen with an American accent and an arrogant air. He has just three sidekicks: the giant Sabretooth (Tyler Mane), the creepy Toad (Ray Park from The Phantom Menace) and the blue-skinned shapeshifter Mystique (a seemingly naked Rebecca Romijn-Stamos… Wowzers).
* The only other notable character is Senator Kelly, played by the reliable Bruce Davison. He opposes mutants but is then turned into one by Magneto and dies.

Stan Lee cameo: The creator of the X-Men can be spotted in the scene where a mutated Kelly walks out of the sea and up a beach. Lee is one of the shocked onlookers.

Crossovers and continuity: There are a few elements that will be contradicted or expanded in future movies.
* Sabretooth acts like he’s never met Wolverine before, which doesn’t marry with the backstory told in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
* Kitty Pryde will be recast twice and get more to do in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).
* Charles tells us he met Eric when they were 17 – that story will be dramatised in X-Men: First Class (2009).
* Jean Grey mindreads Wolverine and sees memories of surgery he was subjected to – both X2 (2003) and Origins: Wolverine will expand on those events.

A comic-fan writes… Because I know next to nothing about the source material, I’ve asked my friend Fraser Dickson to give a comic-reader’s view on this movie: “As a lifelong fan of the X-Men comics this film was always going to struggle to live up to expectations, but I was encouraged after hearing about some of the cast and went in feeling optimistic. It made a promising start, touching on elements of the Days of Future Past story, but the ‘death ray’ set atop the Statue of Liberty in the finale was far too B-movie cliché for me. I left wondering whether films adapted from comics could ever work and would always end up seeming just too childish and naff. Then I saw Iron Man…”

Review: At 100 minutes the film is considerably leaner than most modern superhero movies. This decade’s Avengers films, for example, are 137 and 136 minutes, while the two recent Superman movies add up to around five hours. So with only an hour and a half before the credits start rolling, X-Men doesn’t hang about. The first 10 minutes feature a prologue set during the Second World War, the introduction of Rogue and her dangerous abilities, a debate in the Senate that kicks off the plot, the establishing of Charles and Eric’s rivalry, and the first sighting of Wolverine. It’s slick, enjoyable, intriguing stuff. However, it soon becomes clear that the trade-off for the bum-friendly running time is a flimsy plot. The movie feels like the pilot episode of a TV series. A lot of screen time is spent on introducing characters and explaining superpowers, while the story’s main beats are reduced to ‘heroes guess what the bad guy is up to’ followed by ‘heroes set off to stop him’. It’s not complex and there’s not much tension to anything. But it’s still obvious how influential the film’s been. Many subsequent comic-book adaptations have followed X-Men’s lead in playing things for real, for example. That 1944 prologue – showing a young Magneto in a Nazi concentration camp – is very important. Not only does it set up the themes of prejudice and fear of difference, but it also tells us this is not a traditional superhero film. This is set in a close approximation of the ‘real’ world, not the faux 1940s of the Christopher Reeve Superman films or the gothic Gotham City of Tim Burton’s Batman. The cast are also ‘playing the truth’ of the situations. There’s no Gene Hackman or Jack Nicholson given licence to camp it up, which adds weight to everything that’s happening. There may still be comic-book conventions on show (everyone has two names, the team dress up in silly costumes) but they’re also wittily undercut (Wolverine pokes fun at the aliases, his X-Men outfit doesn’t fit properly). There are regular moments of humour or humanity, in fact. The film has *heart*. The storytelling is also impressively clear, precise and confident. It’s just a shame it’s so simplistic. It doesn’t feel very ambitious.

Seven Statues of Liberty out of 10

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, Werner Herzog)

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Aka: Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht

An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: This remake of 1922’s Nosferatu takes place in 19th-century Wismar and Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? It’s more or less the same story as the 1922 movie. Stoker’s book was in the public domain by 1979, though, so we get the proper character names (unlike in the original film, where everyone was renamed for copyright reasons). There are also a few elements here that don’t come from either 1897 or 1922. The best of which is the journey that Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) takes to Castle Dracula. It’s now almost mythical – he goes past giant waterfalls, which act as a kind of barrier between the real world and Dracula’s. The film hints that Castle Dracula is in some kind of dreamscape.

Best performance: Klaus Kinski as Dracula. He’s visually similar to Count Orlok from 1922, though beefs up the sense of the character’s loneliness. (Coincidentally Kinski had played Renfield in the 1970 Spanish-Italian-German film Count Dracula.)

Best bit: A key scene in any telling of Dracula – traveller stops at inn, casually mentions he’s going to Castle Dracula, and is told not to go by freaked-out locals – is well staged. But the film’s at its best when genuinely unsettling. The creepy opening sequence, for example, was filmed at a museum in Mexico using mummified bodies from an 1833 cholera epidemic. Later, rats invade Harker’s hometown. They’re bloody everywhere. (Around 11,000 were used for the filming and reportedly were treated appallingly by the production team.)

Alternative versions: Two cuts of the film exist – one where the actors speak in English and one where they speak in German. For this write-up, I watched the German version with English subtitles.

Review: There are a number of echoes of the original Nosferatu going on here. There’s even an early scene of a playful cat, which references a similar moment from 1922. The film also sexes up the Nosferatu template a fair bit. The act of vampirism has always been a metaphor for sex, but early Dracula films had to shy away from being blatant. In Nosferatu the Vampyre, when Dracula is draining blood from Lucy Harker (Isabella Adjani), he holds onto her breast – a gesture that was later restaged in 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire. But on the whole this film tests your patience. It’s slow and stilted. Over-the-top Foley sound effects and ADR dialogue are very distracting, while the film’s low budget is all too apparent. In its favour, this lack of polish helps with the vaguely trippy vibe that’s going on – as does a scene where a boy plays a violin very badly. (The actual incidental music, by the way, is one of the film’s best elements. It features folk-rock tracks taken from a pre-existing album by German pop group Popol Vuh. Mixing choral chants with modern instruments, it feels both ancient and fresh at the same time.) Interesting rather than entertaining.

Five bitten cows out of 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season seven (1993/94)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of the final season …

Best episode:
* All Good Things… Picard’s consciousness leaps about in time… Superb. I can’t immediately think of a more enjoyable series finale. There’s a big plot hole in the MacGuffin, but it really doesn’t matter.

Honourable mentions:
* Gambit, Part I. The rest of the Enterprise crew believe Picard has been killed… Don’t worry, he’s on this mercenary ship over here pretending to be a bad guy.
* Gambit, Part II – Ditto.
* Inheritance. The woman who is, in effect, Data’s ‘mum’ shows up… Fionnula Flanagan guest stars.
* Parallels. Worf is the only crewmember to notice that reality keeps changing… A surreal little episode.
* The Pegasus. Riker’s former captain investigates when an old mission comes back to haunt them both… A tremendously structured drama with conflicting viewpoints, mysteries and twists. Excellent.
* Homeward. Worf’s brother surreptitiously beams a group of people into a holodeck simulation of their dying world… One of numerous (ie, too many) episodes this season with a story based on a regular’s family member, but still enjoyable.
* Lower Decks. Various subplots about junior officers are woven together… A nice POV exercise. (A slight shame, though, that it’s still about *officers*. Surely the Enterprise has janitors and dock workers and IT gremlins – why not show us their lives?)
* Thine Own Self. Data loses his memory on a medieval planet while Troi tries to become a commander… It’s a shame the two halves of the episode are unconnected – and that Troi gets a promotion in a couple of days because she asks for one – but it’s broadly enjoyable.
* Bloodlines. A Ferenghi threatens to kill a son Picard didn’t know he had… Another tremendous example of how good Patrick Stewart was in this show.

Worst episode:
* Liasons. Picard is stranded on a hostile planet while strange ambassadors cause ructions on the Enterprise… Not only are both halves of the story really boring, but it ends with an alien character actually saying he wanted to learn about this earth custom called love. (This was a disappointing season generally, with numerous dull-as-dishwater episodes – Masks, Firstborn, Genesis…)

Conclusion:
* It’s been fascinating to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation again. I hadn’t seen most of the episodes since BBC2 screened them in the early 90s, and on the whole the show held up really well. It can be guilty of many things – naffness, tweeness, parochialism, a patronising attitude, naivety, the use of deus ex machina, unrealistic happy endings, abrupt endings, lack of conflict, a sense of white-man-to-the-rescue, repetition of ideas, technobabble (so much technobabble, especially once creator Gene Roddenberry had died), character stories with no plots, plots with no heart, old-fashioned attitudes to sex and marriage, and a tiresome reliance on resetting the status quo at the end of every episode. But it’s also packed full of great ideas, built on optimism, and has a likeable and charming regular cast. (Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner were consistently impressive.) Now… Do I have the time to give Deep Space Nine another go?

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season six (1992/93)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season six…

Best episode:
* Starship Mine. Picard must combat terrorists who have taken control of the Enterprise… It’s the Next Generation does Die Hard. Comedy, suspense and drama go hand-in-hand. It’s not especially Star Treky (not being ‘about’ anything), but very entertaining.

Honourable mentions:
* Time’s Arrow, Part II. Data’s colleagues travel to 1893 to locate him… Very enjoyable follow-up to last season’s finale.
* Relics. Long-missing Captain Montgomery Scott is found trapped inside a transporter buffer… SCOTTY!
* True Q. A young woman seems to have godlike powers, so Q arrives to help her… It’s always fun whenever Q shows up.
* A Fistful of Datas. Worf and his son, Alexander, take part in a holodeck Western programme, but things go wrong… Very entertaining and often funny. It revels in its Old West conventions. The first Worf-based episode to really succeed (all the others are so po-faced).
* Chain of Command, Part I. The Enterprise gets a new captain… The start of a fine two-part story. Ronny Cox guest stars and shakes up the cosy Enterprise family.
* Chain of Command, Part II. A captured Picard is interrogated by a Cardassian officer… Anything with David Warner in it is going to be worth seeing.
* Ship in a Bottle. A sentient hologram of Professor Moriarty escapes from the holodeck… Amazing episode with an audacious plot development.
* Tapesty. When Picard is ‘killed’, Q lets him relive a key moment from his youth… Let’s face it, if it’s about Picard it’s going to be a good one.
* Frame of Mind. While rehearsing a play about being imprisoned, Riker suddenly finds himself in the same situation as his character… A trippy story in which we don’t know what’s real and what’s not.
* Second Chances. A transporter malfunction results in a duplicate Will Riker… The kind of idea Star Trek does so well – taking a silly sci-fi concept and turning it into a fascinating character story.
* Timescape. Picard, Troi, Data and La Forge find the Enterprise frozen in time… Another science-fiction gimmick, but enjoyable stuff.

Worst episode:
* Aquiel – in which Geordie falls for a murder suspect – is boring, twee, and it ends very abruptly. Characters also have to act stupidly for the plot to work.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season five (1991/92)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season five…

Best episode:
* Conundrum. The crew of the Enterprise lose their memories after being scanned by an alien… A fun, gimmicky episode where our characters have to rediscover everything afresh. The regulars are having a ball playing with expectations and there’s some good humour too.

Honourable mentions:
* Ensign Ro. A disgraced Starfleet officer joins the Enterprise crew… Another no-easy-answers story about terrorists, and a good debut for a new semi-regular character.
* Silicon Avatar. A mysterious space creature that has killed millions returns… There’s a fine guest performance from Ellen Geer in this story about the crystalline entity from season one.
* Unification I. Picard and Data go undercover in Romulan territory to find a famous Vulcan ambassador… SPOCK!
* Unification II. MORE SPOCK!
* A Matter of Time. A man called Berlinghoff Rasmussen arrives and claims to be an academic time-traveller from the future… Matt Frewer plays Rasmussen and is a lot of fun.
* Hero Worship. A young boy latches onto Data as a new father figure… A sweet episode.
* Violations. There’s a delegation on the Enterprise, and one of them mentally abuses crewmembers… A nasty story about a rape metaphor with some trippy dream-like sequences.
* Power Play. Data, Troi and O’Brien get possessed and take control of the ship… An enjoyable enough go at a hoary old concept.
* Cause and Effect. Unbeknownst to the crew, the Enterprise becomes trapped in a time loop… Gimmicky and full of holes, but still very entertaining and well staged.
* The First Duty. At Starfleet Academy, Wesley Crusher is involved in a colleague’s death… A talky but enjoyable episode – a courtroom drama.
* I, Borg. An individual Borg is captured and the crew decide to use him as a weapon… A decent examination of moral issues.
* The Next Phase. Everyone thinks Geordie and Ro have been killed… An enjoyable sci-fi idea, though it’s a shame the solution is so rooted in meaningless science terminology.
* The Inner Light. Picard is unconscious for 20 minutes but in that time experiences decades’ worth of life on an alien planet… Very touching. An excellent performance from Patrick Stewart, as always.
* Time’s Arrow. After finding Data’s head buried on Earth, the android travels back in time to San Francisco in the 19th century… Tremendous. A foot-to-the-floor time-travel romp with comedy, Samuel Clemens and a terrific turn from Brent Spiner.

WORST:
* Redemption II. Picard visits the Klingon homeworld to oversee a new leader’s coronation… A horrendously boring exercise in fanwank. The hoops the storytelling jumps through in order to justify Denise Crosby’s return to the show are risible.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season four (1990/91)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season four…

Best episode:
* First Contact. Riker is injured while undercover on an alien world… A great concept, done entirely from the alien characters’ point of view – it’s their story, really, and our characters are the guests. The whole episode is really well directed, has a funny cameo from Cheers star Bebe Neuwirth, and there’s good character stuff all round (no one’s an idiot and the alien culture feels textured and believable). Maybe my favourite episode of the whole series, in fact.

Honourable mentions:
* The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. The conclusion of last season’s cliffhanger… Not in the same league as the first part – you get the sense they’d written themselves into a corner – but still entertaining.
* Family. Suffering from the after-effects of his Borg conversion, Picard goes home to France… A lovely change of pace: a quiet character episode with no sci-fi gubbins. Sadly, the episode keeps cutting back to subplots on the Enterprise featuring Worf and Wesley – it’s a shame, as these strands are nothing special.
* Brothers. Data hijacks the Enterprise! As this series goes along, the frequency with which Data goes loopy does get tiresome (how is he still third in command of the fleet flagship?!), but Brent Spiner plays three characters here and does it very well.
* Remember Me. Crusher starts to notice that crewmembers are vanishing, but no one else remembers them… A fun and intriguing sci-fi concept. It also pulls off a neat twist when we later switch to another POV.
* Legacy. During a civil war on an alien world, the crew meet the sister of their fallen colleague Tasha… This has a meaner, tougher tone than most episodes.
* Future Imperfect. Riker is knocked out cold and when he wakes up 16 years have passed… Another terrific gimmick episode, but pulled off with style. There’s a good double bluff going on too.
* Data’s Day. Various goings-on are seen through Data’s eyes… A pleasing exercise in style, and another fine Data episode.
* Qpid. When Q tries to play matchmaker for Picard, the regulars end up in a Robin Hood fantasy… Basically an excuse to get the characters in silly costumes and playing out clichés, but hugely entertaining.
* Half a Life. Lwaxana Troi falls in love with a man whose culture says he must commit suicide at a certain age… David Ogden Stiers guests stars in a lovely and measured story about euthanasia. Majel Barrett gets a chance to round out the comic-relief Lwaxana too.
* The Mind’s Eye. Geordie is kidnapped and brainwashed… A pastiche of Manchurian Candidate.
* In Theory. When a crewmember falls for him, Data takes his first steps into the world of romance… The first episode directed by Patrick Stewart is enjoyable enough.

Worst episode:
* There are quite a few that are more boring – The Loss, Night Terrors, The Drumhead, the finale – but Devil’s Due fails by being a rehash of concepts we’ve already had. It features a Q-type character, a courtroom drama, one of crew having to argue against another… All things the show has done before and better.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season three (1989/90)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* The Best of Both Worlds. The Borg invade Federation space and then capture and convert Captain Picard… There’s a wonderful sense of epic scale and dread to this one. It’s Star Trek as an action-horror movie. The end-of-season cliffhanger feels enormous.

Honourable mentions:
* The Survivors. The crew find two people living on an otherwise-barren planet… A nice, kooky character story with a good twist.
* Who Watches the Watchers? The Enterprise officers are secretly observing a race of aliens, but then the aliens become aware of their presence… A precursor of Star Trek: Insurrection, but this does the same concept with more flair and interest.
* The Enemy. Geordie gets trapped with a Romulan on a dangerous planet… A Defiant Ones-style story. There’s also a moral-dilemma B-plot for Worf, who refuses to help a dying Romulan.
* The Defector. A Romulan asks for sanctuary and says he has vital information… An episode with some politics behind it.
* The High Ground. Crusher in taken hostage by terrorists… A very un-Star Trek episode, which makes it all the more enjoyable. It’s a story about big, complex issues that weaves moral issues in with character stuff. There are no easy answers.
* Deja Q. Q is stripped of his powers… A nice bit of comedy.
* A Matter of Perspective. Riker is accused of murder, and during his trial we see different versions of what happened… It’s forced in places, perhaps, but is still an interesting way of telling a story.
* Yesterday’s Enterprise. In an alternative reality the crew encounter an Enterprise from the past, then realise they have a chance to improve the future… Famously enjoyable, and very timey-wimey. Tasha Yar’s back after leaving the show two years earlier and gets a proper send-off this time.
* The Offspring. Data builds himself an android daughter… A delightful episode with real heart to it.
* Allegiance. Picard is replaced by a duplicate by some aliens who are studying humans… Patrick Stewart is *amazing* at putting in just the right amount of off-kilter stuff into his performance as the other Picard. Without going OTT, he seems oddly different.
* Captain’s Holiday. Picard is on vacation, but soon gets involved with an archaeologist… Another good change of pace, and another episode that benefits from not feeling very Star Trek-like. We see Picard off on his own, off-duty and getting caught up in a heist movie. There’s some romance too.
* Tin Man. A scientist comes aboard to study a strange organism found near a planet… It features a good guest turn from Harry Groener, later of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
* Hollow Pursuits. A crewman called Reg Barclay struggles with life aboard the Enterprise… The first appearance of Barclay, a character with *issues* – which is oddly rare in Star Trek!
* The Most Toys. Data is captured and placed in a museum of rare artefacts… Worth watching for a cracking guest performance by Saul Rubinek (later of Warehouse 13, in which Brent Spiner guested for a season, thereby reuniting this episode’s chief cast).
* Ménage à Troi. The Ferengi kidnap Troi, her mother and Riker… Funny as anything. A hoot.

Worst episode:
* The Price. Some negotiations take place on the Enterprise… Sooooo boring.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season two (1988/89)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season two…

Best episode:
* The Measure of a Man. A Starfleet officer wants to carry out experiments on Data, who he claims has no rights as an individual… A weighty character story with a great moral dilemma that has reason on both sides. The courtroom drama is excellent and there are wonderful performances from Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner.

Honourable mentions:
* Elementary, Dear Data. While Data and Geordie are playing a Sherlock Holmes roleplaying game, a hologramatic character becomes sentient… Terrific fun, with the Sherlock pastiche mined for all its worth.
* The Outrageous Okuna. The crew rescue a freelance captain, but the local planet has a problem with him… This is refreshingly based on a character who seems a bit more modern than the 24th-century characters. Okuna is a Han Solo type, basically, so more earthy and louche than our regulars. (Teri Hatcher cameos as a transporter chief.)
* The Schizoid Man. We meet the scientist who claims to be Data’s grandfather, and he takes over Data’s body… Basically, it seems that if they made the episode about Data they couldn’t go wrong. Another good one.
* A Matter of Honor. As part of an exchange, Riker serves as the first officer on a Klingon ship, which of course brings him up against the Enterprise… It’s a fun idea, and is part of a process to make the initially po-faced Riker more rounded.
* Time Squared. A Picard from a few hours into the future shows up… A small-scale step into the time-travel genre. An effective little episode.
* Q Who. The Enterprise encounters a previously unknown race of androids… Q returns and we get the first appearance of the Borg. It’s pacey, urgent and gripping.
* Up The Long Ladder. Two colonies who have not had contact with the outside world are in danger… Clichés abound, especially in the Irishness of the guest characters, but there’s fun and humour too.
* The Emissary. When a ship containing hibernating Klingons is found, a negotiator is sent to help deal with it… There’s a good guest role for Suzie Plakson as the half-Klingon/half-human K’Ehleyr.

Worst episode:
* Shades of Gray. Riker is injured and relives previous adventures as he’s treated… Once you twig it’s going to be a clips show, any tension falls out of it. The episode is cheap, tatty, unimaginative and rushed. They never did another clips show.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season one (1987/88)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season one…

Best episode:
* The Neutral Zone. Three humans are awoken from decades-long hibernation, while the Enterprise is sent on a mission to the Neutral Zone… Unlike a lot of the opening season, this episode doesn’t suffer from being too linear. Far too many stories have no subplots or differing points of view, so can get relentless. This one, however, has two strands that click together at the end and some fun characters from Earth’s past who contrast nicely with the more straitlaced regulars.

Honorable mentions:
* Encounter at Farpoint. Jean-Luc Picard takes command of the USS Enterprise, but is soon put on trial by a godlike alien called Q… The pilot episode of Next Gen is a decent enough start. It introduces the core characters in groups, rather than throwing them all into the mix together, which gives them turns in the spotlight. The main plot might be on the dull side, but the courtroom stuff is fun and well staged.
* The Naked Now. The crew are affected by a virus that causes lots of odd behaviour… Entertaining, and it focuses on regular characters that are still new to us. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves; Patrick Stewart is especially funny.
* Where No One Has Gone Before. A new engine set-up sends the ship a vast distance across the universe… A good old-fashioned Star Trek-y story, full of wonder for the strangeness of space. The Traveler is a fun character, and Wesley gets a chance to shine.
* Justice. Wesley Crusher inadvertently commits a minor crime on a planet with a no-tolerance policy and is sentenced to death… Not bad, though the planet it takes place on is very Aryan. An interesting moral dilemma is played out, even if it the plot ends abruptly.
* The Battle. An encounter with some Ferengi results in Picard reliving a traumatic episode from his past… A decent episode for the captain with an entertaining plot.
* Haven. An arranged marriage for Deana Troi is imminent… Lightweight but enjoyable, this sees the first appearance of semi-regular Lwaxana Troi.
* The Big Goodbye. Picard gets stuck in a 1940s holodeck fantasy… An good bit of nonsense that revels in the film-noir idiom.
* Datalore. The crew encounter Data’s ‘brother’ Lore… One of a number of fine episodes that focus on Data.
* Symbiosis. The Enterprise rescue the crew of a freighter, but it generates an ethical dilemma… There’s a nice twist to the expected story, but we do also get a preachy scene about drug addiction.

Worst episode:
* The Arsenal of Freedom – in which an automated weapon system causes all manor of problems – is awful, dreary and looks cheap. The subplot of Geordie having to take control of the Enterprise, because everyone else is indisposed, is quite fun.

House of Frankenstein (1944, Erle C Kenton)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Somewhere vaguely European, maybe around the turn of the nineteenth century. This is an entry in Universal Pictures’ series of horror movies all set in the same continuity, so we’re not too far away from what had been established.

Faithful to the novel? No. Dr Gustave Niemann (Boris Karloff) and sidekick Daniel (J Carrol Naish) escape from prison and seek revenge on Bürgermeister Hussman, the guy who imprisoned Niemann. Along the way they murder a travelling showman and take his place – the show includes an exhibit of the bones of Count Dracula. So Niemann resurrects Dracula (John Carradine), who does his bidding. The vampire seduces a woman called Rita (Anne Gwynne) and murders Hussman (Sig Ruman). Niemann then exposes the count to sunlight, killing him. The story continues without any Dracula-related-ness. The doctor ends up in Castle Frankenstein and finds both Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr) frozen in ice.

Best performance: Elena Verdugo’s not too bad as Ilonka, a gypsy girl who gets dragged along with the story and forms a love triangle with Daniel and Talbot the Wolf Man.

Best bit: The opening in the prison.

Review: Well, it’s not very good, sadly. It starts off spookily enough, with dramatically lit scenes and plenty of foreboding. But you soon realise the plot is just an excuse for dragging classic monsters into the same story. It gets sillier – and more boring – the longer it goes on.

Three stinky, slimy dungeons out of 10