The Black Adder (1983, Martin Shardlow)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Regulars: The lead character is the king’s second son, Edmund, the Duke of Edinburgh (Rowan Atkinson). He’s so embittered by his lowly standing in the family that he creates a new alter ego: the Black Adder. He has two hangers-on cum confidantes: the dim Percy, Duke of Northumberland (Tim McInnerny) and wise servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson). Atkinson goes for a weasel-like, screwed-up-face-and-whiny-voice performance, which sadly is not as funny as he thinks it is. Meanwhile, Robinson’s playing it remarkably straight and McInnerny doesn’t make much impression; neither does Edmund’s older brother, Harry, the Prince of Wales (Robert East). Edmund’s father is King Richard IV and is loud, aggressive and very, very Brian Blessedy. Queen Gertrude (Elspet Gray) is foreign and scatter-brained, and sadly underused – she’s funny, but rarely feels vital to what’s going on. An empty-headed messenger boy (David Nunn) appears in a few episodes, as does Edmund’s unwanted child bride, Princess Leia of Hungary (Natasha King). Perry Benson from You Rang, M’Lord? plays a yokel in episodes five and six, though it’s not clear if it’s meant to be the same man.

Notable guests: Peter Cook brings some blockbuster casting to the opening episode when he plays Richard III, who Edmund accidentally kills at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard then returns as a beheaded ghost to put the frighteners on Edmund. In episode two, Alex Norton appears as Scottish nobleman Dougal McAngus. A bearded Angus Deayton also gets one line as a Jumping Jew of Jerusalem. The Queen of Spain’s Beard features the stellar double act of Miriam Margolyes and Jim Broadbent as the Spanish queen, Infanta Maria Escalosa, and her translator, Don Speekingleesh. The same story includes Howard Lew Lewis from Maid Marian and her Merry Men as local man Mr Applebottom. The actor is also in episode five seemingly playing a different yokel. In episode three, Bill Wallis and David Delve play two knights who are sent to murder Edmund. Frank Finlay is the big-name guest star of episode five. Comedy double act Stephen Frost and Mark Arden appear in the same story as two dim guards, while Valentine Dyall is a member of the king’s counsel. In the final episode, Edmund forms a new gang mostly played by famous actors: Sir Wilfred Death (John Hallam), Three-Ringed Pete (Roger Sloman), Guy de Glastonbury (Patrick Malahide), Sean the Irish Bastard (Ron Cook), Friar Bellows (Paul Brooke) and Jack Large (Big Mick). In the same story, bad guy The Hawk is played by voiceover specialist Patrick Allen, while Rik Mayall crops up for an uncredited cameo (as a bonkers prisoner called Mad Gerald).

Best gags:

Episode one: The Foretelling (15 June 1983). In August 1485, Prince Edmund oversleeps and is late for the Battle of Bosworth. When he finally arrives, he mistakes the king, Richard III, for a horse thief so beheads him…
* When told that the enemy Henry Tudor will ravish her and every woman in the court, the Queen says she won’t bother getting changed.
* After the battle, Prince Harry keeps statistical totals of how many each person killed: battle averages, he calls them.
* Richard III’s head floats above his body in a prime piece of 1980s green-screen.
* “Don’t Dickie me, Duckie!”

Episode two: Born to be King (22 June 1983). In 1487, Edmund has to arrange the revelries for the King’s return from the Crusades…
* Edmund bemoans how virtuous his mother is: “She daren’t look down in case she notices her own breasts.”
* Edmund’s attempts to arrange the entertainment: “We’ve only got one act and she’s shaved her beard off.”
* Edmund says the festivities will have a spartan feel. “Greek?” asks Harry.
* When Edmund reads out a love letter of his mother’s, Percy stands behind him mouthing the words along gleefully.

Episode three: The Archbishop (29 June 1983). November 1487. A wealthy landowner leaves his fortune to the church, so the king kills the Archbishop of Canterbury for the cash, then replaces him with Edmund…
* Edmund’s ‘Black Russian’ codpiece – more or less a dildo.
* Edmund and Harry ride along on horses. Behind them, Baldrick and Percy pull a carriage.
* Edmund: “Exactly what did God do to the Sodomites?” Baldrick: “I don’t know, my lord, but I can’t imagine it was worse than what they used to do to each other.”
* Baldrick’s summation of the perks of being Archbishop: “Basically, there appears to be four major profit areas: curses, pardons, relics, and selling the sexual favours of nuns.” Edmund questions who would pay for the latter. “Foreign businessmen, other nuns…”
* Baldrick gets a splinter from holding the fragment of the cross Jesus was crucified on.
* Percy reverentially shows off that he owns a finger bone from Jesus’ corpse. Baldrick is stunned: he thought they only came in boxes of 10.

Episode four: The Queen of Spain’s Beard (6 July 1983). Richard IV has decided to marry off his son Harry to a Spanish queen… However, he’s already spoken for, so the plan moves on to Edmund.
* Harry says he’s already engaged to “Princess Leia of Hungary and the Grand Duchess Ursula of Brandenburg. And Queen Beowulfa of Iceland, and Countess Caroline of Luxembourg, Bertha of Flanders, Bertha of Brussels, Bernard of Saxe-Coburg, and Jezabel of Estonia. No, no, sorry, that should be *Betha* of Saxe-Coburg. And Jeremy of Estonia.”
* The slow-witted message boy keeps mirroring Edmund’s body language as they talk.
* The interpreter’s attempt at relating the Infanta’s flirting, putting odd emphases on almost every word.
* Baldrick’s first mooted plan (not yet cunning): to convince the Infanta that Edmund is gay. (A number of euphemisms are then trotted out: left-footer, riding side-saddle…)
* Edmund finds a local girl to marry, so he won’t have to wed the Infanta, but when the priest calls her ‘miss’, she corrects him. She’s already married.
* A terrified Baldrick is sent to sleep with the Infanta: after the bedroom door is closed, we hear the interpreter relaying her sex talk.

Episode five: Witchsmeller Persuivant (13 July 1983). Plague has struck in 1495. King Richard IV is ill, and a Witchsmeller has pointed the finger of blame at Edmund…
* The family who die from plague *instantly*, while someone’s back is turned.
* When the locals burn a witch, they also burn her cat on a tiny stake off to the side.
* During Edmund’s trial, the Witchsmeller takes a horse’s refusal to talk as it having something to hide. When it does make a sound, Harry asks, “Was that a yay or a neigh?”
* Witchsmeller: “Can you see that man standing over there?” Witness: “Which?” Witchsmeller: “That’s him!”
* The Witchsmeller asks if a witness can see the son of Satan in the room. We then see a row of onlookers, one of which has red skin and horns.

Episode six: The Black Seal (20 July 1983). St Juniper’s Day, 1498. Stripped of his title, Edmund spurns his friends and assembles a new gang so he can take his revenge…
* Three-Ringed Pete is losing an archery contest, so kills his opponent.
* Guy holds up a coach. “Did I say ‘Your money of your life’? Slip of the tongue. Your money *and* your life.”
* When we first see Jack Large, we assume he’s a giant of a man. Jack is actually the midget beating him up.
* Edmund: “All for one…” His gang: “…and each man for himself!”
* The Hawk’s torture device, which has a spike to go up the bottom, sheers to cut off the ears, axes to chop off hands, a ‘coddling grinder’ and feathers to tickle Edmund under the arms.

Best episode: The Queen of Spain’s Beard, thanks in large part to the two hilarious guest performances.

Cunning: In episode two, when Edmund says he needs a cunning plan, Baldrick says: “I have a cunning plan,” and insists it’s pretty damn cunning. (It’s to convince McAngus to stick his head down a cannon.) In the next installment, Baldrick claims he has “a cunning plan that cannot fail” – but we don’t hear it as we then cut away to two guards discussing dinner plans. Later, when they’re tied to a bonfire that’s about to be lit, Baldrick again says he has a cunning plan, but Edmund’s not interested.

History: The conceit of the series is that, once he became monarch, Henry VII (1457-1509, who came to the throne in 1485) rewrote history. Turns out, Richard III wasn’t actually a deformed maniac who imprisoned his nephews. Also, although he *was* killed at Bosworth, it wasn’t Henry Tudor’s forces that got him – he was really accidentally murdered by one of his own. After Richard III’s death, his nephew Richard IV ascended to the throne – and the series is set in this reign, which Henry later expunged from the records. As well as numerous medieval cliches, the series also satirises Thomas Becket’s 1170 murder (in episode three), 17th-century Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins (episode five) and the Robin Hood myth (episode six). The whole thing, I suppose, is based on undermining the Shakespearean take on history.

Unbroadcast pilot: In 1982, the BBC made a single trial-run episode of The Black Adder, which has never been transmitted or officially released – but is freely available on YouTube. It’s a strange beast. It’s seems to be set in Elizabethan England, although there is a king as well as a queen, neither of whom in named. It has small studio sets and no location work. Edmund is much smarter than he is in the series proper. In other words, it’s more like to the format later used in Blackadder II. The pilot has the same story as episode two, Born to be King, but there are some different actors in the regular roles: John Savident as the King, Robert Bathurst as Harry and Philip Fox as Baldrick. Sadly, many gags fall flat and the studio audience don’t seem especially impressed. At one point, Edmund and Baldrick have a discussion that involves many uses of the word cunning.

Review: Written by Richard Curtis and star Rowan Atkinson – they cooked up the idea while working together on Not The Nine O’Clock News – this just doesn’t feel right. In retrospect, many things are ‘just off’. The whole series certainly looks impressive, with big studio sets and plenty of location filming (although, the Battle of Bosworth is dramatised without the luxury of extras!). But sadly that just means more empty space where the laughs should be. Significantly, the best moments tend to come with small groups in small rooms, such as Edmund, Baldrick and Percy discussing religious relics – a scene that also pushes the show into more deliberately anachronistic territory. Another big problem is that all the characters – except maybe Baldrick, ironically – are stupid. This doesn’t make for much variety and the comedy generally lacks bite. Considering the funnier dynamic used in later series, neither Edmund nor Baldrick are as good as they could be. It’s easy to see why big changes were made for series two…

Six summers of sweet content out of 10

Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Rebel Alliance discover that the Empire is building a new, even deadlier Death Star…

WHICH VERSION? The original cut from 1983 (as available on a 2006 DVD). Officially, the film is called Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

GOOD GUYS

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) begins the film by going with C-3PO to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the gangster who has Han Solo captive. It’s part of a convoluted rescue mission. After delivering a message from Luke, R2 is press ganged into serving drinks on Jabba’s pleasure barge – which is a stroke of luck, as this puts him where he needs to be for our heroes’ escape attempt. He goes with Luke to Dagobah, then with him and others to the forest moon of Endor.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is taken aback when Luke gives him up to Jabba (don’t worry, it’s all part of a master plan). Before being rescued, he acts as the mobster’s interpreter. Later, the natives on Endor – short, bearlike creatures called Ewoks – assume he’s a god. He explains the series’s plot so far to them, a story that comes complete with authentic sound effects.

* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) turns up at Jabba’s palace in a hooded cloak and throws Jedi mind tricks around, but Jabba’s not impressed and chucks him into a pit with a huge monster called the Rancor. Luke is more confident now, especially with his Force skills, and his meticulously planned rescue of Han succeeds. As he lost his original lightsaber in the last film – the one Ben gave him, which used to belong to Luke’s dad – he now has a new (green) one. After saving Han, Luke nips off to Dagobah to see Yoda, then joins the others on the mission to destroy the Death Star. In a fantastic scene that’s quoted in the trailer for 2015’s The Force Awakens, he tells Leia that she’s his sister (oh, and Darth Vader’s their dad). He believes he can ‘save’ Vader, so gives himself up to the Imperial forces in order to get close to him. He’s taken to see the Emperor, who taunts Luke until his anger boils over and he duels with Darth Vader. Luke bests him and chops his hand off, but then has a moment of clarity and stops attacking him. He refuses to murder his father, so the Emperor decides to kill Luke – but then Vader comes to his son’s aid. Luke then has a nice moment of reconciliation before Vader dies.

* General Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite, but his pals mount a rescue. When woken up, his eyesight takes a while to return. His relationship with Leia is warmer now that they’ve admitted they love each other; he’s also getting on fine with Lando and even lends him the Millennium Falcon. (I suppose Han has had plenty of cooling-off time since their row in The Empire Strikes Back.) At some point, this selfish smuggler who only got involved because of the money has been raised to the rank of general by the Rebel Alliance – he was called ‘Captain’ in the last film, so was he promoted in absentia while frozen? He volunteers to lead the strike team that’ll destroy the Death Star’s defences, so takes Chewbacca, Luke, Leia and the droids to Endor, the moon that contains the force-field generator. After a misunderstanding that almost involves Han and Luke being roasted alive, the Ewoks agree to help with the mission. At the end of the film, Han graciously says he’ll step aside and let Leia be with Luke, seeing how she clearly loves him. When she patiently explains that they’re siblings, Han’s expression is 50 per cent “ARE YOU SHITTING ME?” and 50 per cent “I’m getting some tonight!”

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is first seen seemingly being sold by a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt. It’s a ruse to get him into the palace. On Endor, he’s distracted by a dead animal hanging from a tree and sets off a trap that snares the gang in a net. He later yelps like Tarzan as he swings through the forest.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) pretends to be a bounty hunter in order to infiltrate Jabba’s palace. Once inside, she defrosts Han – but they’re caught by Jabba. He then forces Leia to sit by his throne in a kinky slave-girl outfit, which [COMMENT REDACTED]. When it all kicks off, she strangles Jabba with the chain he was using to keep her in place (GO, FEMINIST SUBTEXT!). On Endor, she’s knocked unconscious and found by a young Ewok called Wicket. She later learns that she’s Luke’s sister – she claims that somehow she’s always known this, but why she was snogging him in the last film is not mentioned. After her superb scene with Luke, she has a similarly classy moment with Han – he gets the wrong idea about her emotional state, but still comforts her when she’s upset. During the fight at the bunker, Leia is shot in the arm. As Han squats down to see if she’s okay, stormtroopers surround them. Out of their view, Leia draws a gun. “I love you,” says Han, well aware that repeating classic dialogue in a new context is often a pleasing moment in a movie. “I know,” she replies knowingly before shooting the bad guys.

* General Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) has already inveigled himself into Jabba’s retinue by the time the movie begins. During the rescue attempt, Han saves Lando’s life, which is good of him considering what happened in the last film. Lando is now a general in the Rebel Alliance. They just hand these things out like Jaffa Cakes, don’t they? He leads the fleet as they attack the Death Star – using a borrowed Millennium Falcon, he flies into its core and sets off a huge explosion.

* Yoda (Frank Oz) seems older than the last time we saw him (“Sicker I have become, old and weak…”) and conks out minutes after Luke arrives to say hello. He has just enough puff in his body to tell Luke that he must defeat Darth Vader in a duel in order to be a proper Jedi, and confirm that Vader is Luke’s father. Yoda then fades away, like Ben did in Star Wars.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) shows up as a ghost again to retcon the information he gave Luke in film one. “What I told you was true,” he says, morphing into Peter Mandleson. “From a certain point of view…” He also fills in Yoda’s blanks by telling Luke that he has a twin sister – Luke guesses correctly that it’s Leia.

* Admiral Ackbar (Timothy R. Rose) commands the Alliance fleet, He’s half-man/half-prawn and has a slobbering voice. “It’s a trap!” he bellows at one point, creating a catchphrase.

* Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston) is a high-ranking rebel leader who gives the pre-mission briefing. Many Bothans died to bring them this information.

* General Madine (Dermot Crowley) helps with Mon Mothma’s slideshow presentation.

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is the Ewok who finds Leia and takes her to his camp. The Ewoks are an alien race made up of warriors, witch doctors, tribal music and simple natives easily impressed by metal and the beauty of a white woman. They initially want to cook (and presumably eat?) Han and Luke, but Luke uses his Force powers to fool them into thinking C-3PO is a malevolent god who will punish them if they don’t toe the line. The Ewoks then risk life and limb to help the rebels’ mission, proving that – in the Star Wars universe, at any rate – guts, guile and Heath Robinson gadgets can overcome hundreds of well-funded troops with armour, tanks and masses of weaponry. (Kenny Baker was originally going to double up to play Wicket, but he was ill on the day of filming so the part was hastily recast with 11-year-old supporting artist Warwick Davis.)

* Wedge Antillies (Denis Lawson) is now X-Wing red leader and takes part in the assault on the Death Star.

BAD GUYS

* Moff Jerjerrod (Michael Pennington) is the nervous commander of the under-construction Death Star. Unlike Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, he is clearly Vader’s underling.

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) arrives on the Death Star to oversea the building work. It’s over schedule, apparently. He then goes to Endor when Luke gives himself up, and in a blisteringly well written scene we learn Vader’s real name: before he turned to the Dark Side, he was called Anakin Skywalker. Luke begs him to search his feelings for any remnants of goodness. In a line that elegantly justifies the entire movie’s story arc, Vader sadly says, “It is too late for me, son…” However, he later redeems himself when the Emperor is trying to kill Luke. Wheezing, and now missing a hand, Vader looks on in horror. (Seriously, even with a mask on, his emotion turmoil is obvious.) Picking a side, he lifts up the Emperor and flings him down a vertical tunnel. Close to dying himself, Vader asks Luke to remove his mask: “Let me look on you with my own eyes,” he says. Now played by Sebastian Shaw (it would’ve been a different film if it’d been David Prowse under the mask!), he touchingly asks Luke to “tell you sister you were right” about him not being all bad. He then dies, so Luke holds a private cremation. Anakin later makes a ghostly cameo, joining Yoda and Ben Kenobi in the afterlife.

* Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter) is Jabba the Hutt’s aide-de-camp. He has squid-like appendages and talks in a strange language that sometimes sounds rude (“Deh Jabba wanga!”).

* Jabba the Hutt (voice: Larry Ward, who also voiced Greedo in Star Wars) is a Tatooine crime lord who we finally see after he was mentioned in the previous two films. He’s a giant slug, with many hangers-on and cronies. He doesn’t think twice about torturing droids or killing dancing girls, and has former employee Han Solo on show in his palace, encased in a block of carbonite. When our heroes turn up to rescue Han, Jabba underestimates them…

* Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is hanging out at Jabba’s palace, but during the skirmish gets knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc – a desert-dwelling monster with a huge, vagina-dentata gob and lots of tentacles. It burps after swallowing him.

* Malakili (Paul Brooke) is the overweight, sweaty, topless keeper of the Rancor, who cries like a girl when Luke kills it.

* The Emperor (now played by Ian McDiarmid) visits the not-yet-finished Death Star as a way of motivating his workforce. He’s a manipulative, prune-faced man who wants Darth Vader to find – and turn – Luke, and has a devious plan to break the rebellion. McDiarmid takes great delight in the panto dialogue, putting chilling emphasis on terms such as ‘fully operational’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘complete’ and ‘So be it… Jedi.’

* Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley) returns from The Empire Strikes Back.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: If the whole film were just two hours of the stunning model work used for the space battles, it would still be worth seeing again and again. The Millennium Falcon flying into and through the Death Star takes your breath away, even after 32 years.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Wicket tries using some bolas during the battle with the stormtroopers, but ends up twatting himself in the face. Maybe it’s because I first saw this film at a very young age, but I’ve never had a problem with the Ewoks. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of comic relief (even if there’s a whiff of racism in their portrayal).

MUSIC: John Williams’s score is another magnum opus. The Ewok celebration music at the end, meanwhile, will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. We also get a cabaret song in Jabba’s palace.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: This was the first Star Wars film I can remember coming out. I was too young to go and see it, but can recall the publicity. I assume it was what motivated me to want to see the first two on video.

REVIEW: Return of the Jedi has a few problems. There’s a certain untidiness about the plotting, for example. The opening 35-minute sequence – fun though it is – isn’t really connected to the bulk of the film. It’s an extended James Bond prologue (though rather than the exciting climax of an unseen mission, this is mopping up the last movie’s cliffhanger). Other than Han now being free again, nothing in it affects the rest of the story. Another issue is that when we get to the main storyline, it’s an all-too-familiar mission: destroy yet another Death Star. If this were a weaker, less popular series, wouldn’t we be castigating film three for simply copying film one’s big action beat? Additionally, after the beauty of The Empire Strikes Back’s striking colour palette and subjective cinematography, this is sadly a step backwards. A few moments aside – Leia’s treetop chats with Luke and Han, for example – there’s a sense of just-point-the-camera-at-the-well-lit-actors. However, we’re splitting Ewok hairs here. It may be more predictable than Empire, and more simplistic, but Return of the Jedi still sits at the top table of geek cinema. The emotional journeys that Luke, Darth Vader and to a lesser extent Leia go on are superbly dramatised, while the crash-bang-wallop action and derring-do escapades are as terrifically thrilling as always.

Ten gold bikinis out of 10

Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Industrialist Ross Webster wants to use an advanced computer system to take over the world’s oil supply – only Superman stands in his way…

Good guys: A third appearance from Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. Clark’s been invited to his high-school reunion, so goes in order to write about it for the Daily Planet. We see Superman in action a few times, but after he’s exposed to some impure Kryptonite he starts to behave very oddly. He doesn’t seem bothered about a life-threatening accident, he flirts with people and gets drunk, and generally acts like a tit… Margot Kidder returns as Lois Lane, but only for two scenes at either end of the film. In between, the character is sent off on a two-week holiday – it’s rumoured that Kidder got less screen time as punishment for daring to criticise the producers.

Bad guys: In the Lex Luthor role this time round is icy businessman Ross Webber, played by Robert Vaughn. He’s a smooth, pragmatic villain who learns that employee Gus Gorman is ripping him off – so ropes him into his plan to ruin Colombia’s coffee crop. When Webster needs to get rid of Superman, he entrusts Gus with researching and replicating some Kryptonite. Webster also has two bickering sidekicks: uptight sister Vera (Annie Ross), who gets mistaken for his mother, and sexy ‘psychic nutritionist’ Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), who appears to be ditzy but shows flashes of real intelligence. The latter flirts with Superman in order to manipulate him and genuinely likes him.

Other guys: The main guest star of the movie is Richard Pryor, who plays Gus Gorman. At the start of the film, down-and-out Gus excels on a computer-training course and soon gets a job working for Webster’s company. When he sees his first payslip, he spots an opportunity to steal all the fractions of cents that go unclaimed. Webster catches him and is so impressed that he press gangs Gus into using a satellite to create a tornado in Colombia. Gus later impersonates an army general so he can present Superman with a gift made from 99-per-cent Kryptonite, then convinces Webster to fund the construction of an all-powerful super-computer. More a misguided buffoon than a true villain, Gus is let off at the end – Superman even tries to arrange a new job for him. When Clark goes to his high-school reunion, he meets two old school pals: Lana Lang, played by Annette O’Toole, and Brad Wilson, played by Never Say Never Again’s Gavin O’Herlihy. Cutely enough, both characters were in the brief high-school scene of Superman: The Movie. Brad is a drunken brute, while Lana is a cute single mother who’s bored of her life in Smallville. Jackie Cooper and Mark McClure are also back as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen respectively.

Best bits:

* The domino effect of slapstick in the credits sequence as a guy perving at Pamela Stephenson sets off a chain reaction of chaos.

* The guy trapped in a car filling with water. When he see it, Clark changes into Superman in a photo booth – a kid tries to take the resulting strip of photos, so Superman rips off the two that show Clark.

* Clark intercepting a custard pie heading for Lorelei and instead swinging it round into a passer-by’s face.

* The knowing look Lois and Perry White share when Clark refers to himself as a Metropolis sophisticate.

* Oh, look: it’s Shane Rimmer again. And there’s Al Matthews from Aliens in the same scene.

* The chemical-plant disaster – Superman walks through fire to save Jimmy, then flies to a nearby lake, freezes its surface and carries the huge sheet of ice back to the fire.

* Clark’s high-school reunion. The Beatles’ cover of Roll Over Beethoven is playing as everyone dances (of course, director Richard Lester also made the first two Beatles films). Meanwhile, event organiser Lana distractedly gives the DJ a pile of plates then tries serving food on some LPs.

* Clark doing an energetic and nerdy twist dance *just* as the music switches to the ballad Earth Angel (which is by Marvin Berry & the Starlighters, right?).

* Gus gets his next pay slip: $85,789.90.

* Webster suggests they’ll never find the person who’s embezzling funds. “He’ll keep a low profile and he won’t do a thing to call attention to himself. Unless, of course, he is a complete and utter moron.” Cut to Gus driving up to the office in a brand-new sports car.

* At a picnic, Clark says he likes the pâté. Lana says she didn’t make any and points out that Clarke is eating dog food.

* The ENORMOUS cowboy hat Gus is wearing in the scene he tries to get Brad drunk.

* Oh, look: it’s Sandra Dickinson as the wife of a guy unhappy with her Bloomingdales bill (which, due to Gus’s interference, is now huge).

* Webster’s ski station on top of an inner-city skyscraper.

* Gus re-enacts Superman saving Colombia from the tornado.

* Gus falls off the building, plummets dozens of storeys down to the ground, and, er, somehow survives.

* Affected by the dodgy Kryptonite, Superman blows out the Olympic torch just for his own amusement.

* Gus’s schematic for his super-computer is scrawled on scraps of paper and fag packets.

* Oh, look: it’s Robert Beatty playing an oil-tanker captain who likes to play golf.

* Superman fucks Lorelei!

* Superman gets drunk!

* Superman vs Clark Kent: the two personas do battle in a scrapyard. Whether this is literally happening or is meant as a dramatisation of the character’s inner turmoil is left open to debate.

* Webster’s massive computer, which aesthetically speaking is oddly reminiscent of the Death Star.

* The computer traps Vera and turns her into a robot. Terrifying.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Lamb playing a coal miner.

* Knowing Lana had to pawn her diamond ring, Superman squeezes a piece of coal and Clark gives her the resulting precious stone.

* Lois returns from her two-week holiday with a story about corruption in the Caribbean. “I knew I was on to something when that taxi driver kidnapped me…”

Review: This film has a really bad reputation in certain circles – some fans have even produced amateur re-edits to ‘improve’ it. However, this is one of those cases where I just don’t see what everyone’s on about. Maybe it’s because I first saw it at a young age, but I think Superman III is a tremendous popcorn movie. More irreverent than the first two, sure, but it’s pacy, light on its feet, smartly written with lots of witty dialogue, and is generally very enjoyable. For the opening quarter, two plots run alongside each other. But then Clark’s return to Smallville and Webster’s diabolical plan collide in smart ways. Richard Pryor is a lot of fun as Gus Gorman, as is Robert Vaughn as Webster. Clark’s romance with Lana is very sweet. But there’s also a fair bit of darkness. Seeing Superman affected by the tainted Kryptonite is unsettling, while Vera being encased in robotic wires and panels is just horrific – it ranks alongside Raiders of the Lost Ark’s melting faces and pretty much all of Return to Oz as one of the scariest things I ever saw as a child. On the downside, it’s a shame Lois Lane is essentially ignored, while director Richard Lester succumbs to easy, flippant gags too often. Comedy Italian stereotypes are bad enough, but the Commodore 64 graphics, sound effects and *on-screen score* when Webster is firing his missiles at Superman have not dated well, either conceptually or visually.

Eight combine harvesters out of 10.

Next time: Hang on, so Superman wasn’t the only person to survive the destruction of Krypton?

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

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In Steven Spielberg’s segment of this anthology film, a group of OAPs are encouraged to have fun again by a mysterious resident at their care home, and soon literally become children again…

Seen before? Nope.

Best performance: The young versions of the characters are well matched to the older actors.

Best scene/moment/sequence: The kick-the-can scene.

Review: Spielberg’s contribution is the sweetest (schmaltziest, actually) in the film. It’s a diverting enough piece of whimsy. The movie’s other segments are: a fun dialogue scene with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks, which serves as a prologue; a story about a racist (Vic Morrow) forced to experience persecution, which is pretty shallow stuff; a creepy and inventive story about a woman meeting a batshit-crazy family being controlled by their cartoon-obsessed son; and a remake of the famous Twilight Zone episode where an airline passenger (John Lithgow in this instance) sees a monster on the plane’s wing. On the whole, it’s a strange film. Four directors (Spielberg, John Landis, Joe Dante and George Miller), five stories, various lurches of tone… I’m not sure it’s all that satisfying, but there was enough in it to keep me interested.

Six Creedence Clearwater Revival songs out of 10.

Never Say Never Again (Irvin Kershner, 1983)

Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again was a rival production to the ongoing Eon series and, for tedious legal reasons to do with writer/producer Kevin McClory’s claim on its authorship, was a second adaptation of the novel Thunderball. So, while not part of the ‘canon’, it is an authorised James Bond movie… Nevertheless, it’s like a photocopy: recognisable and more or less adequate, but you do wish you had the original instead. It was directed by Irvin Kershner, who three years earlier had made The Empire Strikes Back – but this seriously lacks that film’s blockbuster sheen. Compared to the main series, NSNA just comes off a cheap and gloomy. Whereas Cubby Broccoli gave us glamour and quality, McClory can only provide overcast skies and stock footage. There are some pretty hefty coincidences and plot contrivances too – not least that the whole story is based on the notion that, as long as the US President looks into a retinal scanner, he or anyone close to him can then do whatever they like with the American nuclear arsenal. Having said all that, the film does have a knockabout charm, Sean Connery is great fun, the Bond girl’s not bad looking, and the two main baddies are quite entertaining. Six Tears of Allah out of 10.

Bond: Sean’s back – 12 years since he quit the official series for a second time, but a few years before his Untouchables/Last Crusade/Hunt for Red October renaissance.

Villains: Fatima Blush is a vampy and increasingly deranged SPECTRE agent who, early on, poses as a nurse, beats her patient up, then teases him with a flash of stocking. After he’s done some espionage for her, she kills him by throwing a snake into his car as he drives along. She’s my favourite thing about the whole film. Max Von Sydow plays Blofeld; there’s no attempt to hide his face. The chief bad guy is Maximillian Largo, played with Euro-charm twinkle and flashes of real menace by Klaus Maria Brandauer. He has a fascination with computer games, solely so he and Bond can play a tense one-to-one arcade game that gives its loser an electric shock.

Girls: The opening scene has a woman tied to a bed; when Bond frees her, she stabs him (it’s part of a Secret Service training op). As in Thunderball, the health farm has a physiotherapist who is easily seduced by 007. Valerie Leon plays a fisherwoman Bond picks up in Nassau. In France, he has a dull female helper and visits a health spa – there’s a doe-eyed receptionist, then James pretends to be a masseur in order to get close to Domino (and sneak a peek at her naked body). Domino is the movie’s female lead. When we first see her, she’s dancing in a leotard and leggings – Largo is perving at her through a two-way mirror (as, by extension, are we). She’s played by Kim Basinger, a bit insipidly but very pleasing-on-the-eye-ily.

Regulars: Aside from Bond, it’s a new cast, of course. Edward – or is it James? – Fox plays M. There are pointed references to his ‘illustrious predecessor’, surely a nod towards the main series. Pamela Salem appears as a dippy Miss Moneypenny. Blofeld, as mentioned, and his cat show up. This film’s Q, named Algernon for some reason, is much more working-class than Desmond Llewellyn’s take. And Sean gets his fifth different Felix Leiter: Bernie Casey, the first black actor to play the role.

Action: The opening scene sees Bond single-handedly storm a compound. He has a long brawl in a gymnasium with Pat Roach, who played tough guys in all the 1980s Indiana Jones movies. It spills out into the corridor and a crowd of people don’t notice because they’re watching boxing on a TV. The scene ends in a lab – Bond throws some liquid in Pat’s face and it turns out to be his own urine sample. There’s also Jack’s snake-related car crash, a motorbike chase through narrow Riviera streets, and the climactic battle in Largo’s base. On horseback, Bond rescues Domino from a slave auction, then somehow persuades the horse to jump off a 50-foot-high battlement into the sea. Like Thunderball, there’s lots of dull underwater stuff. The best ‘action’ scene in the film is Bond and Domino’s dramatic, choreographed dance routine at the casino.

Comedy: Good humour is mined from Bond’s advancing age. M advises against too much red meat, white bread and dry martinis. “Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir,” he says. The famous “From here?” gag about giving a urine sample is repeated from an episode of Porridge (its writers worked on the shooting script). “I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence,” says Q during his one scene. Rowan Atkinson appears as a buffoonish embassy official. Bond tricks a doorman into holding a ‘bomb’ absolutely still, otherwise it’ll go off – it’s actually his cigar case. In the final shot of the movie, Sean winks at the camera.

Music: Michel Legrand wrote the not-very-Bondian score. At one point, it goes all rapidly plucked double-bass and scat-scat jazz trumpet. The terrible theme song, performed by Lani Hall, plays over the opening scene (rather than an abstract title sequence).

Octopussy (John Glen, 1983)

Octopussy

There’s certainly not much wrong with Octopussy. But then again, there’s not a huge amount about it that especially excites me either. Perhaps because there’s no ‘ticking clock’ for the first half of the film – Bond is investigating some smugglers because of nebulous rumours they might be raising money for the Soviets – there’s no real motor driving the story. We’re also, sadly, back to a very quip-heavy and flippant script – co-written by Flashman novelist George MacDonald Fraser. No situation or bad guy’s death can pass without some tiresome pun. Mitchell and Webb could easily have has this movie in mind for their Moneypenny’s friend sketch.

As we’re in India for a large clunk, we get cliché after cliché: snake-charmers, curry, a bed of nails, hot coals to be walked across, sahris, elephants… And, although it does all make sense, I found trying to keep track of which Fabergé egg was which distracting. It’s not a disaster, by any means, and at times very enjoyable. But it is one of the series’s weakest entries, I think. Six Miss Penelope Smallbones out of 10.

Bond: Bless him, Roger’s starting to look a bit long in the tooth now. (From 1979 to 1985, James Bond 007 was in his fifties. Before and since, he’s always been younger.) Before production, out-of-contract Moore said he didn’t want to do another one – so American actor James Brolin was courted and screen-tested. Brolin talks warmly of the experience on Octopussy’s DVD extras. But Rog then changed his mind and played Bond for a sixth time.

Villains: General Orlov is the main threat: a total fruitloop of a Russian agitator played, um, rather theatrically by Steven Berkoff. His ally is Afghan smuggler Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan, who was Dracula in my favourite adaptation of the novel). He has four main lieutenants: turban-headed Gobinda, who crushes some dice to powder when Bond out-cheats Khan at backgammon; nameless twins who know a lot of circus tricks; and sexy Magda, who flirts with and beds Bond with super-model elegance. Octopussy herself is played soft-spokenly and with sympathy by the striking Maud Adams (who was also in The Man With the Golden Gun).

Girls: Bond’s Hispanic helper in the not-related-to-the-main-story opening sequence flashes side-boob and legs to distract a goon. Moneypenny has been given a one-film assistant, a Slone Ranger called Penelope Smallbone – shame she has no personality. There’s also the cute girl in India who shows Bond to his hotel room. In Q’s lab, James childishly plays with a video camera, zooming in and out of a conveniently nearby cleavage. And, of course, there’s Octopussy’s all-female army.

Regulars: As mentioned, Moneypenny has a secretary herself now. The Minister of Defence appears again. General Gogol has a vital role in the story; his secretary returns too. Q’s lab is on tour again – this time, they’ve decamped to India (do all double-O agents get this back-up?) – while his assistant Smithers is back from the previous film. Most notably, we have a new M (actor Bernard Lee had died in 1981). There’s no acknowledgement on screen that this is a replacement so it could be simply a recasting of the same man – but he is now played by Robert Brown, who appeared as a navy bigwig in The Spy Who Loved Me (the kind of position from which an M could be promoted). He comes out to Berlin to brief Bond – would the real head of MI6 in 1983 escort one of his secret agents to within 20 yards of Checkpoint Charlie? Isn’t that asking to be rumbled?

Action: Bond uses a cool, fold-up mini-plane in the pre-titles. The resulting action includes some excellent model work. There’s a well-staged chase through downtown Dehli with Bond and the bad guys both in three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis. Bond is the prey in an Indian hunting sequence – he must tackle elephant, a tiger and a snake as well as blokes with rifles. Bond and Octopussy are attacked in her palace and one of the heavies ends up with an octopus attached to his face. Bond escapes some Russians in a car; the tyres are all shot off, so he drives onto a train track, chases after their train and jumps onto the last carriage. A good sequence follows in which 007’s on top of, hanging off the side of, and underneath a speeding train. During the climactic battle, Bond slides down a bannister, legs akimbo and firing a machine gun. Then he climbs on top of a plane as it takes off and hangs on for dear life.

Comedy: Lots. Too much, frankly, though some of it works well. Bond pulls into a petrol station in his mini-plane. “Fill her up please,” he smiles. There’s a nice moment in the auction scene when James bids on the Fabergé egg just to piss off Khan. MI6’s man in India (tennis star Vijay Amritraj) plays The James Bond Theme on his snake-chamer’s whistle to get 007’s attention. (As my friend Robert Dick points out, what’s odder: that he plays it, or that Bond recognises it?) During their post-coital scene, Magda says to Bond, “I need refilling.” He pauses and she holds up her empty glass. He has a similar reaction when he says of her tattoo, “Oh, that’s my little octopussy.” As mentioned, I think the surfeit of corny one-liners and silly gags gets quite tedious – see Bond telling a tiger to “Sit!” He later hides from some baddies by putting on a gorilla suit (him checking his watch when the bad guy specifies the time the bomb would go off made me laugh). Bond having to hitch-hike and then steal a car in order to get to the bomb in time is well mined for humour (and tension and frantic driving). There’s something pleasingly oddball about James Bond dressing up as a clown so he can sneak into a circus to tell people they’re in mortal danger. (Although, when you analyse it, he paused his mad-cap dash to the ticking time bomb in order to apply some pretty damn detailed clown make-up…)

Music: Rita Coolidge (no, me neither) sings the cheesy theme tune. It’s called All Time High: they baulked at a title song. Pulp’s 1997 cover version is much better. John Barry’s back on incidental-music duty.

People I’ve met: One of the Hooray Henrys who slow down as if to give hitch-hiking Bond a lift then drive off laughing before he can get in the car is played by my friend and former boss Gary Russell. We shared an office for four years and, every single day, I miss him.