Rocky IV (1985, Sylvester Stallone)


A series of reviews looking at Sylvester Stallone’s two most famous characters, Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, film by film…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Soviet Union’s best boxer turns professional, leading to a showdown with Rocky Balboa…

What does Stallone do? He wrote the script, directed the film, and starred for a fourth time as Rocky Balboa. After the death of his friend Apollo Creed, Rocky resolves to take on the man who killed him in the ring: a giant Russian boxer called Ivan Drago. Ultimately Rocky defeats him in an oddly oomph-free fight in Moscow, then gives a cringe-making speech to the watching world about the current acrimony between the US and the Soviet Union: ‘In here, there were two guys killing each other… but I guess that’s better than 20 million.’

Other main characters:
* Rocky’s wife, Adrian Balboa (Talia Shire), doesn’t go with him to Russia for the fight. Then she does. They must have been paying Talia Shire a lot of money to keep turning up in these films.
* Robert ‘Rocky’ Balboa Jr (Rocky Krakoff) is now about nine years old. He also stays behind when his dad flies off to Russia, but later cheers him on while watching the fight on TV.
* Paulie Pennino (Burt Young) is still loafing, still moaning, still earning a wage from Rocky for no discernible reason. He has a birthday in this film, so – and this really is one of the most bizarre moments in all of 1980s cinema – is given a robot butler as a present. A fucking robot butler. Paulie later reprograms it with a sexy female voice, then the film wisely turns its attentions elsewhere. (As easy as it is to scoff, as I’ve just proved, there was actually a sweet reason for robot’s inclusion: it had been designed a few years earlier to assist autistic children with communications skills and Stallone’s son Seargeoh, then about eight, is autistic.)
* When Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) learns that young Soviet boxer Ivan Drago wants to turn pro and fight an American, he steps up to the rope – partly through pride, partly through patriotism. Rocky advises against it, given that Apollo has been retired for a few years, but then agrees to be his corner man. The quickly arranged exhibition bout starts out as razzmatazzy as they come: James Brown sings a song, showgirls flounce about, the ring is part of an elaborate stage set. Creed then begins the fight well, but when Drago lets loose he absolutely pummels the older man. Creed is knocked out in the second round and dies in the ring… Rocky is distraught. Drago shows no remorse.
* Captain Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) wears his military uniform to his first press conference in the States, and is flanked by stern Soviet handlers. A world amateur boxing champion, he’s a man of very few words – just 46 in the whole movie – and when he does speak he says things like ‘You will lose’ and ‘I will break you.’ His support team emphasise their technological approach to training – screens, readouts, statistics, white-coated boffins – while he himself seems to be completely devoid of emotion. While Apollo is lying unconscious on the mat, his leg twitching unnervingly, Drago tells a reporter: ‘If he dies, he dies.’ (The quality of Lundgren’s performance can be illuminated by the following anecdote. A couple of years after Rocky IV had come out, Sylvester Stallone visited the set of kids film Masters of the Universe. He turned to a friend who was working on the movie, pointed at its star Dolph Lungren, and said, ‘You gave that guy lines?!’)
* Ludmilla Drago (Brigitte Nielsen, who married Stallone in December 1985) is Ivan’s wife and de facto spokesperson. She’s a former Olympic swimming champion.
* James Brown plays himself.
* Tony ‘Duke’ Evans (Tony Burton) used to be Apollo’s trainer, and was more or less a background character in the first three Rocky films. Here he joins Rocky’s entourage and offers some fatherly guidance.

Key scene: After Apollo’s death, Rocky drives his sportscar around at night while reminiscing about the events of the series so far – we see clips as he broods on past events and the scene is scored by Robert Tepper’s soft-rock hit No Easy Way Out. It’s basically a fully-fledged music video just dropped inelegantly into the middle of a Hollywood film! And it’s far from the only montage in Rocky IV. The movie hits peak montage as Rocky trains at a remote cabin in the Russian wilderness. Two sequences – separated by a short drama scene involving Adrian – amount to *seven and a half minutes* of screentime. They contrast Rocky’s snowbound slog with Drago’s high-tech and well-funded preparation, and the film editors have great fun match-cutting images of the two men doing similar things in very different surroundings.

Review: While Rocky IV was in preproduction, President Ronald Reagan won a second term in the White House and Mikhail Gorbachev became the new leader of the Soviet Union. Soon after filming wrapped, the USSR announced a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons but the US refused to follow suit. Then on the very day Rocky IV was having its LA premiere, Reagan and Gorbachev met for the first time at a summit in Geneva. The Cold War was hot news in 1985, and Rocky IV uses boxing as a metaphor for the clash between the two superpowers. In the American corner is Rocky Balboa, the meritocratic yet passionate individual, free and frank and funny. In the Soviet corner is Ivan Drago, the cold, unholy product of a totalitarian state, driven and determined and detached. It’s not subtle. Neither are all the other 1980s concerns squeezed into this film: the brash showbiz, the crass commercialisation, the technology fetish, the cheesy FM rock, the Miami Vice suits… It’s also a quick film – rushed, to be honest – and is directed with an overreliance on close-ups, press conferences and montages (so many montages!). Take it too seriously and the whole enterprise will flop to the mat. But its silliness and total commitment mean you end up punch-drunk and quite enjoying it.

Seven lies and false propaganda to support this antagonistic and violent government out of 10

Next: Rambo III

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985, George P Cosmatos)


A series of reviews looking at Sylvester Stallone’s two most famous characters, Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, film by film…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

War veteran John Rambo is coerced into a dangerous mission, one which involves returning to Vietnam…

What does Stallone do? In the early 1980s, James Cameron – then known as a behind-the-scenes boffin who’d directed a dreadful B-movie called Piranha 2: The Spawning – was offered two writing assignments on the same day. Needing money, he accepted them both, so was working on a sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien at the same time as a draft for a follow-up to the Rambo film First Blood. When he then had to shift focus to his own film The Terminator (1984), Sylvester Stallone took over the First Blood sequel script and made several changes. He removed a techy sidekick character, he beefed up the action, and he underlined the political subtext with some cloying dialogue about patriotism. Although George P Cosmatos is the credited director of the movie, the rumour mill says that Stallone was the real power on set… When we check in with John Rambo (Stallone) a few years after the events of his debut film, we find him breaking rocks in a prison camp. But his old mentor, Colonel Trautman, then offers him a way of cutting short the sentence. Despite the Vietnam War having been over for a decade, it’s rumoured that Americans are still being held there as prisoners of war – and Rambo is required for a covert reconnaissance mission. Parachuting into the jungle, he soon finds an illicit camp and confirms that POWs are in fact there. But despite being on a recce only, he can’t resist helping one of the Americans escape. Things go badly, however, and both men are captured. Rambo is tortured but escapes, then tools-up for a one-man assault on the compound…

Other main characters:
* Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) shows up at Rambo’s prison and tells him his name has been selected by a computer as the ideal man for a dangerous mission. That’s right: the powers-that-be want to arm a war vet with PTSD and return him to Vietnam. ‘Do we get to win this time?’ deadpans Rambo. While John is on his mission, Trautman butts heads with the guy running it…
* Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier) is the arrogant bureaucrat in charge of the op in southeast Asia. He has lots of fancy computers, but no compassion or decency; to him, this is just a box-ticking exercise. When John finds the prisoners, Murdock abruptly aborts his extraction and the sordid truth comes out: the mission was always intended to fail, so money could therefore be saved by not committing to any rescue attempts. Napier is sufficiently weaselly in the role.
* Ericson (Martin Kove from The Karate Kid) is one of Murdock’s lackeys, who acts like a Mafia boss’s bodyguard. He also flies the plane when Rambo is dropped into ‘Nam. Another goon is Lifer (Steve Williams), a perma-sunglassed prick who pulls a gun on Trautman at one point.
* Co-Bao (Julia Nickson) is Rambo’s in-country contact. She helps him cross the jungle and later poses as a prostitute so she can sneak into the enemy camp and rescue him. As often happens in these kinds of films, we’re first told the character’s name in a gender-neutral way so Rambo assumes he’ll be meeting up with a man rather than a hot 20-something woman. Nickson and Stallone have virtually no connection at all in their scenes – it’s like the actors have never met before – and Co-Bao is a nothing character.
* Lt Colonel Podovsky (Steven Berkoff) is a sadistic Russian military type, who arrives in the camp after Rambo’s capture and tortures him for information. The hammy Berkoff had recently played a not dissimilar character in the James Bond film Octopussy (1983).

Key scene: One of the few subtle moments of this movie comes when Rambo breaks an American called Banks (Andy Wood) out of the POW camp. Banks is weak and thin and has clearly been through hell. He asks Rambo what year it is and looks devastated to learn he’s been in captivity so long… The notion that Americans assumed to have died during the Vietnam War were actually being held as POWs was a live political issue in the mid-80s. Given the sheer number of servicemen whose remains were unaccounted for, a lot of people believed the Viet Cong had captured them and were keeping them alive. Subsequent governmental reports, however, concluded that there’s no compelling evidence for the notion being true.

Review: Sometimes a movie’s sequels drift off-topic to such a degree that the series takes on a new reputation. The first Fast and Furious film had none of the cartoon action and Bond-style supervillains of later films, for example. The opening Carry On was a gentle, innuendo-light comedy. The original Friday the 13th doesn’t even have Jason Voorhees in it, let alone a hockey mask. Well, here the stripped-down economy and social satire of First Blood has been abandoned and we’re into the stuff that came to typify the Rambo brand. Part II is a dumb, on-the-nose, right-wing, tough-guy war movie. You half expect Chuck Norris to wander in at any point. When the scenes aren’t dominated by gunplay, stabbings, explosions and nameless foreigners being killed, the drama is patience-testingly basic and empty. In the plus column, composer Jerry Goldsmith and cinematographer Jack Cardiff – classy men with many films of a *much* higher quality on their CVs – are working very hard to lift the material. So it’s not total preposterousness. But it’s not far off.

Five rocket launchers out of 10

Next: Rocky IV

Weird Science (1985, John Hughes)


Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Two teenage boys create the perfect woman on their Memotech MTX512 home computer, and she throws a massive party to boost their popularity…


* Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall, in his third straight John Hughes teen comedy) is the slightly more go-getting of the two 15-year-old leads. He and his pal Wyatt fancy a couple of girls at their school, but have no chance of pulling them. Gary also talks about having a girlfriend in Canada – not unlike Brian’s Niagara Falls conquest in The Breakfast Club, she’s clearly made up. While staying at Wyatt’s house for the night, the pair watch 1931 movie Frankenstein on TV (which was specially colourised for its use here). It gives them the idea to create a woman from scratch, so they feed pages of magazines into a slot in Wyatt’s computer – models for looks, Einstein for brains, Beethoven for talent, David Lee Roth for attitude. They also decide on breast size (“Anything bigger than a handful,” advises Gary, “you’re risking a sprained tongue…”) and brain capabilities (‘Intelligence level: 5th grade, slow learner, boring dipshit’). They then… somehow… hook into some kind of embryonic internet and steal the power they need. For the basis for the woman’s body, they use a Barbie doll; for atmosphere, they light candles and put bras on their heads. (All this is in the first 10 minutes of the film, by the way.) Remarkably – you might even say implausibly – the experiment works, and after a series of strange goings-on in the house and surrounding area, the boys see a beautiful, sexy woman in front of them. They name her Lisa and she takes them to a seedy blues bar, giving them fake IDs so they can get in. Gary gets tipsy but somehow charms the regulars with stories of his teenage troubles. (One of them is about the “big titties” of a 13-year-old girl. The 1980s, eh?) Lisa then throws a massive party – the kind of well-attended, anything-goes bash at a huge house that was seen in Sixteen Candles – but Gary hides in the bathroom with Wyatt. This is a problem when their crushes from school, Deb and Hilly, want to come in just after Gary’s used the loo. After Gary fends off some thugs, he and Deb get together and he drives her home the next day in a Ferrari that Lisa’s dreamt up.

* Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is spending the weekend without his parents because they’ve gone away, so invites Gary to sleep over. After the night out to the bar with Lisa, Wyatt returns home to find that his older brother, Chet, has returned from college. The pair don’t get on and Chet enjoys bullying Wyatt. Before bed, Wyatt and Lisa share a tender moment and she teaches him how to kiss. At the party the next day, Wyatt’s nerves result in him hiding in the bathroom. But he soon makes a connection with Hilly, then stands up to a scary gang of party-crashers. Wyatt and Hilly later kiss, and he takes her home the morning after the party.

* Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) are the two students who Gary and Wyatt fancy. Bored of boyfriends Ian and Max, they attend Lisa’s party and get to know Gary and Wyatt.

* Ian (Robert Downey Jr) and Max (Robert Rusler) are the school bullies who torment Gary and Wyatt early on: pulling their shorts down in the gym, throwing a slushy over them in the mall. When they spot Lisa, they’re bewitched – but stunned to find that she’s with Gary. (“She likes the rough stuff,” says Gary as an explanation. “What can I do?”) They also attend the party, mostly to be close to Lisa – but she resists their advances, saying she belongs to Gary and Wyatt. So they apologise to the boys for the bullying, hoping to negotiate a loan of Lisa (in exchange for Deb and Hilly!). As a compromise, Gary and Wyatt show them how to make their own Lisa (“Bigger tits!” they demand). However, the process creates chaos during the party – photographs come to life, the kitchen turns blue, a partygoer gets trapped in a TV, rooms flip upside down, and a girl has her clothes ripped off (they cast a former Playmate of the Month). Their efforts fail to produce a perfect woman, though, because they forget to hook up a Barbie doll. Instead, it creates an enormous missile (because… plot).

* Chet (Bill Paxton) is Wyatt’s oppressive older brother. He extorts cash from Wyatt, and generally enjoys tormenting both him and Gary. He’s especially perplexed when he sees Wyatt wearing Lisa’s underpants, but just uses it as a way of getting more hush money. He’s out on the night of the party but returns to the mess it’s created. So Lisa deals with him by magically turning him into, well, an anthropomorphic pile of shit. “Why do you have to be such a wanker?” she asks. She also says she’ll only change him back when he promises to treat Wyatt better.


* Lisa (Kelly Le Brock) is initially dressed in the same crop-top-and-knickers combo that the Barbie had on and (for some reason) has an English accent. She’s beautiful, sexy and confident. Her fairy-godmother mission is to make sure the two boys have a great time and become more popular. She also has magic abilities: she can change people’s clothes instantly, conjure up cars out of thin air, switch lights on with her mind, put people into catatonic states… “Mary Poppins with breasts,” is how Le Brock once described the character. When she sexily asks Gary and Wyatt, “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”, they say they want to shower with her. However, unlike Lisa, the boys aren’t brave enough to strip off, so wear their shorts. When she asks for a name, Gary suggests Lisa (after a girl he used to fancy who kicked him in the nuts because he spoke to her). The next day, she decides to throw a party at Wyatt’s house and invites as many people as possible. Realising Gary and Wyatt need more confidence, she then creates a gang of savage punk bikers to terrorise the partygoers with the idea that the boys can defeat them. (Gary and Wyatt initially hide in a cupboard, then come good.) The final scene of the film sees Lisa take her place as a gym teacher at the school. When her class of boys all faint, she winks at the camera. Le Brock certainly looks the part, and she’s not terrible exactly. But it’s a shame that an actress with more comic talent – Kim Basinger maybe? Kirstie Alley? – wasn’t cast instead. Le Brock wasn’t first choice, incidentally. Model Kelly Emburg, who was then going out with Rod Stewart, worked on the film for a couple of days but was then dropped.

* There are numerous staff and customers at the bar Lisa takes the boys to. One of them is played by John Kapelos from Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

* Al and Lucy Wallace (Britt Leach and Barbara Lang) are Gary’s parents, who Lisa meets when she comes to collect Gary for the party. It’s a terrific comic scene. They’re flabbergasted by how mature and forward she is, then shocked by both her plans for the party and the way she talks about Gary’s masturbation habits. When Al threatens to call the police, Lisa pulls a gun on him then casts a spell so he forgets that he’s got a son.

* Henry and Carmen Donnelly (Ivor Barry and Ann Coyle) are Wyatt’s grandparents, who decide on a whim to pop in and see him. They’re unhappy that a party’s going on, so Lisa says, “You ought to know better than to walk into somebody’s house and start hitting people with your Rex Harrison hat!” She then freezes them and puts them in a kitchen cupboard. Their rictus grins are terrifying.

* The gang of post-apocalyptic bikers include Vernon Wells, formerly of Mad Max 2 and later the schizoid bad guy in Commando, and Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes.

* Mr and Mrs Donnelly (Doug MacHugh and Pamela Gordon) are Wyatt’s parents. They return home at the end, just as the last of the party mess has been magically tidied up.

Close-ups: When Gary and Wyatt have a conspiratorial conversation about Deb and Hilly, we see it as a series of extreme close-ups of their mouths.

Music: The catchy title song is by Oingo Boingo, a band that included film composer Danny Elfman. It includes sound bites from the 1931 Frankenstein, echoing that movie’s use in the story. Kim Wilde’s Turn It On features briefly. A snatch from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells scores Gary and Wyatt waking up and wondering whether Lisa’s creation had been a dream. We hear the intro from Van Halen’s cover of Oh, Pretty Woman as Lisa rides an escalator, blows a kiss at Ian and Max, and generally distracts every lustful man (and one woman) she passes. The up-tempo Eighties by Killing Joke plays at the party. The final scene uses a bit of rousing incidental music from Rocky.

Beatles references: None.

Review: “There’s going to be sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high-school orgy thing. I mean, I’m not talking candle wax on the nipples or witchcraft or anything like that. No, just a couple of hundred kids running around in their underwear, acting like complete animals.” Weird is the word. What an insane film this is. It’s part shameless wish-fulfilment for teenage boys, part madcap comedy. But after the articulate angst of the previous two films, Weird Science’s *tenuous* connection to the real world is a real shock. John Hughes wrote the script – very loosely based on a story from 1950s comic book Weird Science – in two days, and sadly it shows. While generally good fun in a switch-your-brain-off way, it’s astonishingly slipshod. Things happen ‘just because’. Lisa is a character with magic powers who can basically do anything she wants, and all she wants to do is please Gary and Wyatt. Not exactly drama through adversity, is it? “When are you gonna learn people like you for who you are, not for what you give them,” Lisa says to the boys at one point, soon after she’s spent an hour engineering happiness for them so they don’t have to achieve it themselves. The film’s latent sexism is difficult to excuse too. There’s fun to be had, though, with the 1980s attitude to computers (ie, that they can do anything: also see WarGames, Superman III, DARYL…). A mess, but a broadly enjoyable one.

Seven greasy pork sandwiches served in a dirty ashtray out of 10

The Breakfast Club (1985, John Hughes)

THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Saturday 24 March 1984. 7am. Five students arrive at their school to spend the day in detention. They have to sit quietly in the library for nine hours and write an essay…


* Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald) – aka the princess. Reason for detention: skipped class to go shopping. Claire is spoilt, rich and aloof, and wears an expensive burgundy jacket, which goes very well with her red hair and pink blouse. She initially takes a dislike to Bender – especially after he says she has a fat girl’s name, questions her sexual experience and even puts his head up her skirt – but slowly warms to him as the story progresses. By the end, they become a couple and she gives him one of her diamond earrings. Earlier, the group force her into admitting that she’s a virgin. She then shows off her party trick: applying lip-gloss while the stick is held in her cleavage. It’s a strange moment, which has to be shot circumspectly to hide the fact Ringwald can’t really do it. During the production of Sixteen Candles, John Hughes had asked Ringwald to play Allison in this film. But after reading the script she campaigned for the role of Claire instead.

* Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) – aka the brain. Reason for detention: a gun was found in his locker. He’s a pale, lanky nerd who’s a member of the maths, Latin and physics clubs. He’s polite and obedient and just wants to write his essay. At one point, he seems to be suffering from a touch of morning glory. When Bender assumes he’s a virgin, Brian says he slept with a Canadian girl at Niagara Falls and has experience with Claire – but then Bender embarrasses him into admitting that neither story is true. He later has to hide Bender’s drugs (down his trousers). During the group’s confessional scene, Brian reveals that he’s under so much pressure to excel academically that he’s considered killing himself. (The others laugh, though, when he says he was going to use a flare gun.) As 4pm approaches, Brian starts to write the essay. The group have decided to submit one between the five of them – the copy we heard read out at the beginning of the film.

* Andy Clark (Emilio Estevez) – aka the athlete. Reason for detention: he taped a boy’s buttocks together for a laugh. One of the school’s star wrestlers, he dresses in a varsity hoodie. A no-nonsense type, he has little time for Bender’s antics. “If I lose my temper you’re toast, man,” he warns him. When things later get physical between them, Andy easily grapples Bender to the floor. Things thaw when Andy has a go of Bender’s marijuana: he does a crazy, manic dance round the library’s upper gallery, pumping his fists, then screams so loud he breaks a glass door. He defends Claire from Bender’s bullying, and asks if she’s going to a party that night, but later makes a connection with Allison. After the latter has had a feminine makeover, Andy is knocked out and they share a kiss. Estevez actually auditioned to play Bender, but moved to the role of Andy when John Hughes was struggling to cast the part.

* John Bender (Judd Nelson) – aka the criminal. Reason for detention: set off a needless fire alarm. Bender, a denim-jacketed force of nature, is the spark that lights the fire. Without him, none of the others would have talked to each other. He’s confident, cocky and sneery – Courtney Love once said he was “full of dick and penis and scrotum and testicles” – and can cut through the bullshit. He asks impertinent but insightful questions, pushes people’s buttons and sees how they react. If this were a Becket play, we’d later find out that he’d been figment of the other characters’ imagination. (In fact, at one point Andy says to him, “You may as well not exist at this school.”) Not willing to accept the no-talking rule, Bender wastes no time in provoking the others: he bullies Brian, tries to disgust Claire, winds up Andy, and generally rebels against the rules. He breaks a door, sets fire to his own shoes, rips up books, brandishes his flick-knife… Bender does a speculative impression of Brian’s all-American family, then one of his own angry home life and shows Andy a cigar burn on his arm. He’s clearly a very damaged soul. He’s self-destructive too: when he sarcastically asks Mr Vernon, “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?” he’s given an extra detention. Vernon later goads him into more backchat, resulting in possibly seven or eight more Saturday detentions (Brian keeps count, but Vernon disagrees with his tally). Halfway through the film, Bender leads a mutiny and all five kids sneak out of the library and visit Bender’s locker, from where he retrieves some marijuana. He then sacrifices himself, running off loudly so Vernon will chase him and the others can get back to the library unseen. Vernon then locks Bender is a storeroom, but Bender finds a way back to the library and hides under the table when Vernon walks in. He then lights up and shares his marijuana around. Soon everyone but Allison is getting high, and they start to talk… As well as Judd Nelson – who bullied Ringwald off-screen too, much to John Hughes’s disgust – John Cusack and Nicolas Cage were in the running for Bender. Cusack actually got the job before Hughes had a rethink.

* Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) – aka the basketcase. Reason for detention: none (she just had nothing better to do). A fuzzy cloud of hair, scarves and bags, at first she sits quietly in her duffel coat looking like a proto-grunge chick. She doesn’t speak until 24 minutes in, and then it’s only to exclaim, ”Ha!” (She gets told to shut up.) At one point, we see that she’s an excellent artist. She draws an image that looks like the bridge from Beetlejuice, then shakes dandruff all over it as snow. She claims a lot of things: that she drinks tonnes of vodka, that she’s a kleptomaniac, that she’s a nymphomaniac, that she sleeps with her shrink… But then she ’fesses up. She’s actually a compulsive liar. At the end of the film, once everyone’s made friends, Claire decides to give Allison a makeover. She lifts her hair off her face and applies some pretty make-up. Allison looks good. But it’s a truly bizarre moment, which is incredibly out-of-step with the film’s message of self-identity and confidence. “Are you a girl with problems? Well, just start looking like all the other girls and everything will be fine!”


* We see various parents, but only briefly: Claire’s BWM-driving dad, Brian’s pushy mum, Andy’s angry dad, and later Brian’s dad (a mute cameo for John Hughes). Brian’s sister appears too.

* Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) is the cynical, disillusioned teacher who’s drawn the short straw and has to supervise the detention. At the start of the day, he sets them an assignment: write a 1,000-word essay on who they think they are. He has no affection for the kids and seems to take delight in going up against the rebellious Bender. He doesn’t seem that fussed about supervising, though: he leaves the kids alone for huge amounts of time so he can sneak down into the basement and rifle through his colleagues’ personal files.

* Carl (John Kapelos). Before we see Carl in person, we see his face on the wall: when a student, it seems he was once the school’s Man of the Year. He’s now the school janitor, doing his rounds at the weekend. When Bender tries patronising him, Carl easily shuts him down – reminding the lad that, as janitor, he can open people’s lockers and look through their personal effects. He later finds Vernon doing the same with the other teachers’ files, so blackmails him $50 to keep quiet. Rick Moranis was originally cast in the role, but left after a disagreement with John Hughes. Kapelos had also been in Sixteen Candles.

Close-ups: Hughes reuses the Sixteen Candles trick of employing a close-up montage to introduce the school. We see shots of graffiti, litter, lockers, a dining room, a clock, corridors, a school newspaper, walls, trophies, a stage, a notebook… All the while Brian’s voiceover reads the essay that he’ll write at the end of the story. As his monologue cites the five main characters, we see a relevant image: a room of computers for Brian, an untidy locker room for Andy, a school counsellor’s desk for Allison, a prom queen poster for Claire, and a threateningly graffitied locker for Bender. Check out the sequence here:

Music: A pounding bass-drum kick-starts the film. Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds wasn’t written for this movie, but it’s become inextricably associated with it. As it plays, a quotation from David Bowie song Changes appears on the screen: it’s about kids being more perceptive than adults give them credit for. The screen then symbolically smashes apart and a long instrumental mix of Don’t You plays over the opening montage talked about above. It couldn’t *be* any more arch and iconic. You know you’re watching something special. The rest of the film has far fewer famous songs than Sixteen Candles had – a result presumably of the smaller budget ($1 million, against $6.5m for Sixteen Candles). There’s some bass-heavy incidental music. At one point, Bender hums the bassline from Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love and whistles The Colonel Bogey March (the other characters join in with the latter – the first instance of them bonding). The film’s first burst of movement is after 44 minutes: scored by Fire in the Twilight by Wang Chung, the kids run through the school corridors trying to avoid being seen by Vernon. Later the group dance about in the library to Karla Devito’s We Are Not Alone. It’s an explosion of emotion, a release of passion after a long, fraught scene. In its strange, kooky way, it’s rather magnificent. Don’t You is also reprised at the end.

Beatles references: Carl says that when he was younger he wanted to be John Lennon. The character of Mr Vernon is named after British actor Richard Vernon (Goldfinger, Upstairs Downstairs, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), who John Hughes knew from the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night.

Review: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.” What’s most striking about this film is its economy. Seven characters, one building, one day. This theatre-like construction results in some notably long scenes. We’re inside the library for a total of 71 minutes and 57 seconds (on the Region 2 DVD anyway). The whole film is only 92 minutes 58 – meaning 77 per cent of it is set in one room. There are cutaways to corridors and offices, and scenes outside, but we stay in that library for long stretches – a continuous chunk of over 20 minutes in the final third. Thankfully, there’s a *terrific* cast with no weak link. Three of the five lead actors also made St Elmo’s Fire in the same year, while the other two had just made Sixteen Candles – this is the birth of the Brat Pack. But that tabloid tag does them a disservice: these are quality actors. They’d had three weeks of rehearsals before the camera rolled, and were primed and fresh. And the direction is fantastic, with staging and blocking often telling the story (another stage technique). Check out the early moments. The two most similar kids, Claire and Andy, instinctively sit next to each other when they arrive; weirdo Allison sits as far away as possible; meek Brian sits where he’s told; while agent provocateur Bender can’t sit still and prowls the space. The key scene – that 20-minute segment – sees the five kids sitting in the library, slightly stoned and ready to talk. ‘Stoned’ is significant: again, it’s Bender who gets things moving. He’s also the first to talk openly about his fears. But things turn darker and more serious with a very slow circular camera move around Andy as he discusses his father’s disappointment and how it affects him. The barriers have been broken down, the conversation turns confessional, and the characters are sitting in a democratic semi-circle (again, storytelling through blocking). But it’s also brutally honest: popular kids Claire and Andy admit that, despite the bond they’ve all built, on Monday morning things will be back to normal. It might not be especially deep stuff to say that when you’re young things are tough in a way that adults forget about; that all those problems are basically their parents’ fault. But it’s incredibly effective drama, thanks to the writing and the performances. It’s funny, charming, touching and endlessly enjoyable. Shame about the makeover, though.

Ten hot beef injections out of 10

Ten Things I Love About… Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)


Warning: plot spoilers ahead. In fact, I’m assuming you know the film’s basic story.

This is not a review. (Want a review? “Perfect – 10 flux capacitors out of 10”.) Instead, it’s a love letter to one of the most important films in my life. Here’s a list of 10 areas in which I think Back to the Future especially excels.

1. It’s about time.
Unsurprisingly for a movie about time-travel, there’s a recurring theme of clocks and chronology. Time plays a huge role in the story, thematically as well as literally. The characters are often surrounded by reminders of it. The first thing we hear is ticking clocks; the first scene is a slow pan across dozens of timepieces. As the story begins, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is carrying out an experiment and has set all these clocks to the wrong time, meaning Marty (Michael J Fox) is late for school. The time machine, meanwhile, has digital readouts specifying the time and date of each travel. Later, Marty is pestered by a woman wanting a donation for her campaign to save the town’s decrepit clock tower. When Marty reaches the 1950s, that clock is in working order: its deafening clang is a vivid pointer that he is actually in the past. Later, the same bell prevents Doc hearing important information from Marty. The writers’ original idea was for the story’s climax to take place at an out-of-town nuclear plant. What a smart move it was to change that and keep Hill Valley’s town clock central to proceedings. Much more satisfying.

2. A design for life.
Lawrence G Paull’s production design for this movie is just masterful. It does precisely what film design should do: the sets, costumes, props and locations create a fully believable setting, but they also *tell the story* just as cleverly as dialogue or acting. That’s really the key to this film, why it’s such a classic. Its story is explored via every tool in the cinematic workshop. For example, in the opening shot – a 126-second slow track through Doc’s house – we see newspapers hinting at the character’s back story. The camera then tilts down to his modest bed and cluttered belongings; then shows off his Heath Robinson gadgetry, including a device for feeding the dog. Before we ever clap eyes on him, some of Doc’s history, personality and situation are conveyed through visual means. The entire movie is crammed full of this kind of storytelling. Sometimes it’s big and obvious – for example, how bright and gleaming the 1950s are compared to the 1980s – but often it’s subtle. Doc’s house in the 1980s is a rundown shed; in the 1950s, that shed is just a workshop next to his enormous mansion. Without it being said, we infer that he’s on his uppers in later life.

3. Hiding in plain sight.
Again and again, the film plonks down huge clues and jokes and bits of information right in front of you, and dares you to spot the significance. Some examples… One of the clocks in the opening scene has a miniature Harold Lloyd hanging from its face… a situation Doc will later find himself in. We’re shown a seemingly random TV news report about some missing plutonium… which we soon learn the Doc has stolen. A poster in the town centre is asking people to re-elect the mayor… a man we’ll meet in 1955, when Marty gives him the idea to go into politics. Marty is handed a flyer about the clock tower’s history, which we think is important because his girlfriend has written her phone number on the back of it… but it’s actually the printed side that’ll prove vital. We see some boys in 1955 using proto-skateboards… one of which Marty later nabs for a getaway. All these things make repeat viewings an absolute blast. (If anyone mentions Twin Pines Mall, we all have to take a sip of our drink.)

4. “Marty!”
What a fantastic lead character Marty McFly is. He’s the audience’s point of view, and is in virtually every scene. He has energy, charm and wit. He wears sunglasses, a denim jacket and a body-warmer. He uses a skateboard and hangs Walkman headphones round his neck. He gives off an air of Ferris Bueller-like confidence, yet admits to being scared of rejection. And he has a cute girlfriend (who’ll get even cuter after a recast in the sequels). It’s amazing we don’t hate him – but we don’t. That’s down to Michael J Fox, who plays the role with fantastic comic energy. Equally important is the fact his performance has total sincerity. We believe in the situations because he does. It would have been so easy to play it detached or with a knowing irony, kind of like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. Maybe that’s what Eric Stoltz, who was originally cast in the role, was doing before he was fired.

5. “Well, looky what we have here.”
There are so many fantastic jokes in the background of scenes or details tossed off without comment, and they’re often bits of comedy. It took me many viewings to appreciate the gag of Marty methodically fine-tuning a humungous amplifier… only to then use a laughably *tiny* guitar. Later, when Marty reaches 1955, a Ronald Reagan movie is playing at the local cinema. It’s a joke that works on two levels. Not only was Reagan US President at the time of the film’s release, but the reminder that he used to be actor sets us up for a gag from an incredulous Doc Brown. Another great example is how Marty and his dad do the exact same hand gesture when unknowingly sitting next to each other in a cafe.

6. “Don’t need no credit card to ride this train!”
There’s loads of music in this film (well, it was the 1980s). Huey Lewis and the News get two tracks – The Power of Love and Back in Time. The latter’s lyrics relate directly to the story, though I didn’t spot that for a stupidly long time. In a bit of postmodern humour, when Marty auditions for a battle-of-the-bands competition, he and his pals play The Power of Love and Huey Lewis cameos as the judge who doesn’t like it. From the present, there are songs by Lindsey Buckingham, Eric Clapton and Van Halen on the soundtrack; in the past, period tracks such as The Four Aces’ Mr Sandman and Etta James’s The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry) set the scene. Meanwhile, Alan Silvestri’s incidental music is just magic. Big and dramatic, it makes what is a reasonably small-scale movie feel like fucking Die Hard.

7. “I’m gonna clean up this town!”
Has there ever been a better film set than Hill Valley? For the production, an entire town square was built from scratch – and we see it in two different states. In 1985, it’s grimy and rundown, there’s graffiti, and it has a porno cinema. In 1955, it’s clean and verdant and full of life. (The name of the town is an oxymoron, by the way – it took me a long time to twig that.) You could watch this film and solely concentrate on how the shop fronts and other details change between decades. One great example is how the central square is a car park in 1985 yet in 1955 has a war memorial. Presumably it got bulldozed at some point.

8. “I’m writing this down – this is good stuff.”
The dialogue pulls off an astonishing trick. Pretty much every line is doing three things all at once: it’s moving the plot forward, it’s speaking to character, and it’s entertaining us with style. We’re constantly – and I mean constantly – being given vital story information, yet it never feels like dull exposition because it’s smuggled in under the cover of characterisation or comedy (or often both). Check out the early 1985 scene between Marty and his family, where Lorraine (Lea Thompson) talks about meeting George (Crispin Glover). The *entire* conversation is information we need to know for what’s going to happen in the story. It’s pure plot primer. Yet the scene is alive and fresh and funny and charismatic. It doesn’t feel like an info-dump. It feels like people talking. (As a scene that’s an exposition lecture and you just don’t notice, the only comparable example I can think of is the newsreel at the start of Citizen Kane.)

9. The right direction.
Robert Zemeckis does a quietly magnificent job directing this film. Every moment is paced to perfection and the flow from scene to scene is seamless. The film is fit to bursting with energy, while the camerawork – the movement, the framing, the mise-en-scene – is superb.

10. “Don’t be so gullible, McFly!”
Biff Tannen is one of cinema’s great bad guys, superbly played by Thomas F Wilson, who has to give us three versions of the same man. We see him in the 1980s, where he’s overweight, domineering and slovenly; in the 1950s, where he’s the arrogant school bully with a gang of hangers-on; and then back in the 80s, where he’s a subservient car-cleaner. Wilson pulls off all incarnations brilliantly. Biff is not a subtle character. He has no hidden depths. Yet the actor makes him so watchable. He also has a gag – “Why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here?” – that won’t get its punchline until the sequel.

11. (Did you seriously think I could limit this to just 10 things?!) By George!
Marty’s nerdy dad is the real heart of the story. In some ways, it’s *his* story: he’s the protagonist who’s trying to achieve something. (Marty is actually a complication.) When we get to the 1950s, George is sat at a café – but neither Marty nor us notice him at first. It’s then quite a moment when the realisation sinks in. Later, it’s a totally believable moment when George punches Biff and wins Lorraine’s heart, thanks in big part to Crispin Glover. The actor was clearly a bit of a fruit-loop back in the day, but he’s terrific in this film. (And, I learnt recently, is the son of Bruce Glover, who played assassin Mr Wint in Diamonds Are Forever.)

12. We are family.
Marty’s siblings aren’t in the film much – just one scene in each version of 1985. But they’re fab. Brother Dave is played by Marc McClure, fresh from four movies as Jimmy Olsen. Sister Linda is played by Wendie Jo Sperber.

13. “It’s written all over your underwear!”
Marty’s mum, Lorraine, is an old soak in 1985. She’s chavvy, a bit overweight and very world-weary. She condemns modern behaviour such as sitting in parked cars with boys, then bores her family with a well-worn story about she met her husband. But when we meet her in 1955 at the age of 17, she’s a right hottie. The young Lorraine is sweet and adorable, but also feisty and a bit of a secret rebel. Lea Thompson is wonderful at playing the two versions of the character (as well as a happy and trim 47-year-old at the end of the film). Despite young Lorraine’s lust for Marty, she doesn’t dismiss nervous George when he makes a play for her, which helps sell their eventual union. She also does all the things her grown-up self condemns: park with a boy, smoke, drink and flirt.

14. “Great Scott!”
We first see Dr Emmett L Brown driving his time machine out from a van, down the ramp surrounded by smoke. It’s a theatrical entrance for both the car and the Doc – though how he got into the motor when it was inside such a narrow van is another issue. He’s the epitome of the wild-haired, wild-eyed mad scientist, but has a huge likeability. (He’s one of the great Doctor Whos we never got.) It’s never revealed how Doc and Marty met or became such good friends, because we don’t especially need to know – it’s still a massive moment when the Doc is seemingly murdered at the end of the first act. In 1955, the younger version is just as bonkers. When Marty tracks him down, the 50s Doc is conducting a mind-reading experiment, then later builds a scale model of Hill Valley so he can demonstrate to Marty – and us – how the film’s climax will work. (Soon after this show-and-tell, he meets Lorraine: the only time in the entire trilogy that the two characters interact.) When Marty gets back to 1985, the Doc evades death by changing history. “What the hell?” he quips. He then features in a cliffhanger ending when he collects Marty and Jennifer to take them 30 years into the future (ie, to now).

15. “You built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?!”
A sports-car shape with a harsh, metallic finish and gull-wing doors? Well, it just looks cool, doesn’t it? Making the time machine a car – rather than a stationary capsule – was a masterstroke, giving movement and dynamism to the act of time-travel. (Surely HG Wells would have made this improvement if he’d done just one more draft. Or, you know, been writing after the invention of the car.) After each time-travel, the vehicle is icy cold and covered in mist. That idea got dropped for the sequels!

16. “Do you really think I oughta swear?”
Marty exclaims, “Holy shit!” a few times. When Biff attacks Lorraine, his intentions are shockingly obvious. And the entire emotional storyline is predicated on a mother falling romantically for her son. (Disney turned down the chance to make the film because of its Oedipal overtones.) For a ‘family film’, Back to the Future has an edge. And that makes it more interesting.

17. “Looks like an airplane… without wings!”
When Marty arrives in 1955, his silver car and yellow radiation suit trick a family of farmers into thinking he’s an alien crashed on earth. And Marty later uses the suit (and a Sony Walkman) to con George into believing ‘Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan’ has come to visit him. This old-school sci-fi paranoia is just one thread in the wonderful 1950s-ness of the film’s middle chunk. Nostalgia for that decade is seen a lot in American pop culture from the 1970s and 80s: Grease, Happy Days, American Graffiti, Stand By Me… But it’s especially apt in this movie. It’s the story of a teenager meeting his parents when they were teenagers – and the 1950s saw the birth of teenage culture.

18. “You know, Marty, you look so familiar. Do I know your mother?”
In 1955, Marty meets his mum’s family – Lorraine’s pregnant mother, her TV-fixing dad, and her siblings (one of whom is Kevin Arnold’s brother from The Wonder Years). They get one scene and very nearly steal the film. There’s the joke about baby Joey enjoying being behind bars, Marty being uncomfortable with Lorraine’s flirting, Marty recognising the Jackie Gleason show on TV because he’s already seen it, and the dad not knowing who John F Kennedy is.

19. New things.
I’ve seen this film dozens of times, yet I always spot something new every time I watch it. The two things that dropped into my mind this time are both pretty obvious, yet I’ve never considered them in 30 years. At the start of the film, Marty and his band audition for a panel of judges… on the *same stage* that Marty will play Johnny B. Goode at the end of the film. Never made that connection before. Also, the movie establishes that Twin Pine Malls is around two miles from the centre of Hill Valley. Yet at the film’s climax, Marty runs that distance in *under nine minutes*. No wonder he’s out of breath.

20. “Let’s do something that really cooks!”
I don’t have children, but I’m certain Sophie’s choice would be preferable to selecting just one favourite moment of Back to the Future. But for its sheer joyfulness, why don’t we focus on Marty’s stint as replacement guitarist with dance band Marvin Berry and the Starlighters? It’s maybe not the most vital scene in terms of the plot, though Marty’s erratic guitar playing is a neat illustration of the timeline being under threat. But it’s so, so fun. Once George and Lorraine have hooked up – to the swell of the band playing Earth Angel – the camera cranes up and back, signifying that the storyline is concluded. Then Marty is asked to play another song. He tells the band, “It’s a blues riff in B; watch me for the changes and try to keep up, okay?” then rips into Johnny B. Goode, wowing the crowd with a burst of nascent rock-n-roll. They’ve never heard the song before; no one has. Marty is seemingly inventing a genre on the spot. Lead singer Marvin Berry is so impressed that he telephones his cousin so he can hear the song. “Chuck? Chuck? It’s your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you looking for? Well, listen to this!” Hashtag bootstrap paradox. Marty then goes off-piste, throwing in impressions of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend, which just bemuses the entire room. “I guess you guy aren’t ready for that yet,” he says after finishing. “But your kids are gonna love it.”

21. Summing up?
This post is three thousand words and I’ve barely got started. The film has surgical attention to detail, but never loses sight of the big picture. It’s played at a lick, but never feels rushed. It’s funny, poignant, clever, exciting and witty. It has *huge* heart, but is never soppy. There’s dramatic irony, but it’s never smug. The camerawork and editing are aimed precisely at where the story is, never showing off. Plot, character, action and comedy are all intertwined all of the time – it’s the greatest ever example of this. I don’t remember the first time I saw Back to the Future. It was on a rental video, and must have been in around 1986. (I’ve since seen it on a big screen three times: at an independent cinema in 2000 and twice during a re-release in 2010.) In my mind, it’s just always been there, always been a part of my life. Always been a friend.

Meat is Murder (1985)


Title: Eating dead animals is a bad thing.

Cover: A photograph of Marine Corporal Michael Wynn during the Vietnam War, taken from a 1968 documentary called In the Year of the Pig. It appears four times (but only once on the CD version). The original wording on his helmet – ‘Make war not love’ – has been changed to the album’s title. It reflects the more overtly political attitude in Morrissey’s lyrics.

Best song: Barbarism Begins At Home is the band’s longest song (6.57), but could be several hundred times that length before it outstayed its welcome. Like How Soon Is Now?, it’s a bit of an oddity in the discography. At face value, the gloomy, suicidal, flower-waving, Coronation Street-quoting Morrissey shouldn’t be singing on a funk track. But Mozzer seems to be enjoying this impression of Chic – he even yelps with delight at various points. His pithy lyrics are about parental violence, but (again like How Soon Is Now?) he knows when to get out of the way. A bulk of the song is given over to the rhythm section, and the more the song goes on it’s increasingly Andy Rouke who steps into the spotlight. His bassline is out of this world. I want to have its babies.

Honourable mentions:

* The Headmaster Ritual has a sensational staccato intro beat that kick-starts the album. And then we get one of Morrissey’s priceless opening gambits: “Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools…” It’s an anti-corporal-punishment lyric, and the first of many songs on this LP about violence. Johnny Marr’s George Harrison-influenced riff and Rouke’s bubbling bassline make for a dynamic groove: another theme on this album.

* Rusholme Ruffians has traces of skiffle and rockabilly. The lyrics were partly cribbed from a Victoria Wood comedy song called Fourteen Again (and contain more talk of violence). They fit the circus beat of the music really well.

* What She Said is like a ferocious series of whip-cracks. Basically just a whirling dervish of a guitar riff and a never-ending drum fill, it’s hypnotic stuff. The spell is only broken by a dramatically sudden conclusion. How else could it end?

* That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore is Marr’s favourite Smiths song. It’s easy to see why. It’s big and majestic, but also dark and dangerous. The guitars are icy cool, it has a cheeky fake fade-out, and Mike Joyce’s drumming is terrific.

* How Soon Is Now? was on the US version of the album and some CD reissues in the UK. I banged on about its undimmed glory in the review of Hatful of Hollow. In terms of Meat is Murder’s running order, sadly it sticks out like a sore thumb in sixth place. It’s best to sequence around it.

* Nowhere Fast is a comedy sketch of a song, with a witty lyric about exposing yourself to Elizabeth II. (That’s nothing compared to what’ll happen to her in the next album.) The wordplay alone is worth the price of the album. But the vaudeville storytelling shouldn’t distract from how artful the music is – check out the way the band dramatises Morrissey’s line about “When a train goes by…” There’s even something approaching a guitar solo – a real Smiths rarity.

* Well I Wonder is quietly magnificent with a gorgeous, low-key acoustic arrangement. (It was actually released marginally earlier than the rest of the album, as the B-side to How Soon Is Now?)

Worst song: The title track is sanctimonious drivel. A dull enough song to begin with, it then has mooing cows and machine noises dubbed onto it. Subtle.

Review: Another stunner. It was the band’s only number-one album – not bad for a second studio LP self-produced by 25-year-old Morrissey and 21-year-old Marr.

Nine kitchen aromas out of 10.

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Ewok village is attacked and Cindel’s family are killed, she and best mate Wicket must go on the run…

WHICH VERSION? This TV movie was first broadcast on ABC on 24 November 1985. It got a UK cinema release in April 1986.


* Wicket (Warwick Davis) can now speak fractured English, which presents something of a problem when dating these films. He clearly can’t talk like a human in Return of the Jedi, yet everything else – including Lucasfilm’s official publicity – places this film as a prequel to Jedi. Maybe he forgot what he’d learnt by the time Han Solo and co turn up? Anyway, captured by the bad guys, Wicket and Cindel escape to a cave. He then knocks up a skin-glider, A-Team-style, from some discarded bones. It comes in handy when Cindel is snatched by a dragon-type monster and Wicket has to give chase. When Cindel is later captured by the bad guys (again), Wicket and new pal Noa sneak into a castle to save her. The plan involves the old standing-on-someone’s-shoulders-and-using-a-long-coat-to-disguise-the-fact-there-are-two-of-you trick. Our heroes then retreat to Noa’s starship, where there’s a rerun of Return of the Jedi’s improvised-weaponry battle.

* Cindel Towani (Aubrey Miller) and her family are preparing to leave Endor as the movie begins – it seems to have been a while since the events of Caravan of Courage. However, her parents and brother are murdered by, and Cindel needs rescuing from, the evil Sanyassan Marauders. She and Wicket then encounter a grumpy old man called Noa, but Cindel is soon captured again. Miller is just as rubbish as she was in the first movie.

* Jermitt Towani (Paul Gleeson) has been recast with a more famous actor, but he’s quickly killed off when the marauders attack and steal his ship’s power unit.

* Mace Towani (Eric Walker) also dies in the opening-act attack. So does the family’s mum, but we only see her corpse in order to avoid paying an actress.

* Teek (Niki Botelho) is a bizarre little creature about the size of an Ewok who can run at lightning speed. After bumping into them, he shows Cindel and Wicket an apparently abandoned house in the woods, which they take over as their own.

* Noa (Wilford Brimley) owns the house and isn’t happy when he returns to find it occupied. He chases Cindel and Wicket away, but soon mellows. He has a secret: he’s hiding a star cruiser in the forest. He crashed on Endor years earlier, but his ship is now powerless and his co-pilot, Salak, went missing. When Cindel is kidnapped, Noa and Wicket mount a rescue. Afterwards, Noa’s able to restart his space ship (thanks, MacGuffin!) and he leaves Endor with Cindel in tow.


* The Sanyassan Marauders are a group of post-apocalyptic thugs who torch the Ewok village. They look like medieval knights kitted out as Mad Max-style vigilantes. Assuming the knights were ape-like aliens, that is.

* Charel (Sian Phillips) is the (human) leader of the marauders. She can transmogrify into a crow, but is terrified of her boss, Terak.

* Terak (Carel Struycken) is the marauders’ king. He has a faded blueprint of a starship and is obsessed with learning the secrets of technological power. After Cindel – who he assumes can teach him about technology – escapes, he gives chase and ends up fighting Noa mano-a-weirdo. (Noa wins.)

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The Marauders attack the village.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: The shot of Salak – a cutaway to his manacled skeleton in a dungeon – made me laugh out loud, though it wasn’t meant to.

MUSIC: The score is by Peter Bernstein and is decent enough.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I saw this when it came out on video in the mid-80s. In 2004, I bought both Ewok films on DVD, but doing these reviews was the first time I’d put the disc in the player.

REVIEW: The first Ewok special had a twee, Disney vibe, but this is more in keeping with macabre 80s kids’ films such as Return to Oz or The Dark Crystal. Cindel’s family are killed off violently in the first 10 minutes, for example, while there’s plenty of old-school stop-motion monsters. There’s basically a general sense of *strangeness*, which works really well. The production designer was Joe Johnston – who went on to direct the fun Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the stylish The Rocketeer and the terrific Captain America: The First Avenger – and he really went to town on the brutal, twisted, scary look of the bad guys and their trappings. Thankfully, there’s also more of a robust plot than Caravan of Courage had. It’s both darker and more engaging than that first one.

Five power things out of 10

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985, Jerry Paris)


In this first sequel, the Class of ’84 are sent out to staff a badly performing precinct in a rough area of town. Here I continue my attempt to track the series’s running gags and clichés…

Mahoney flirts and pulls pranks! – He flirts with women on the beach; pulls out Mauser’s floss when it’s stuck in his teeth; gives Tackleberry dating advice; swaps Mauser’s shampoo for epoxy resin; and then later arranges for him to have a body-cavity search.

Hightower uses his strength! – He throws a football so hard it knocks a guy off his feet; singlehandedly brings out a number of bad guys from the Blue Oyster bar; and is annoyed when mild-mannered Sweetchuck matches him on the funfair’s test-of-strength.

Tackleberry shoots! – He orders street-crossing kids around like soldiers; scares the shit out of a child (played by Lorraine Baines’s brother from Back to the Future) at his mother’s request; gets a romance subplot with Sgt Kathleen Kirkland when they bond over handguns; comes in all guns blazing when a lamp shop is being robbed; and, when getting amorous with Kirkland, takes ages to remove all his hidden weapons.

Jonesey’s sound effects! – Ugly eating noises to embarrass two diners; Mauser’s watch beeping; a fault with their car to annoy his grumpy partner; a vicious dog to scare a blinded Mauser; kung-fu-movie dubbed dialogue and fighting sound effects when beating up a pair of bad guys; an automatic popcorn machine; an impression of a bear; sounds of machine guns and the police arriving to intimidate a gang; and an instamatic camera at the wedding party.

Hooks shouts ‘Dirtbag!’ – She’s typically meek and mild, then punches Proctor when he won’t help Mahoney. Her “Don’t move, dirtbag!” comes at the end when pointing a gun at gang leader Zed.

Callahan’s chest! – She’s not in this one.

Harris shouts ‘Proctor!’ – He’s not in this one.

Lassard is a bit, um, vague! – He feeds his fish again, but accidentally puts a huge wodge of food in the bowl; misunderstands his brother’s request for “some healthy young men”; goes to a Chinese restaurant and leaves his fishbowl on a hot plate, then holds Eric’s hand down on it too.

Bobcat! – The first appearance of Bobcat Goldthwait as unpredictable, screeching, hyperactive, eccentric-talking Zed McGlunk. He’s the bad guy in this film. He and his gang ransack a supermarket and terrorise the city; when Mahoney asks Zed for a light, Zed sets his own hand on fire.

Obvious replacement characters! – In the place of Harris, we have Lieutenant Mauser as the antagonistic, arrogant, vain and up-himself policeman who the regulars take against. He has an odious sidekick called Proctor (the dumber of the two).

Homophobic!/Racist! – Proctor mishears ‘new recruits’ as ‘fruits’, so photographs some gay men. When he sees a very dirty Mahoney sitting next to Jones, he jokes that they’re brothers. While being chased by gang members, Sweetchuck runs into the Blue Oyster. (Proctor knows the address of the bar – and gets dubious looks.)

Bare breasts! – There are some topless sunbathers on the beach. Mahoney sticks a long balloon down his trousers when he’s being fitting for a new uniform. “Mahoney, I’m a virgin!” shouts Tackleberry just as the room quietens down. Mauser walks into the precinct lobby while naked, and when he later ends up with hair stuck to his palms, Mahoney makes a wanking gag.

Famous totty! – Colleen Camp (sexy French maid Yvette in Clue, one of the cops in Die Hard With a Vengeance, Reese Witherspoon’s mum in Election) plays Kathleen Kirkland.

The Color Purple (1985)


The story of Celie, a woman in the rural American south who’s married off to an obnoxious farmer and loses touch with her beloved sister…

Seen before? Once, a long time ago.

Best performance: There are terrific performances all round, but Whoopi Goldberg stands out.

Best scene/moment/sequence: The crosscutting between Celie reading letters from her sister and her sister’s life in Africa is very deftly handled.

Review: Spielberg’s first attempt at a ‘serious’, ‘grown-up’ film. It might be melodrama, but it’s melodrama made by very talented people. I was especially impressed by how the passage of time was conveyed – the story takes place between 1909 and 1937, and make-up, production design and especially actors’ performances help dramatise this progression very well indeed. (You’d swear Oprah Winfrey actually ages 20 years.)

Eight cutthroat razors out of 10.

A View to a Kill (John Glen, 1985)

A View to a Kill

I need to declare an interest. This was the first Bond film I owned on VHS. It was an ex-rental copy with a photocopied sleeve bought from the local video shop in Ormskirk (I think the trailers were for Pale Rider and Spies Like Us). So I watched it A LOT as a kid. I know it has a bad reputation among some, and in the cold light of day I can see it’s not perfect, but I absolutely love it. And it’s not *just* the nostalgia factor – I do think it’s a lot of fun as a Bond movie. Its motifs of steroids, microchips, big business, environmental worries and Duran Duran mean it positively reeks of the 1980s (in a good way). The action’s very good and the comedy’s (mostly) kept in check. The music is superb, And, like all good Bonds, it has an underlying nasty streak. (The way the clumsy title is shoehorned into the dialogue is rather silly, though!) Eight Zorin airships out of 10.

Bond: This is the oldest any James Bond has been: Roger Moore was 57. I’ve really enjoyed rewatching his seven movies, and I’m very, very fond of three of them, but it was time for a change…

Villains: Max Zorin, a blonde, bonkers businessman with a Nazi-experiment past, is played by Christopher Walken – psychotic, unpredictable and terrifying, it’s the best performance of a Bond villain who’s completely off his rocker. His right-hand woman is the outrageous, arch and camp May Day (Grace Jones). She has fantastic, severe flashes of make-up across her face; she single-handedly restrains a bolting horse; and she forcefully climbs on top of Bond when they have a mid-film bunk-up. Other lackeys include Patrick Bauchau as slimy toad Scarpine and Willoughby Gray as monocled Nazi-doctor-on-the-run Carl Mortner.

Girls: In the pre-titles Arctic sequence, Bond has a sexy assistant piloting his getaway boat (“Call me James,” he says, unzipping her cold-weather gear. “It’s five days to Alaska.”) At Zorin’s French chateaux, we meet two lovely women who work for May Day: Jenny Flex played by Alison Doody and Pan Ho played by Papillon Soo Soo. Doody was – and remains, I think – the youngest ever ‘Bond girl’ (18) and later had a good role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Although I’ve never spotted her, Maud Adams from The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy is reportedly an extra in the scene filmed at San Francisco’s fish market. “Bond girl Fiona Fullerton”, as last year’s Strictly Come Dancing insisted on calling her, appears as KGB agent Pola Ivanova. The female lead is Stacey Sutton, played by former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts like she’s in a daytime soap. Despite being a poor performance, and the fact she’s introduced into the film by a screech of sexy saxophone, this was actually an admirable attempt at a believable woman with an everyday life and a history.

Regulars: Moneypenny, M and Q all get to tart up and have a day at the races with Bond in order to scope out Max Zorin. Sir Fredrick Gray is still the Minister of Defence. (That’s eight years now he’s held the post. In reality, there’d been four Ministers since 1977: Frederick Mulley, Francis Pym, John Nott and Michael Heseltine.) General Gogol appears again – one of his bodyguards is played by Grace Jones’s then boyfriend: He-Man himself, Dolph Lundgren. David Yip plays Chuck Lee, a CIA agent who’s Felix Leiter in all but name.

Action: The opening Arctic sequence features a helicopter, skiing, ski-dos, one-legged skiing, impromptu snowboarding, cut-in shots of Roger filmed back in the studio, and a submarine disguised as an iceberg. Bond pursues May Day up the Eiffel Tower. When she jumps off and parachutes to the ground, he races to the ground on top of a lift then steals a taxi to carry on the chase (the car gets ruined). Bond and his ally Tippett have a fight with two goons, one of whom is Big Ron from EastEnders. There’s a dramatic fight/chase on horseback. Bond and Stacey are attacked in her house – Bond has only a shotgun loaded with rock salt. The sequence with San Francisco City Hall on fire and the subsequent fire-truck chase are excellently staged. The stuff in Zorin’s mines is likewise great (the studio sets are as massive as they are convincing) – although, Bond and May Day’s dialogue gets very on-the-nose at times. We end with an airship crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge.

Comedy: A cover version of the Beach Boys’ California Girls is used when Bond surfs across the Arctic Sea: very silly. Seeing the regular cast at the horseracing is great fun, especially the punchline that Bond had been smart enough to bet on Zorin’s nag. Sir Godfrey Tippett (Patrick Macnee) poses as Bond’s chauffeur and the double act is played for as much droll humour as possible. The quips throughout the movie are mostly more successful – dryer, sharper – than in the facetious Octopussy. One especially made me chuckle. Pola Ivanova’s in a jacuzzi, and says “The bubbles tickle my… [hears the music Bond’s put on] Tchaikovsky!”

Music: First rank. The score from John Barry is just tremendous. Brassy, with wild electric guitars, it conveys tension and action equally well. Duran Duran’s title song is likewise sensational – one of the very best Bond songs, it combines mood, melody and urgency into one of the best pop tracks of the 1980s.