Dracula (1979, John Badham)

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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: The entire film takes place in and around Whitby – so we never see Castle Dracula nor go to London. It’s slightly later than the 1890s of the novel, evidenced by the presence of cars. Some sources claim it’s 1913.

Faithful to the novel? The script is based on the 1920s stage adaptation of Dracula and differs from the book in several key ways.
* As mentioned above, the action is limited to Whitby.
* The story begins with the wreck of the Demeter and the eponymous character’s arrival in Britain.
* Unlike in the novel, Count Dracula (Frank Langella) makes friends with the good guys before starting to seduce the women.
* The hero characters’ relationships have been jumbled around. Lucy (Kate Nelligan) is now the daughter of Dr Jack Seward (a fruity Donald Pleasence), rather than someone he wants to marry. Her other suitors from the book, Arthur and Quincey, have been dropped. And her role in the story has also been swapped with that of her friend Mina (Jan Francis), who now becomes Dracula’s first victim. In another break from the book, Mina is the daughter of Abraham Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier), who appears on the scene after she dies.
* Because of the Lucy/Mina switch, solicitor Jonathan Harker (an over-keen Trevor Eve) is now the boyfriend of Lucy. He also never goes to Transylvania, though is still dealing with the Count’s affairs.
* Local man Renfield (Tony Haygarth) is not an inmate at Seward’s sanatorium, as in the novel, but he still falls under Dracula’s thrall.
* The building the vampire has bought, meanwhile, is in Whitby not London – and is a Gothic castle rather than a townhouse.

Best performance: Frank Langella had been playing Dracula in a Broadway revival of the stage play since October 1977. Whether trading cool repartee over dinner or climbing down the side of a building, the Count exudes charm and authority. He wears a cape but uses a neutral accent and, at the insistence of Langella, never flashes any fangs.

Best bit: Well, it’s certainly not the bit where Mina can’t breathe after her sexual encounter with Dracula. What does medical expert Dr Seward do? He slaps her round the face and shouts the word ‘Breathe’ a few times. Not too surprisingly, she then dies. More positively, the sight of the undead Mina is a creepy bit of make-up.

Review: There’s some great staging in this film. The sets are very impressive, while the wreck of the Demeter on a beach is achieved via a full-size ship on a real location. There’s also a good attempt to beef up the gothic-romance side of the story, especially in the subplot of Lucy’s fascination with Dracula. (Their ‘sex scene’ is dramatised by trippy, music-video-like visuals put together by James Bond title-sequence designer Maurice Binder.) John Williams’s score is terrific too. But the whole enterprise has a very earnest tone. The cast – some good, some poor – are fighting against a lacklustre script and the cinematography is very cold with lots of drab, lifeless greys. (Although, perhaps I’m being unfair on that last point because the movie on DVD looks very different from its 1979 print. Director John Badham had wanted to shoot the film in black and white – partly as a homage to the 1931 Dracula – but was overruled by his bosses at Universal Pictures. So when it was released on Laserdisc in 1991, he took the opportunity to de-saturate the image, bringing it closer in line with his original vision. That’s the default version now, which is a shame.)

Six children of the night (what sad music they make) out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 8

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Edward Hall. Originally broadcast: 10 November 2013, ITV.

As plans are made for a local bazaar, Isobel urges Tom to go into politics, Anna gets a shock, and Rose continues her taboo relationship with Jack Ross. Also, Edith wants to go abroad to have her baby in secret…

When is it set? Summer 1922. We begin within a day of the previous episode and events take place over a long-ish period. Robert only left for a trip to America in the preceding episode and returns during the church bazaar that closes the season, yet people act like he’s been gone for ages.

Where is it set? The Drewes’ farm. Violet’s house. Downton Abbey and its grounds. Thirsk. The local village. The Lotus Club, Rosamund’s house and a swanky restaurant in London. Mr Mason’s farm.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) returns to the show. We first saw him in at the start of series three when he was embarrassed at a dinner by his boorish son. Now Violet is matchmaking him with a lonely Isobel.

Best bits:
* Anna’s torment is so moving. This week, she has to contend with her attacker, the vile Mr Green, visiting the house again. She tells Mary that it was he who raped her but swears her to secrecy because if Mr Bates finds out he’ll resort to murder. Mary then uses her influence to get Green sacked.
* While in Thirsk, Tom Branson spots Rose having tea with Jack Ross. He tells Mary, who warns Rose off him. Rose, though, then announces that she and Jack are engaged. So Mary travels to London to plead with Jack directly. He sadly accepts that an interracial marriage would cause too many problems…
* Mr Molesley makes an effort at being friendly with Miss Baxter. “I do know what it’s like to feel fragile,” he tells her touchingly.
* Edith comes up with a plan: have her baby in secret and donate it to a local farming family, the Drewes. But Aunt Rosamund suggests they go abroad and give the child to a foreign family. Edith’s plan has much more story potential, so which one will they go with?
* Violet sees through Edith and Rosamund’s plan, calls them to tea and confronts them. The way she’s put the clues together is worthy of Columbo.
* In a lovely piece of subtle direction, Lord Merton asks Isobel about her son while they walk past the churchyard where he’s buried.
* Tony Gillingham shows up at the church bazaar with the shock news that Mr Green is dead. He apparently stumbled into the traffic on Piccadilly… (Wonder if former Downton footman Alfred witnessed it? He now works at the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly.)

Worst bits:
* Edith accompanies Mary and Tom to inspect some pigs solely so she can be in place to hear Mr Drewe the farmer say that he owes the Crawley family a favour.
* The woman Tom Branson met last episode, schoolteacher Sarah Bunting, shows up again. She’s being introduced as both a love interest for Tom and – because she’s a lefty – a way of making him feel guilty about joining the aristocracy. Sadly the character is quite unlikable, so neither plot really works. All she does is make snide comments.

Real history:
* Violet is recuperating after her illness. She says she feels like Dr Manette, a character from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (1859) who was imprisoned in the Bastille.
* Violet and Isobel discuss the Teapot Dome Scandal currently going on in America. Violet spells it out for viewers: “Bribery and corruption. Taking money to allow private companies to drill for oil on government land.” Cora’s brother, Harold, owns one of the companies.
* Robert says that, now he’s returned from America, it’s a relief to be able to drink in public without a policeman pouncing. Prohibition wouldn’t be lifted until 1933.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet says her daughter, Rosamund, has no interest in learning French. “If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.”

Mary’s men: She’s more favourable towards Charles Blake now that he’s proved his worth. And she’s impressed when he takes hold of baby George and calms him. He later tells her he won’t let her go without a fight… However, her other suitor, Tony Gillingham, comes to visit and tells Mary he’s planning on dumping his fiancée. She tells him not to on her account: she’s not free.

Doggie! Isis is wandering about at the church bazaar.

Review: There’s an awful lot going on in this longer-than-usual season finale. One of the most interest things is Mr Green’s death. On the day he falls under a bus on Piccadilly, both Anna and Mary are in London and Mr Bates says he was in York, though we don’t see him and he doesn’t tell anyone what he was up to. A murder-mystery is being kick-started, though of course it’s typical Downton Abbey that we don’t see the murder itself.

 

The Karate Kid (2010, Harald Zwart)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

American Dre Parker is the target of bullies when he moves to Beijing, so the local handyman comes to his aid…

Cast and story:
* This remake of The Karate Kid, filmed 26 years after the original, follows the same basic storyline. But there are also some significant changes.
* Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) is an American boy who’s forced to move to China when his mother, Shelley (Taraji P Henson), gets a new job. Unlike the original movie’s 16-year-old Daniel, Dre is just 12.
* They leave a drab, saturated, rainy Detroit and fly to the vibrant, bright, busy Beijing. It soon becomes clear that one of the aims of this American/Chinese co-production is to show off China in a positive light. Both the city and the surrounding countryside look gorgeous, while the film ignores any difficult political stuff.
* Having moved into an apartment building, Dre soon meets handyman Han (Jackie Chan). He’s a bit of a loner and doesn’t mix with the other workmen. (Han solo, you might say.) He also tinkers with a damaged car that’s parked inside his home.
* Dre then plays basketball with some new friends (not football, as in the 1984 film). He flirts with a girl called Meiying (Wenwen Han) but irritates a local bully called Cheng (Zhenwei Wang). Cheng and his cronies are soon picking on Dre, who tries to fight back but ends up getting hurt.
* So, wanting a way of defending himself, Dre seeks out a local kung-fu school. (Yup, that’s right. Because we’re in China, the story’s martial art is kung-fu not karate. They kept the movie title from 1984 just for marketing reasons.) But wouldn’t you know it? The school he investigates is where Cheng and co are being taught how to be thugs by a psycho sensei.
* This telling of the story has no fancy-dress party, but Dre – like Daniel before him – still can’t resist tipping water over Cheng and legging it. Cheng gives chase through the streets and eventually corners him. Cheng and his gang then start to beat Dre up, but Han appears and stops them with ease… Now, here is a significant area where this movie has missed the point of the original. In the 1984 film, it’s a huge moment when the elderly, short, meek Mr Miyagi quashes a rough, tough gang of aggressive teenagers. He shouldn’t be able to do that! Here, however, the teenagers have been aged down to 12. And the Mr Miyagi figure is played by Jackie fucking Chan. *Of course* he can best a gang of brats. He’d still win if there were a hundred of them! The surprise, the wow factor, is totally lost by these casting choices.
* Han visits the king-fu school and – like Mr Miyagi in 1984 – strikes a deal with the bullies’ teacher, Li (Yu Rongguang). Cheng will leave Dre alone until after an upcoming tournament. The sequence is capped by a good gag: because the deal is struck in Chinese, it’s only on the walk home that Dre finds out he has to fight in a competition. “Huh?” he asks, not unreasonably.
* We then get the equivalent of the wax-on/wax-off stuff from the original – but with a nice twist. Dre has a habit of dropping his coat on the floor, and Han had earlier seen his mother getting irate about it. So, to begin with, Dre’s training regime consists *only* of him hanging his jacket up, putting it back on, taking it off, hanging it up again… and so on, ad infinitum. Of course, Dre gets frustrated with doing this a thousand times, but he’s unconsciously learning the basic kung-fu moves.
* Meanwhile, Dre is also still trying to chat up Meiying. They see each other at a shadow-puppet show and share a kiss. But her fussy parents object to her dating an American boy when she should be practising the violin. (Later, though, they’re impressed when Dre learns how to suck up to them in Chinese.)
* Jackie Chan then gets the same drama scene that Pat Morita had in the original: Dre finds Han drunk and mourning his dead family. Mr Miyagi’s wife and son died 40 years earlier in childbirth; Han’s were killed in a car crash – in the car he’s now obsessively tinkering with. It’s a very sweet moment when Dre pulls his friend out of his depression.
* After a training montage, we’re into the Open Kung-fu Tournament. The story then follows much the same beats as in 1984.

Review: This remake of The Karate Kid is enjoyable enough, with a mixture of pros and cons. It’s directed with an indie sensibility, so as well as lots of handheld camerawork we get some lovely and kooky images. When the drama comes it’s often effective – especially the moment when Dre realises Han’s been teaching him to fight – while the fights themselves are great; helped by some violent sound effects, you feel every punch and kick. But the movie is too long (135 minutes) and lowering the characters’ ages works against the story. Writing Dre and the other kids as 12-year-olds makes the bullies seem silly rather than menacing; gives Han an unfair advantage; and pushes Dre’s ‘romance’ with Meiying into uncomfortable territory. Presumably the switch was made so that Jaden Smith – the son of executive producer Will Smith – could be cast.

Six cobras out of 10

The Next Karate Kid (1994, Christopher Cain)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Mr Miyagi gets a new student when the granddaughter of a friend needs some help…

Cast and story:
* In the opening scene, Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) – the only character to be carried over from the previous films – talks to the widow of an old army buddy during a ceremony to honour their platoon.
* Louisa Pierce (Constance Towers) invites him to her house in Boston, where he meets her surly teenage granddaughter Julie (Hilary Swank). The girl is bitter and angry because her parents have been killed in a car crash; her only friend is a tame hawk she secretly houses on the roof of her school.
* Seeing that Louisa is struggling, Mr Miyagi suggests a plan: she can live in his house in California for a few weeks and he’ll stay to look after Julie. (Louisa now vanishes from the story entirely: she misses her granddaughter’s suspension from school, birthday and high-school prom. Great timing, Granny!)
* Julie goes to a very strange school (or at least it seems strange to this British viewer). It’s a place where a thuggish fraternity wear branded T-shirts and roam the halls dishing out punishments. Even more strangely, their leader is a grown man: Colonel Dugan (Michael Ironside), who even bosses the principle around. One of the self-titled Alpha Elite, a cocky little shit called Ned Randall (Michael Cavalieri), picks on Julie for no readily apparent reason.
* Meanwhile, another pupil she doesn’t know despite going to school with him for several years is Eric McGowen (Chris Conrad). He takes a shine to her and even learns about her hawk.
* Visiting the school, Mr Miyagi sees how cruel Dugan is with his students and intervenes. The bullying continues, though, and Julie is then suspended for some lame reason or other. So Mr Miyagi offers to take her away for a couple of weeks…
* They go to a Buddhist monastery somewhere within a drive of Boston. While there, Mr M teaches Julie about karate. While she learns she begins to calm down and find an inner peace. She even smiles.
* They return to Boston, but Julie is devastated to discover that nasty Ned has let her hawk loose… so in the next scene she simply retrieves the bird from a local animal sanctuary. (High drama, there!)
* Nice Eric asks Julie to the prom, but despite living in an enormous, upper-middle-class house she can’t afford or find a suitable dress. So Mr Miyagi goes and buys one for her. (The frock he picks out does not contain a huge amount of material. The perv.)
* In a lovely reversal of the wax-on/wax-off scene from the first movie, Mr Miyagi then tells Julie he’s going to show her a karate move – but as they practise it she realises he’s actually teaching her to dance.
* Julie and Eric go to the prom, but later that night the Alpha Elites target Eric and taunt him into fighting them. They give him a good beating and Dugan wants him killed (seriously?!) – but then Julie and Mr Miyagi show up. Julie fights Ned; Mr M fights Dugan. Both our heroes win, obvs.

Review: The character of Mr Miyagi is part of a grand tradition in genre cinema – the wise, old mentor who schools the young hero/es. He sits alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Doc Brown, Charles Xavier, Gandalf, Mickey Goldmill and many others. So why not give him his own spin-off film? Not a terrible idea in and of itself, but sadly this limp movie doesn’t serve him very well. For a start, he’s written and played quite differently from before. (Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote the first three Karate Kid movies, wasn’t involved in this project.) The character has been repurposed as a social-worker type who can’t resist helping a damaged teenager: he’s less mysterious, more openly avuncular, and much less interesting. Elsewhere, Hilary Swank (a future Oscar-winner, of course) is perfectly fine as Julie and Michael Ironside (who’s usually able to make trash watchable) is doing his best as Dugan. There’s also some nice comedy business with the Buddhist monks and the film is occasionally sweet. But all too often it’s just cheesy. The on-the-nose dialogue and thin characters are difficult to get past, and there’s the general air of the kind of soppy TV movie you get on a weekday afternoon on Channel 5.

Four dancing monks out of 10

The Karate Kid Part III (1989, John G Avildsen)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Daniel LaRusso’s former nemesis John Kreese enlists a powerful friend to help get revenge…

Cast and story:
* As with Part II, this film begins with a montage of the story so far. We get clips from the first two movies to remind us who John Kreese (Martin Kove) is and why he hates Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) so much.
* As this film’s story gets underway, Kreese is down on his luck. He’s shuffling about unshaven and his once-thriving dojo has closed down. So he goes to see his boss: Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), who’s also an old pal from their Vietnam days. (The 16-year age gap between the actors doesn’t seem to be important.) Silver is a ponytailed twat: a crass businessman who’s made his fortune by dealing in nuclear waste. Seeing his friend so defeated, he pays for Kreese to go on holiday and then resolves to get revenge on Daniel and Miyagi for… you know, winning a minor karate tournament for under-18s… Right, okay…
* As Kreese gets on a plane, coming the other way at the airport are Daniel and Mr Miyagi. They’re just getting home from their trip to Okinawa in the previous film (which means this 1989 movie is actually set in 1985). Daniel’s bulked up somewhat while on holiday.
* The pair soon get a shock: Daniel’s apartment building, where Mr M works as caretaker, is being demolished. With Daniel’s mum looking after an ill relative in New Jersey (Randee Heller returns for a tiny cameo at the end of a phone), Daniel moves in with Mr Miyagi. He also uses his college fund to set up a new business for his friend: a bonsai shop.
* Meanwhile, Terry Silver is working full-time on his revenge plan. He hires a young karate hotshot called Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), who bullies Daniel into competing in the next Under-18 All-Valley Karate Championship. However, not keen on the situation, Mr Miyagi refuses to train his friend.
* Terry then goes to Daniel and claims to be from Kreese’s original dojo. He apologises for what happened in the first film and tells Daniel that Kreese has died. Oh, and while he’s here why doesn’t he train Daniel for the competition? However, Terry’s tactics are harsher and more violent than Miyagi’s and the training regime not only injures Daniel but makes him feel uneasy…
* As with the last film, Daniel’s girlfriend has dumped him off-screen. But he soon meets a young woman who works in the pottery shop across the street. Jessica Andrews (a bland Robyn Lively) is introduced via a suggestive shot of her hands caressing some clay on a wheel, but the relationship never really goes anywhere. She even drops out of the story before the karate-tournament climax.
* After Daniel tells Terry he’s not going to fight in the tournament after all, Silver reveals that he’s in league with Mike Barnes… and Kreese, who’s not dead! The whole thing’s been a plan to punish Daniel for winning in the first film! Mwa-ha-ha-ha! The three are about to beat Danny up, but then Mr Miyagi arrives (yay!) and saves him. Finally, Mr M agrees to train Daniel for this year’s tournament.
* A rule change has just been brought in that says the defending champion goes straight through to the final, so at least we’re saved a montage of Daniel beating no-hopers. Then in the final he faces – wouldn’t you know it? – Mike Barnes, who keeps alternating between scoring a point and hurting Daniel on purpose. But Daniel eventually manages to win. Kreese and Silver, watching on from the sidelines, are not happy.

Review: This tired re-tread of the first Karate Kid film suffers from an obvious, cartoon villain. We’re asked to believe that a powerful, successful millionaire is willing to spend weeks of his life engineering a convoluted plan simply to embarrass a schoolboy. Terry Silver is like a bad guy from The A-Team or Scooby-Doo. He has no depth, no nuance, no personality beyond being a bad guy (“What do you mean you can’t dump it in Borneo? Who in Borneo knows what chloride sludge is?”). At least the first movie’s chief antagonist was an angry teenager who was embarrassed about being dumped. Part III also has a very boring love story for Daniel, though part of this lacklustreness was because they cast a 17-year-old to play opposite the 27-year-old Ralph Macchio and some of the more romantic scenes had to be dropped. A disappointingly drab film.

Five bonsai trees out of 10

The Karate Kid Part II (1986, John G Avildsen)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Mr Miyagi hears that his father is dying, he returns home to Okinawa. His young friend Daniel comes with him, but both are soon the targets of bullies…

Cast and story:
* We begin with a recap montage of the first film. (Don’t you miss sequels that did that?) So we’re reminded of how schoolboy Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) met handyman-cum-karate-teacher Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) and how a close friendship developed between them. It’s a lengthy sequence: almost five minutes.
* Then there are scenes set immediately after the climax of the first film. Daniel’s mum and girlfriend are said to have gone on ahead to a restaurant (to save hiring the actresses), but bad guy John Kreese (Martin Kove) is there. He’s aggressive and racist, so Mr Miyagi puts him in his place and embarrasses him.
* We then cut to six months later. Daniel has been dumped off-screen by Ali, while his mother has to go away for a few weeks for work, then Mr M gets a letter from an old pal in Okinawa. His father is seriously ill so he must leave for Japan. Faithful Daniel goes too because he’s now at a loose end over summer.
* When they arrive, things don’t go well. Miyagi’s former best friend, Sato (Danny Kamekona), is still holding a grudge from 45 years earlier and wants a fight to the death. Turns out, Mr M fell in love with a woman who was planning to marry Sato.
* Our heroes also meet Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto), a young thug with a shit-eating grin who works for his uncle Sato. He takes against Daniel because… well, you know, plot.
* Also living in the village are Yukie (Nobu McCarthy), the woman Miyagi fell in love with, and her hot niece Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), who shares a flirtation subplot with Daniel. In one romantic sequence the young pair explore a coastal area typified by some dodgy matte paintings of ancient ruins.
* After Mr M’s father dies, Sato gives him three days to mourn but then wants the duel he’s been waiting 45 years for. Meanwhile, Daniel has pissed off Chozen (somehow) so he’s got problems of his own.
* After a lot of going round in circles, things finally reach a head when there’s a violent storm. Sato’s house is destroyed, but because Mr M is a nice guy he saves his rival’s life. Sato is grateful and the grudge is forgotten (yay!).
* However, Chozen still wants to hurt Daniel (seriously, pal, get over it!). So he gate-crashes a ceremonial dance being held in the matte-painting castle and attacks Daniel. The pair fight and Daniel gets the upper hand, but because he’s a nice guy he declines to kill his rival.

Review: This disappointing sequel suffers from three main problems. Firstly, it lacks drive. There’s a sedate pace to the storytelling – especially in the middle third – while neither Mr Miyagi nor Daniel are ever attempting to achieve anything beyond ‘not getting beaten up’. Secondly, the dialogue is often tiresome with lots of scenes of Daniel asking questions and Mr M explaning Okinawan culture. There are also several lines that feel like they’ve been added to explain a plot hole (“But I thought you said…”, that kind of thing). And thirdly, the story is difficult to get excited about. The plot sees grown men bullying the elderly and a teenager over something that happened 45 years ago. You spend half the film wondering why Daniel and Mr Miyagi don’t just shrug their shoulders and go back home. Even potentially interesting story material feels thrown away. Our characters’ overseas visit is a trip back in time – to a country of old cars, antiquated customs and rock’n’roll music. Meanwhile, a nearby US Army base is eating up the village, bringing modernity and danger. Helicopters sometimes fly past in the background of bucolic scenes. But none of this has any bearing on the story.

Six handheld drums out of 10

The Karate Kid (1984, John G Avildsen)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A teenage boy moves to LA but is persecuted by some local bullies. So with the help of a mentor figure, he learns karate to defend himself…

Cast and story:
* The lead character is high-school student Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). At the beginning of the story he moves with his mother (Randee Heller) from New Jersey to California.
* Mother and son have a relaxed, easy-going relationship – she’s upbeat and can-do and they feel like pals as much as a family. The longer the film goes on, however, the more Lucille fades into the background. Daniel’s new parental figure becomes local handyman Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita).
* He’s an elderly bloke from Okinawa who has a dry sense of humour and a strong sense of honour, but also a tragic past. Forty years earlier, his wife and son died while he was away fighting in the war. So he’s lost a son and Daniel’s dad isn’t even mentioned – the two characters soon develop a bond, especially after Mr M saves Daniel from a beating…
* On his second day in LA, Daniel hung out with some new friends. He flirted with cute rich girl Ali Mills (an adorable Elisabeth Shue) but also angered her ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka).
* The sneering, aggressive Johnny and his gang of sycophantic mates arrive on the scene like the villains from a biker movie. They take against Daniel and bully him using their karate skills, so Mr M goes to see their sensei: Vietnam vet John Kreese (Martin Kove), a man so damaged by the war that he now finds pleasure in schooling teenage boys in how to beat up other teenage boys. Mr Miyagi strikes a deal: the gang will leave Daniel alone until he competes in an upcoming karate tournament.
* However, this gives Daniel just six weeks to train. (He’s also still trying to woo Ali, so it’s a busy time for the lad.) At first, Mr Miyagi’s techniques do not go down well. He forces Daniel to do some boring chores (cleaning his cars, painting his house), but then Dan realises that he’s been subliminally learning basic karate moves as he works.
* Full of this muscle memory, he then takes part in the tournament. Ali, who he’s now dating, and his mum are there for support. Despite some underhand tactics from an opponent he reaches the final, where – wouldn’t you know it? – he faces Johnny…
* Accompanied by rousing incidental music, Daniel wins the bout by using an unconventional ‘crane kick’ – an up-and-down kick to the face delivered while in mid-air – which he’d seen Mr Miyagi practise earlier in the film.

Review: As many people have pointed out, in some ways this movie is a redo of 1976’s Rocky (which was also directed by John G Avildsen). It’s a predictable, underdog story of a hero having to fight more powerful opponents with the help of a seen-it-all-before, older mentor. There’s even a stirring score from Bill Conti (Rocky, For Your Eyes Only). But that doesn’t mean it’s not a very enjoyable experience. Weaved in amongst the by-the-numbers, don’t-look-at-it-too-closely plotline are many details and delights – not least some strong performances. Macchio is very fine indeed and appropriately full of attitude and defiance despite looking about 12 years old. Shue and Heller are likeable presences, while Kove uses his three scenes to create one of the most memorable bad guys in 80s genre cinema. But the star of the show is Pat Morita. To some viewers in 1984 he would have been Arnold from the sitcom Happy Days; to others he was a stand-up comedian. Ever after, he was Mr Miyagi. Despite being just 51 during filming, he gives the character an ancient-feeling soul and a huge gravitas – as well as mixing in plenty of twinkle-eyed humour. The character is a superhero, rather than someone who comes from the real world. He can beat up a gang of teenagers and he can magically heal Daniel’s wounds. Away from Mr Miyagi, the movie feels part of the Brat Pack/John Hughes/teen movie cycle that was just getting underway in 1984. It’s set in and around an American high school (even featuring a dance held in the gymnasium); the soundtrack is filled with contemporary pop music (Bananarama!); and there’s a recurring theme of social class (Daniel is disliked because he’s poor; a person’s worth is dictated by the cost of his or her car). But there’s also something Spielbergian about it, especially in the scenes set at night which have wafts of smoke creating a spooky atmosphere and a young boy riding a BMX. Directed by Avildsen with a confident yet unfussy style – dialogue scenes often play out in uninterrupted two-shots – this is a very effective and amiable movie.

Nine Under-18 All-Valley Karate Championships out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 7

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Edward Hall. Originally broadcast: 3 November 2013, ITV.

A Western Union telegram arrives, calling Robert to America to help his brother-in-law. Also, Mr Bates fears leaving Anna alone, Charles Blake and Mary grow closer, Rose sneaks off to see Jack Ross, and Edith considers an abortion.

When is it set? No earlier than late April 1922. The weather is warm.

Where is it set? The house and its grounds. Violet’s house. The village, including the local post office and the Grantham Arms pub. London, including Rosamund’s house, a stretch of a river and a backstreet abortion clinic. A town hall in Rippon.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* At a political talk, Tom Branson meets a woman (Daisy Lewis) who takes a shine to him. She’s not named in the episode but listed as Sarah Bunting in the credits.
* The talk is given by John Ward MP (Stephen Critchlow).

Best bits:
* Mrs Hughes tries to arrange for Mr Bates to stay in England while Robert goes abroad – she doesn’t want him away from Anna while she’s still delicate. So Mrs H enlists Mary’s help by telling her about the rape. Later, Anna is happy that Mary knows the truth but can’t talk about the attack.
* Edith continues to suffer in silence. She hasn’t heard from Michael Gregson for weeks, though has discovered that he walked out of a hotel in Munich and never came back. She also now knows she’s pregnant with his child but can’t bring herself to tell anyone. She eventually breaks down and confides in her aunt, Rosamund, and adds that she’s planning to have an abortion. Rosamund insists on accompanying her, but in the clinic Edith changes her mind. Her plight is very affecting. It’s a really good performance by Laura Carmichael.
* Mary hears that Charles Blake finds her aloof. “I’m not aloof, am I?” she asks Anna. Anna: “Do you want me to answer truthfully or like a lady’s maid?”
* Rose visits Rosamund in London, but soon sneaks off to meet her secret boyfriend: the black American singer Jack Ross. They have a ride in a rowing boat.
* Mary and Charles Blake go to inspect some of Downton’s pigs and are shocked to discover that the water trough has been knocked over. The pigs are dehydrated and in danger. Charles snaps into action and tends to them with Mary helping. Both get their evening clothes, faces and hands covered in mud. Mary also slips and falls in the mud. When Charles goes to help her up, she says, “I’m fine.” “Suit yourself,” he says, moving away. Once the pigs have been given water, the pair sit down and chat. Charles playfully chucks more mud at her so she smears a handful on his face and they laugh. The sequence is a very fun way to bring the bickering characters closer. It also gets a closing gag: Mary tells Charles that he’s “saved their bacon, literally.”
* Mary and Charles take so long dealing with the pigs that it’s nearly dawn. So Mary takes him to the kitchen and cooks them some eggs. Being a lowly kitchen maid, Ivy is the first servant up each morning and walks in on them. “I’m ever so sorry, m’lady,” she says sheepishly. Mary replies, “Please don’t apologise…” then realises she doesn’t know the girl’s name.
* Rapist Mr Green waltzes into the servants hall, as his master Lord Gillingham is visiting Downton. What a twat. Mrs Hughes later corners him: “I know who you are and I know what you’ve done. And while you’re here, if you value your life, I should stop playing the joker and keep to the shadows.”

Worst bits:
* Violet is feeling under the weather, asks for a glass of water, and puts on a brave face when saying goodbye to Robert because she doesn’t want him to worry about her. Later, Isobel visits her and finds her sweating in bed. Dr Clarkson is fetched and he says pneumonia is a risk. Is the Dowager about to drop dead?! (Nah. She’s okay.)
* Alfred, who left last episode to start a new job in London, pops back for a visit. Mrs Patmore is not happy because his presence stirs up the emotions of kitchen maids Daisy and Ivy. “I grudge him the tears and the heartache that’ll flavour my puddings for weeks to come,” she says, naturalistically.

Real history:
* Cora’s brother, Harold, is currently involved in the US Senate’s investigation into the Teapot Dome Scandal. Leases to drill for oil on government land had been given out in exchange for bribes.
* Isobel tells Tom Branson that the MP John Ward is coming to speak in Rippon. Ward (1866-1934) was a Liberal and a trade unionist. Tom replies that he’s not a fan of the current coalition government, which had been in power since 1918. He adds that Ward is campaigning because David Lloyd-George (1863-1945), the Prime Minister, thinks an election is coming. (It was: in November 1922.) At the talk, Ward discusses the split between Lloyd-George and former Prime Minister HH Asquith (1852-1928) and what it will mean for the Liberal Party.
* Edith tells her mother that Michael Gregson was in Munich to see the castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886).
* Edith mentions The Second Mrs Tanqueray, a play by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero that was first performed in 1893.
* Rosamund points out that abortion was illegal in the UK in 1922. It was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967.
* Charles mentions Country Life magazine (founded 1897).
* Charles Blake and Tony Gillingham took part in the Battle of Jutland (31 May and 1 June 1916), the first big naval engagement of the First World War. Charles mentions they served on board the Iron Duke with Admiral Sir John Jellicoe (1859-1935).

Upstairs, Downton: A member of the Bellamy family headed off on a transatlantic journey in the Upstairs, Downstairs episode Miss Forrest (1973).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Deliriously ill and being tended to by Isobel, Violet says, “I want another nurse. I insist! This one talks too much. She’s like a drunken vicar.”

Mary’s men: She continues to bicker with government surveyor Charles Blake. He’s not backwards in coming forward in telling Mary some home truths about the management of the estate, which irritates her. His pal Evelyn is also sniffing about, but Mary is clearly not interested. Later, with most of the household away, Mary and Charles are forced to spend some time together. She takes him to see the farm’s new batch of pigs (see Best Bits above) and the frost thaws between the two. Then there’s a complication: Tony Gillingham, who recently asked Mary to marry him, comes to visit.

Doggie! After Robert says goodbye to his wife, daughters, ward and mother before leaving for America, he turns to Tom Branson: “Look after all my lady folk. Including Isis.” Then he adds under his breath, “Especially Isis.” 

Review: A very entertaining episode.

Next episode…

Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula (1979, Harry Tampa)

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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: The modern day (1979). We begin at Hotel Transylvania – ie, the former Castle Dracula. After half an hour, the action moves to New York City.

Faithful to the novel? This camp comedy has to be seen to be believed. A disco-scored horror film where Count Dracula (John Carradine) is a bitter geriatric and his granddaughter finds happiness through the power of dance? This was actually made?!
* As the story begins, Count Dracula’s granddaughter Nocturna (Nai Bonet) has converted their castle into a hotel to help him with his tax bill. She hires hip, young musicians to entertain the guests then sleeps with guitarist Jimmy (Tony Hamilton). She also takes a very slow bath so we can perv at her naked body, and has to resist the attentions of her creepy employee Theodore (Brother Theodore).
* Dracula senses that all’s not well, though. When Nocturna says she’s in love with Jimmy, her grandad reminds her that she’s not like other women. She shouldn’t settle for a normal life. She responds by leaving with Jimmy for New York City.
* She stays with an old friend, the vampire Jugulia (Yvonne De Carlo), in a rundown part of town and is introduced to the city’s undead community. But there’s dissention in the ranks due to a lack of available blood – “I’d rather suck than sniff any day,” says a female vampire when a friend suggests a powder blood substitute. Their meeting is interrupted by a cop, so they all turn into animated Batfink-style bats and fly away.
* Nocturna then walks through bustling Manhattan to the sound of disco music – you half expect John Travolta to be coming the other way. She encounters a black vampire (Sy Richardson) who’s dressed like every pimp in 1970s cinema. He shows Nocturna a massage parlour run for the benefit of vampires; its girls (referred to as slaves) are used to lure people in so they can be drained of blood.
* Next, Nocturna meets Jimmy at a nightclub called Star Ship, which is admirably full of punters for a low-budget film, and they wow everyone (except this reviewer) with their dancing.
* Meanwhile, Dracula and Theodore have shown up in America to find Nocturna. Theodore kidnaps her and is about to kill Jimmy when she escapes and attacks him. Dracula then confronts her at the disco. He wants her to return to Transylvania, but Jugulia dances with him as a distraction (!). He’s having none of it and freezes all the clubbers and threatens Jimmy’s life. So Nocturna agrees to come home.
* But Jimmy gives chase and wards off Dracula by using the T of the Star Ship sign as a crucifix. Drac heads home to Europe, while Nocturna and Jimmy watch the sunrise together. It seems a love of dance has cured her of vampirism. Or something.

Best performance: This was the final time that John Carradine played Count Dracula. He’d first taken on the role for two Universal horrors – House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) – then appeared in unrelated films Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) and Las vampiras (1969). He died in 1988. He’s overacting his heart out here, playing the Count as a doddery old man, but it’s quite endearing. “If I’m alive, what am I doing here?” he says when emerges from his coffin. “But on the other hand, if I’m dead, why do I have to wee-wee?” He’s wearing the same costume he used in House of Dracula.

Best bit: While out and about in Manhattan, Nocturna chats to a genuine passer-by who didn’t know he was being filmed.

Review: This *demented* movie is a kind of precursor of Xanadu (1980), though with vampires and nudity rather than roller skates and Gene Kelly. It was based on an idea by its star, Vietnamese belly dancer Nai Bonet, who also raised the cash to get it made. She plays Nocturna and gives a dreadfully flat, stoned-out performance. In fact, the acting is largely awful throughout, with only old hands Carradine and De Carlo able to pitch the comedy right. The best element is probably the disco soundtrack. Gloria Gaynor sings the theme tune, Love is Just a Heartbeat Away, and there are in-story performances by band Moment of Truth. The whole enterprise is high camp, so we shouldn’t take it too seriously – Dracula wears false fangs, New York vamps bicker over their blood supplies, and the plot regularly stands still so we can enjoy a full-length song. But this is a really awful film.

Two Claret Rooms out of 10

Mystery and Imagination: Dracula (ITV, 18 November 1968, Patrick Dromgoole)

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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: The late Victorian era. The action all takes place in a town near the sea. There’s mention of a headland and it’s fair to assume it’s meant to be Whitby. In flashbacks, we also see Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? The British horror anthology show Mystery and Imagination began on the ITV network in 1966. Each episode was an adaptation of a classic story by gothic authors such as MR James, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu and Mary Shelley. Initially, a recurring character – David Buck’s Richard Beckett – was shoehorned into the adaptations, but this conceit had been dropped by the time they got round to doing Dracula. It was the final episode of the show’s fourth series and is essentially a shuffled retelling of the novel.
* As we begin, Count Dracula (Denholm Elliott) is already in London, mixing in polite society. He wears sunglasses, can’t cope with daylight, and has an eastern-European accent.
* The count has befriended a young couple, Dr John Seward (James Maxwell) and Lucy Weston (Susan George); he also seems to know one of Seward’s patients, a mentally unbalanced man (Corin Redgrave) who’s known as 34 after his room number.
* Lucy’s other suitors from the novel – Arthur Holmwood and Quincy Morris – have been dropped. But her mother is still around, played by Joan Hickson.
* John says that 34 was recovered from a local shipwreck, the Demeter. Lucy points out that it’s the same ship that brought Dracula from Varna, a coastal city in Bulgaria.
* John’s old tutor Dr Van Helsing will soon be visiting to examine 34 – Dracula has clearly heard of him and wants to meet him.
* Van Helsing (Bernard Archer) turns up – much earlier than in the novel – and sees 34. The man has been babbling about his ‘master’ and catching flies (as the lunatic Renfield does in the book).
* We learn through filmed flashbacks that 34 once visited Dracula in Transylvania on business. He encountered three vampire Brides (one of whom is played by Carry On dolly bird Margaret Nolan) but Dracula saved him…
* Back in the present day, Dracula tells Lucy that he’s descended from Attila the Hun. Then Lucy’s friend Mina Harker (Suzanne Neve) arrives for a visit. She’s shocked to meet Dracula because her husband, Jonathan, went to see him overseas and never returned. Dracula says Jonathan left the castle safe and well, but then Mina discovers that her hubby is locked up in Seward’s sanitorium: he’s 34! What are the chances?!
* Lucy, who has developed a fascination with Count Dracula, and Mina get a version of the book’s scene where an old duffer ridicules the headstones in the local churchyard. In the novel, the scene takes place before the count arrives in England. Now, after they head home, we see him rise from one of the tombs. He turns into a bat, visits Lucy while she sleeps, turns back into a man, and feeds from her.
* The next day, Lucy is ill so Van Helsing is called in. He clocks the bite marks on her neck and arranges a blood transfusion. He also brings in what John haughtily calls a ‘popish affront to Christian conscious’ – ie, a crucifix – to ward off her attacker. However, in her sleep Lucy knocks the defence away and Dracula attacks her once again.
* Van Helsing tells John about vampires. John reckons they were mythical beings that were supposed to exist in a bygone age and drank the blood of others. Van Helsing says, “Well, Lucy has been attacked by one!” He shows John his research of vampire history – they appear in many cultures’ legends, he says, under a variety of names. When Van Helsing mentions Transylvania, John realises that’s where Dracula comes from. He also twigs that Dracula pretended not to recognise 34 yet we now know he’d met Jonathan Harker.
* John finds Lucy dead – drained of blood. But then she wakes and attempts to attack him. Then she seems dead again. Van Helsing says she’s under Dracula’s thrawl.
* Mina sees the undead Lucy wandering the graveyard. Lucy is now vampiric and ever-so Sapphic: she bites Mina, who enjoys the experience. Dracula then finds and tries to seduce a confused Mina.
* Van Helsing and John open Lucy’s coffin, which is empty. Later, Lucy shows up, wafting around in a white nightgown, and tries to bite John. So Van Helsing wards her off with a crucifix. They find her again in her coffin and Van Helsing stakes her.
* Van Helsing and Mina then ask Jonathan where Dracula is. Harker goes potty, though, when he senses that his wife has been bitten by his master. She can’t remember how she got the bite marks… but then hisses and shrieks and breaks down. She admits that it was Lucy who bit her.
* Van Helsing and John follow the manic Jonathan to the graveyard and realise Dracula is using the unconsecrated grave of a suicide victim as his daytime lair. The count shows up, but the men distract him until the sun rises and destroys him. His demise is done in a gruesome series of crossfades between increasingly burnt and decayed heads.

Best performance: Susan George as Lucy.

Best bit: There’s a lovely rejig of the novel’s plotline going on here. Combining Jonathan Harker and Refield into the same character is a really smart move: he’s in an asylum because of his experiences in Transylvania. The idea is not unique to this version but this sells it best.

Review: This is a very contained piece of television, mostly taking place in just two buildings (plus some minor location filming), and the cast is good and the script tight. It’s an economical idea to only see Transylvania in flashback, for example, while the Whitby-based climax betters the book’s ending in both conception and execution. The dialogue can sometimes be stilted and on-the-nose, but overall this is an enjoyable 80 minutes.

Seven smashed windows out of 10