The Running Man (1987, Paul Michael Glaser)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

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Watched: 10 August 2019
Format: DVD. I’d owned a copy for years, but then the week before I started this blogging process I was in Fopp – a wonderful shop near London’s Covent Garden – and upgraded to a reissue with extras and commentaries.
Seen before? Yes, several times over the last 30 years. 

Review: The first film picked out of the Schwarzenegger hat is a pleasingly relevant one: sci-fi flick The Running Man may have been released in 1987, but most of the story is set in 2019… and I started the research for this odyssey in August 2019. I first saw this film on VHS as a child and have always adored it for its fast-paced, gleefully bonkers vibe. We’re in an 80s vision of a dystopian future made up of haves (corporate types, celebrities, attractive women), have-nots (slums, hobos, resistance fighters), tech-noir aesthetics and overt commercialisation.

It’s a violent, harsh and cynical plot, which sees Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ex-cop Ben Richards framed for a massacre then forced to compete on a garish TV game show that features duels-to-the-death with spandex-suited ‘stalkers’. Sadly, we must admit that Arnie is not quite the actor this kind of story requires and his character comes off as pretty facile; the James Bond-style quips also ring hallow.

But as a satire of the crassness of reality TV, the movie gets more and more depressingly insightful with every passing year. What once seemed fanciful is now only a degree or so off-truth. There’s also a lot of other kitsch pleasures in this film, such as the crazy casting choices (an ex-NFL star, a wrestler, the drummer from Fleetwood Mac) and some terrific electronic incidental music from Harold Faltermeyer. It’s rough round the edges, but so much fun.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘The Running Man didn’t turn out as well as it should have… the film was totally screwed up by hiring a first-time director [Starsky & Hutch actor Paul Michael Glaser] and not giving him time to prepare.’

Eight court-appointed theatrical agents out of 10

Next: The Villain

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

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

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

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

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

Predator (1987, John McTiernan)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A crack team of commandos are sent into the jungle to rescue a captured diplomat. But they encounter a ruthless alien, who starts to pick them off for sport…

The cast: As a film-obsessed child I had an enormous man-crush on Arnold Schwarzenegger; or rather the films he made. Here he plays Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer, the cigar-chomping leader of the special-forces team. Because it’s an 80s Arnie flick Dutch has a couple of James Bond-style puns, but they don’t fit the film’s tone at all. It’s not one of Arnie’s best performances. Much better is former Rocky star Carl Weathers as George Dillon: the only character with any kind of complexity, he lies to the others then realises he’s fucked up. The rest of the team are played by Bill Duke (decent), Jesse Ventura (barely an actor), Sonny Landham (who was such a fruit-loop the producers insisted on a minder to keep him in check), Richard Chaves and Shane Black. Black is an interesting piece of casting. He’s a really good screenwriter (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, Iron Man 3 and others) and was given the minor role of Hawkins so he could be on set to do any last-minute rewrites. Given that he’s not an actor, he’s actually okay. Hawkins’s character trait is that he tells bad jokes. Incidentally, two of the cast feature in other 1980s Schwarzenegger films: Duke had been in 1985’s Commando; Ventura was in 1987’s The Running Man. Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the predator, but looked weedy next to Schwarzenegger, Weathers and the others so was replaced by seven-foot-two Kevin Peter Hall. Elpidia Carrillo plays Anna Gonsalves, an underwritten woman the team rescue from the bad guys. At the end of the film there’s a credits sequence where the actors smile at camera in time with their names appearing. I’m going to assume that the idea was stolen from Hi-De-Hi.

The best bit: The most successful aspects of the film are the visual effects used for the predator’s POV shots and for when it’s ‘cloaked’. The former is a thermal-vision image where heat shows up against the blurry background, while the latter has the creature only visible as a see-through shimmer.

Crossover: Watching the Predator and Alien movies at the same time is an idea based on the later films featuring both monsters. However, the two series share a connection at this point too. Unhappy with the original creature design, McTiernan hired visual-effects guru Stan Winston to come up with a new predator. Winston doodled his initial ideas while on a flight with his friend James Cameron, who’d just directed Aliens. Glancing at the drawing, Cameron suggested that Winston add mandibles – hence the predator’s distinctive multi-jaw face, which in no way reminds me of a vagina.

Review: There’s a scene about halfway through where the characters know the predator is nearby so all fire their guns into the jungle. Despite a deafening hail of bullets, they hit nothing but foliage. Director John McTiernan has said that this was a joke on his part. A satire of brainless, gung-ho action films. The characters have all this hardware, he chuckles on the DVD commentary, yet are ultimately impotent. Well, he’s being extremely disingenuous. Earlier in the film, an attack on a terrorist compound is staged and shot like a music video. There’s a pornographic excitement about guns, bullets, deaths, muscle-bound men and explosions. The notion that any irony is on show is funny in itself. (Admittedly, the film does have some spoofy moments: surely it’s a joke when Dillon’s arm is ripped off but keeps firing the gun it’s holding.) The bad guys in that compound, by the way, are from some unspecified Central American country and are barely seen let alone fleshed out. They’re just A-Team villains, there to be killed by the untouchable heroes in slow motion. God, I sound like an old fart moaning about violence. I actually love action films and have no problem with violent stories. But there has to be more class to them than this. This movie doesn’t seem too concerned with plot or characterisation. The only woman in the story, for example, is an embarrassment. Anna Gonsalves has no dialogue in English until nearly an hour in, does nothing but provide exposition, then is absent from the climax. In its favour, the film can be seen as some kind of Apocalypse Now in reverse. The characters’ journey ‘upriver’ only takes up the first half-hour of the story – it’s then about them trying to escape. On that level, the story works well and is tense and exciting. It takes the predator a while to show up, but it’s clear he’s not just a mindless killer. For him, this is a game. The film then becomes obsessed with the rituals of hunting. The predator refuses to attack the unarmed Anna; Bill Duke’s Eliot superstitiously scrapes his bald head with a razor; Dutch has slashes of camouflage make-up that make him look like some kind of New Romantic tribal leader, then in the final act he improvises a series of traps. Not as smart as it thinks it is, but still enjoyable enough hokum.

Seven pussies out of 10

Next time: The predator takes LA…

Blackadder the Third (1987, Mandie Fletcher)

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Note: The on-screen title is actually styled Black Adder The Third.

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Regulars: The series is set in Regency London (more or less…) and Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is butler to the king’s eldest son. In other words, each time we move on in history, our lead character falls lower down the social pecking order. However, he’s still as manipulative, selfish and cruel as his 16th-century ancestor. And he still has a servant called Baldrick (Tony Robinson), whose first name might be Sod-off. The only other significant regular character is the empty-headed Regent, Prince George (Hugh Laurie) – in effect, he’s the result of combining Blackadder II’s fruit-loop Queen and simpleton Lord Percy into one character. The manageress of the local coffee shop, Mrs Miggins (Helen Atkinson-Wood), also appears in every episode but only in the final instalment does she get much to do.

Notable guests: Episode one – a vote-spoofing story that’s sometimes been repeated on the day of a UK General Election – has BBC political reporter Vincent Hanna playing a Regency equivalent of himself. Denis Lill, meanwhile, appears as an arrogant MP who dies while the Prince is talking to him, while Geoff McGiven is one of the election candidates: Ivor ‘Jest-ye-not-madam’ Biggun of the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party. Episode two has Robbie Coltrane as a theatrical Samuel Johnson. Also in that episode, Jim Sweeney, Lee Cornes and Steve Steen play poets Coleridge, Shelley and Byron. After series two, Tim McInnerny had dropped out of the show, but he guests here as episode three’s initially idiotic Lord Topper; Nigel Planer from The Young Ones plays his colleague, Lord Smedley. In the same story, a pre-Red Dwarf Chris Barrie is a sadistic French revolutionary. In episode four, Kenneth Connor and Hugh Paddick play lovey-dovey thespians David Keanrick and Enoch Mossop. Co-writer Ben Elton also has a cameo as an anarchist bomber. Blackadder II’s Miranda Richardson returns for a guest spot in episode five – one of her character’s two alter egos is written a bit Queen-like, so Richardson affects a high-pitched voice to mask the similarity – and Warren Clarke plays her father. And finally, another former regular, Stephen Fry, crops up in the final episode playing a bombastic Duke of Wellington.

Best gags:

Episode one: Dish and Dishonesty (17 September 1987). The new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, wants the Prince Regent to pull his weight – so Mr Blackadder comes up with a plan…
* Pitt the Younger looks about 14 and says he’s taken office during his exams.
* Sir Talbot Buxomly MP is, says Blackadder, in favour of “flogging servants, shooting peasants and extending slavery to anyone who doesn’t have a knighthood.”
* Blackadder: “I shall return before you can say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’.”
* The rotten borough where the by-election will be held, Dunny-on-the-Wold, is described as “half an acre of sodden marshland in the Suffolk Fens with an empty town hall on it. Population: three rather mangy cows, a Dachshund called Colin, and a small hen in its late 40s.”
* When the PM mentions his brother, Blackadder wonders if he’ll be Pitt the Toddler, Pitt the Embryo or Pitt The Glint in the Milkman’s Eye.
* “As a reward, Baldrick, take a short holiday. [Beat.] Did you enjoy it?”

Episode two: Ink and Incapability (24 September 1987). When Dr Samuel Johnson finishes his long-awaited first dictionary of the English language – after a decade of dedicated work – Baldrick accidentally burns the only copy and Blackadder has to write a new one overnight…
* Blackadder says the new dictionary is the most pointless book since How To Learn French was translated into French.
* Dr Johnson’s wordy, thesaurus-rich dialogue is a treat. For example, “I celebrated last night the encyclopaedic implementation of my premeditated orchestration of demotic Anglo-Saxon!”
* Dr Johnson says the dictionary has taken 10 years. Prince George: “Well, I‘m a slow reader myself.”
* Blackadder amuses himself by making up new words while talking to a flustered Dr Johnson – contrafibblarities, anaspeptic, phrasmotic, pericombobulation, interphrastically, pendigestatery, interludicle, velocitious and extramurialisation.
* Baldrick burns the dictionary – ie, the big papery thing tied up with string.
* The Prince says he’s as happy as a Frenchman who’s just invented self-removing trousers.
* Baldrick is ordered to steal a new copy of the dictionary. He fears he’ll go to hell if he steals. So Blackadder threatens him: “Eternity in the company of Beelzebub and all his hellish instruments of death will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me and this pencil.”
* George and Baldrick’s attempts to help write a new dictionary. The latter’s definition of ‘dog’ is ‘not a cat’.
* Blackadder’s dream sequence: “Baldrick, who gave you permission to turn into an Alsatian?”
* Prince George gets hold of the dictionary – which wasn’t actually burnt after all – and underlines all the rude words.

Episode three: Nob and Nobility (1 October 1987). With everyone swept up in Scarlet Pimpernel fever, Blackadder says he’ll go to France himself and snatch an aristo…
* Mrs Miggins says, “Bonjour, monsieur,” so Blackadder asks her what she’s on about. “It’s French.” “So’s eating frogs, cruelty to geese, and urinating in the street.”
* Blackadder kicks the cat in anger, then explains the hierarchy as the cat pounces on the mouse and the mouse bites Baldrick on the behind.
* In the throws of his French obsession, Prince George calls his servant ‘le Adder Noir’.
* To get out of accompanying Blackadder on a daring raid to France, Lord Topper says, “I’ve just remembered, my father’s just died!”
* Blackadder describes Baldrick’s outfit as if he were a fashion model: “Baldrick is wearing a sheep’s-bladder jacket with matching dung-ball accessories. Hair by Crazy Meg of Bedlam. Notice how the overpowering aroma of rotting pilchards has been woven cunningly into the ensemble…”
* “Baldrick, when did you last change your trousers?” Defiantly: “I have never changed my trousers.”
* After an emotional farewell with his master, Blackadder doesn’t go to France – but rather hides in the kitchen for a week.
* The Prince spends a whole week trying to put his trousers on unaided.
* Blackadder says the Scarlet Pimpernel is the most overrated human being since Judas Iscariot won the AD 31 Best Disciple competition.
* Having unknowingly taken a suicide pill, Smedley explains its sequential effects – depression, anger, forgetfulness, jumping into a corner, and death – while he’s experiencing them.
* In his invented story about his fictional trip to France, Blackadder claims he has hung from the wall of the Bastille by the larger of his testicles.
* Topper goes to punch Baldrick, but Tim McInnerny so obviously misses that a whooshing sound effect has been dubbed over the action.

Episode four: Sense and Senility (8 October 1987). To improve his standing with the public, Prince George hires two actors to help rehearse a speech…
* Prince George shouts down the stairs to the servants’ quarters, saying he wants to leave. “Coming, sir!” replies Blackadder. “Fast as I can!” He then asks Baldrick to stick the kettle on.
* Prince George visits the theatre and thinks the on-stage antics are real.
* After an anarchist throws a bomb into the royal box, George assumes he was trying to kill Blackadder.
* When he spots the actors in Mrs Miggins’s coffee shop, Blackadder sarcastically mimes having to fight his way through the non-existant crowd of admirers.
* When told that Caesar in Julies Caesar was played by an actor, Prince George reckons that Brutus will be miffed when he finds out he killed the wrong man.
* Simply to irritate the superstitious actors, Blackadder deliberately says “Macbeth” six times in just over a minute (and three more times before the episode’s over), meaning they have to perform a silly ritualistic dance.
* Blackadder bemoans the fact he always wins the Who’s Got the Stupidest Master prize at the Butlers Guild’s Christmas party.
* Prince George’s attempts at a speech: a wild and loud roar followed immediately by a deadpan, dry delivery of the text.
* When Blackadder leaves in a huff, having quit, Baldrick calls after him without malice, “Goodbye, you lazy, big-nosed, rubber-faced bastard!”

Episode five: Amy and Amiability (15 October 1987). Prince George is stoney broke, so decides to marry for cash – meanwhile, a highwayman called the Shadow is terrorising and thrilling the population of London…
* Blackadder says he feels like a pelican: “Whichever way I turn, I’ve still got an enormous bill in front of me.”
* Blackadder tells Prince George he’s as “poor as a church mouse that’s just had an enormous tax bill on the very day his wife ran off with all the cheese.”
* When Blackadder suggests the Prince marry for money, George says, “Marry? Never! I’m a gay bachelor, Blackadder. I’m a roarer, a rogerer, a gorger and a puker.”
* Searching for potential brides for Prince George, Blackadder finds 262 princesses in Europe: 165 are over 80, 47 are under 10, and 39 are so mad they all married the same horse last week.
* “There’s no need to hammer it home.”
* Prince George dictates a letter to be sent to his intended bride: “Tally-ho, my fine, saucy, young trollop! Your luck’s in! Trip along here with all your cash, and some naught night attire, and you’ll be staring at my bedroom ceiling from now till Christmas, you lucky tart! Yours with the deepest respect, etc, signed George. PS: Woof-woof!” Blackadder asks if he can change one detail: the words.
* When Blackadder meets Amy Hardwick and her father, he says to Mr Hardwick: “I can see where your daughter gets her ready wit. Though, where she gets her good looks and charm is perhaps more of a mystery.”* Blackadder’s wooing advice for Prince George: “Poetry first, sausage later.”
* Blackadder tells Baldrick to hire a horse. “Hire you a horse?” he replies. “For ninepence? On Jewish New Year in the rain? A bare fortnight after the dreaded horse plague of Old London Town? With the blacksmiths’ strike in its 15th week and the Dorset Horse Fetishists Fair tomorrow?” (It’s basically an ornate gag to explain why we never see a horse on screen.)
* When Blackadder decides to flee the country, he says he’ll send for Baldrick once he’s settled in Barbados. “You’ll stand out as an individual. All the other slaves will be black.”

Episode six: Duel and Duality (22 October 1987). Blackadder’s cousin, the Scot McAdder, shows up in London – at the same time that Prince George angers the Duke of Wellington…
* Baldrick applied to be a village idiot and got down to the final two, but he lost out to the other candidate by showing up for the interview.
* “We’re about as similar as two completely dissimilar things in a pod.”
* Blackadder says his cousin, McAdder, is as mad as Mad Jack McMad, the winner of last year’s Madman Competition.
* Prince George has slept with Arthur Wellesley’s two nieces. “I spent a night of ecstasy with a pair of Wellingtons and I loved it!”
* Baldrick’s cousin Bert has told him that “all portraits look the same these days, ’cause they’re painted to a romantic ideal rather than as a true depiction of the idiosyncratic facial qualities of the person in question.” Blackadder suggests that Bert has a better vocabulary than Baldrick.
* Angry with Baldrick, Blackadder threatens to cut him into long strips and then tell the prince he walked across a very sharp cattle-grid while wearing an extremely heavy hat.
* In order to trick Wellington, the Prince and Blackadder swap clothes and pretend to be each other. Baldrick is confused, while Wellington repeatedly physically attacks who he thinks is a servant. (Fry really goes for comedy partner Laurie!)
* Wellington’s official report on the war in Spain: “We won.”
* Mrs Miggins gleefully slags off the Prince, who’s eavesdropping on her, but Baldrick knows he’s there. “I think it must be next door you’re wanting,” he says loudly, “strange woman whom I’ve never seen before, Mrs Miggins!”
* Blackadder offers McAdder enough cash to buy the Outer Hebrides: 14 shillings and sixpence.
* When told that his duel with Wellington will be with cannon, Blackadder has to read the instruction book.

Best episode: Ink and Incapability. Not only does it have an entertaining plot, but the whole script sings with the comic potential of the English language.

Cunning: In Dish and Dishonesty, Blackadder has a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel. The following week, Baldrick says he has a cunning plan. But before he can explain, Blackadder says he reckons it’ll be the stupidest thing he’s heard since Lord Nelson’s famous signal at the Battle of the Nile: “England knows Lady Hamilton’s a virgin. Poke my eye out and cut off my arm if I’m wrong.” (Baldrick’s idea? Write an entire dictionary overnight.) In episode three, when Baldrick proudly claims Blackadder won’t need his suicide pill, Blackadder says, “Am I jumping the gun, Baldrick, or are the words ‘I have a cunning plan’ marching with ill-deserved confidence in the direction of this conversation?” (His plan is to do nothing until they’ve been executed; then they can escape.) In episode five, Baldrick comes up with a cunning plan to solve Blackadder’s financial problems: become a dashing highwayman. And in the final episode, Baldrick says he has a cunning plan to get Prince George out of his feud with Wellington: get someone else to fight him in a duel. After tweaking the plan, Blackadder also refers to it as cunning, as does McAdder.

History: The series plays fast and loose with real chronology, throwing in people and events from a half-century spread. This allows it to make comedic hay with, for example, both Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (published 1755) and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Historical figures who actually appear include writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), George III (1738-1820), Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), soldier-cum-statesman Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Lord Byron (1788-1824) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), and of course the Regent, Prince George, who later became King George IV (1762-1830). Real-life figures who get mentioned include outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734), PM William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), biographer James Boswell (1740-1795), playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), naval genius Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and mistress Emma Hamilton (1765-1815), French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859), fashion leader Beau Brummel (1778-1840) and inventor George Stephenson (1781-1848). Episode three’s conceit is that Emma Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel character (from a 1905 stage play) really existed. Episode five is spoofing robbers such as Dick Turpin (1705-1739), and also uses a devise from Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. Every episode is titled in the alliterative style of Jane Austen’s first two novels, Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813).

The Cavalier Years: On 5 February 1988, Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day telethon featured a 15-minute Blackadder special. Set during the English Civil War (specifically November 1648 and January 1649), it features Rowan Atkinson as royalist Sir Edmund Blackadder; Tony Robinson as his servant, Baldrick; Warren Clarke as Oliver Cromwell; and Stephen Fry as a very modern-Prince-Charles-like King Charles I. The studio set used for Sir Edmund’s house was the (redressed) kitchen from Blackadder the Third. At one point, Baldrick says he has a cunning plan to save the King. It involves His Majesty wearing a fake head (a pumpkin with a face drawn on it) for his execution. When Baldrick admits the rouse is not one-hundred-per-cent convincing, Blackadder says “It’s not *one*-per-cent convincing!”

Review: After the success of series two, it was a brave move to abandon a successful setting and shift forward to a new era. And the group of characters has been notably reduced. Ignoring Mrs Miggins – which is more or less what the writers do! – the regular cast has gone from six people to three. Thankfully, the comedy has not suffered. Not only are there a succession of great guest appearances but also new regular Hugh Laurie is *fantastic* as the naive and dim Prince. Meanwhile, the simile count in the dialogue has skyrocketed. And there’s a number of postmodern gags about this being a sitcom: some footage is played in reverse to get a laugh, while Blackadder mentions the ‘unconvincing grassy knoll’ of an exterior-done-indoors set and fantasises about the future, when episodes of his life will be acted out at 9.30 by some heroic actor of the age. Terrific stuff.

Eight hot, orangey things under the stony mantelpiece out of 10

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987, Howard Deutch)

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Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Teenager Keith Nelson wants to go out with a girl called Amanda, but doesn’t know that his best friend is in love with him…

Kids:

* Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) is a tomboy who loves drumming. John Hughes named the character after drummer Charlie Watts – Rolling Stones reference #1. The best friend of lead character Keith, she’s the Duckie in this rehash of Pretty in Pink’s storyline. And like Duckie, the fact she’s in love with her BFF is obvious to everyone but the friend. So Watts is hurt when Keith develops an obsession with a girl called Amanda. However, when he gets a date, Watts puts her feelings to one side and helps him out. She gives him kissing practise, then acts as a chauffeur for the big night, but she finds it all very difficult. Thankfully for her – rather conveniently for the story – Keith then realises he’s in love with her. That’s nice, isn’t it?

* Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) is a working-class kid who has a part-time job as a mechanic. John Hughes named the character after guitarist Keith Richards – Rolling Stones reference #2. We first see him walking towards an oncoming train: like Pretty in Pink’s Andie living on the wrong side of the tracks, it’s one of director Howard Deutch’s more on-the-nose moments. Keith’s dad is pressuring him to make a decision about which college he wants to go to, but he’s more interested in painting than academia. He also fancies a student called Amanda. So when she’s given detention for skipping school, he deliberately gets one too in order to spend time with her. Sadly for him, she gets out of it – but while there he makes a new friend when he bonds with troubled bully Duncan. Keith later asks Amanda out and she says yes. But then her twatty ex, Hardy, comes to him and, pretending to be magnanimous, invites Keith and Amanda to a house party. It’s actually a rouse, as Keith later finds out: the plan is to get Keith to the party and beat him up. But Keith chooses to go anyway (“I want to stand up to him!”). On date night, he takes Amanda to a posh restaurant, then an art museum (where’s he hung a painting of her – sweet or creepy?), then an empty outdoor auditorium. At the latter, he tells her he knows the night is a set-up. But she reveals that her feelings are genuine and they kiss. They then go to the party, where Hardy is openly nasty (“Did she do you?”). Keith attacks him, so Hardy orders his hangers-on to take Keith outside. When Amanda intercedes, Hardy says he’ll let Keith off if Amanda literally begs him for forgiveness… But then Duncan and his punky friends show up, and Hardy’s hard-on goes limp. “I’m here to wipe the floor with your ass,” says Duncan. “I know it and you know it.” Keith and Amanda leave the party, and Keith – for… some… reason – has an epiphany and realises it’s actually Watts he wants to be with. Amanda doesn’t seem to mind. He chases after his best friend and they kiss…

* Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) is the most beautiful girl at the school, which doesn’t seem to be the same Shermer High as earlier films. John Hughes named the character after the song Miss Amanda Jones – Rolling Stones reference #3. (It’s an album track on 1967’s Between the Buttons.) She oozes sex. The word cute could have been coined for her. When she’s given detention for skipping school, she bamboozles balding, middle-aged teacher Mr Saunders with her inner Lolita and flirts her way out of it. We later see her in the locker room – and both Watts and the camera are stunned by how good she looks. When Keith asks her out, she’s just dumped cheating boyfriend Hardy so says yes. She genuinely likes Keith, even though he comes to think she’s conning him… Molly Ringwald turned the role down, wanting to spread her wings from her mentor’s movies. John Hughes responded by never speaking to her again. At first, Lea Thompson also passed on the role, but then her latest film – misunderstood masterpiece Howard the Duck – stunk up the box office, so she thought again. Her involvement created something of an oddity for the characters of Amanda and Keith: two years earlier, Thompson and Eric Stoltz had been cast as mother and son in Back to the Future. During filming, Thompson started going out with the director, Howard Deutch. They later married and are still together.

* Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) is Amanda’s boyfriend and is a total sleazeball. He essentially replaces James Spader in the Pretty in Pink formula.

* Cindy Nelson (Candace Cameron) is Keith’s youngest sister. She’s wise before her years, kinda like Sam Baker’s smartass brother in Sixteen Candles.

* Laura Nelson (Maddie Corman), Keith’s other sibling, has a rough-and-tumble rivalry with her brother. But when she overhears Hardy revealing his plan to beat up Keith, she’s worried and quickly tells him.

* Duncan (Elias Koteas) is a school thug: a skinhead with a leather jacket, who smokes and is rude to authority figures. We first see him taunting Watts for her androgynous appearance and squaring up to Keith. However, he and Keith later end up in the same detention and form a friendship by showing each other the doodles they’re sketching. (Keith’s are on paper. Duncan’s are carved into the desk.) On the night of Keith’s date, Duncan and his pals help out by arranging for the couple to have after-hours access to both an art gallery and the Hollywood Bowl. It’s as contrived as anything – and you see it coming a mile off – but it’s still a punch-the-air moment when Duncan shows up at the party to support his new friend. Koteas later played Casey Jones in two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films.

* Amanda has a couple of richie friends (Laura Leigh Hughes and Molly Hagan). We soon learn that, unlike them, Amanda doesn’t come from money. The girls have deigned to allow Amanda into their clique because she was dating Hardy, and they drop her when she agrees to go out with Keith.

* Ray (Scott Coffey) is a dopey lad who fancies Watts. She uses him to try (unsuccessfully) to make Keith jealous.

Adults:

* Carol Nelson (Jane Elliot) is Keith’s mum.

* Cliff Nelson (John Ashton), Keith’s father, is eager for his son to go to college. If he’d gone, he says, he wouldn’t be selling tyres six days a week. When Keith keeps evading the discussion, Cliff even goes to the school to talk to the careers counsellor himself. He then blows a gasket when he find out Keith has spent his college fund on earrings for Amanda, but Keith wins him round by saying he has to live his own life.

* The gym teacher who gives Amanda detention – and later throws Hardy out of the girls’ changing room – is played by Lee Garlington (the waitress in the Seinfeld pilot, Elena Rhyzkov in Sneakers, the woman who has an affair with Joey’s dad in Friends, Xander’s mum in Buffy, Toby’s lawyer in The West Wing, and many, many other roles).

* There are some guys who have a game of cards with Watts in a car park. One of them is played by Jonathan Schmock (the maitre d’ from Ferris Bueller) and in the same scene Watts quotes The Breakfast Club (“Mess with the bull, you get the horns!”).

Music: The opening titles play under a driving bit of incidental music, which Watts appears to be drumming along with. Some later score sounds like proto Stone Roses, so melodic is the bassline. Watts goes to a nightclub, where a band is playing on stage. The track Miss Amanda Jones is used for a montage of the main characters getting ready for the night of the party; a cover by The March Violets is also heard. An insipid version of Can’t Help Falling in Love With You by Lick the Tins is played over the end credits.

Beatles references: None. The Stones win this one.

Review: “Then I’m 19, then I’m 20. When does my life belong to me?” A remake of Pretty in Pink, with the gender roles reversed and the original pick-the-best-friend ending restored. Sadly, it falls flat on its po-faced face. It’s just not as funny as the earlier John Hughes scripts – or as touching, or as moving, or as exciting, or as engaging. The film has considerably less zip too, thanks to Howard Deutch’s meat-and-potatoes direction. It’s not without merit. The female characters are generally interesting and well played, especially Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts. But it fades from the memory very quickly.

Six hen houses out of 10

Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

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Title: A reference to what is now called HM Prison Manchester. By the time the album was released in September 1987, the group had actually broken up – prompted by Johnny Marr’s decision to quit.

Cover: A poor-quality image of actor Richard Davalos taken from 1955 movie East of Eden – he’s looking at an out-of-shot James Dean. Morrissey originally wanted Harvey Keitel as the cover star but the actor refused to give his permission.

Best song: Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is a fucking epic. It has a lengthy prologue of moody piano and sound effects of a baying crowd. Then when the track explodes into life at the 1.53 mark, it’s a glorious switch to blockbusting widescreen. Majestic, theatrical, histrionic, bold, *beautiful*.

Honourable mentions:

* A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours has a pleasant rolling rhythm with some off-beat keyboard accents. No guitars at all appear on the track – a deliberate move on Marr’s part, given that the group were famed as a guitar band. Its title is a reference to 19th-century Irish nationalism.

* I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish is joyous. It has a stop-start guitar intro, then bursts forth with a catchy and likeable melody. And it’s a full sound of heavy guitar slashes, saxophone blasts created on a synth, and a relentless big snare-drum sound. Morrissey didn’t like the song but nevertheless has great fun with the vocals, even growling the words at times. The lyrics are about making an ill-judged pass on a platonic friend – whether the resulting “18 months hard labour” is meant to be literal or psychological is open to debate.

* Death of a Disco Dancer has a mesmeric cyclical chord sequence driven by a solemn bassline. Marr based it on the Beatles’ Dear Prudence. About halfway through, the song kicks into an even more intense gear – Andy Rourke’s bass jumps up an octave, Marr goes mental on the guitar, Mike Joyce cracks off some drum fills, and Morrissey rather haphazardly bashes at a piano (his only musical contribution to a Smiths song). It’s a genuine disappointment when it ends.

* Girlfriend in a Coma is another hit-and-run track (it’s only just over two minutes). After a seesawing bass intro, it’s superficially similar to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle but is a more upbeat piece of music. Reportedly Marr was so against this being a single that its release contributed to his decision to quit the band. (It got to number 13: not bad for a ditty with such bleak lyrics.) Douglas Coupland, who coined the term ‘Generation X’, later named a novel after this song.

* Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before – Morrissey was enjoying wordy song titles in 1987! – was meant to be the album’s lead single. A music video was even made. However, the line “the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder” meant the BBC refused to play it in the aftermath of the Hungerford shootings. So the 7” was scrapped. The song is terrific.

* Unhappy Birthday pairs a nasty, spiteful lyric with an upbeat tune. It works. Who wouldn’t be charmed by the way Morrissey’s vocal comes in a beat before the music at 1.59?

* Paint a Vulgar Picture is a witty satire of the record industry. It bangs on a bit, though.

* I Won’t Share You was the last track recorded for the album and coincidentally its moody finale. The chords are actually the same as 1986 single Ask, but the tranquil, plaintive mood of the song disguises the similarity. Marr plays an autoharp (a stringed instrument with dampers that mute all the strings not being used); Andy Rourke adds a simple bassline, while Mike Joyce doesn’t feature on the recording at all. Despite the use of the word ‘she’, the lyrics have been interpreted by most as being an open letter from Morrissey to Marr as their creative partnership teetered on the brink.

Worst song: Death At One’s Elbow is going for a 1950s, skiffle vibe. But it’s quite annoying.

Review: Sheen. That’s the word for it. The whole album sounds *superb* – clean, professional, summery and breezy at times, dark and mysterious when necessary. But Paint a Vulgar Picture’s prolixity and Death At One Elbow’s dullness mean it doesn’t quite get a maximum score.

Nine sycophantic slags out of 10.

The World Won’t Listen (1987)

…including a section on Louder Than Bombs (1987)

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Title: The World Won’t Listen’s title is another complaint from Morrissey that the band weren’t getting enough – or the right kind of – attention. This album is a kind of sequel to Hatful of Hollow, mopping up recent non-album singles and B-sides. I’ll restrict myself to discussion of songs not available on albums I’ve already reviewed.

Cover: A photograph by Jürgen Vollmer, a German art student who met the Beatles in the early 60s and took some now-famous pictures of them. Cassette and CD versions crop the original image significantly.

Best song:

* Rubber Ring was a B-side to The Boy With The Thorn in His Side. It begins with a jazzy bass lick, then settles into a vaguely reggae rhythm. The track is soulful and mysterious and enigmatic. An ode to the power of music, the lyrics are really well sung by Morrissey. The song also uses some samples: a snatch of John Gielgud from a 1969 audio recording of The Importance of Being Earnest (“Everybody’s clever nowadays…”), and a 1971 clip of a woman claiming to be reciting messages from the dead (”You are sleeping! You do not want to believe!”). On the 12”, the track cutely segued into fellow B-side Asleep – sadly, although both tracks appear on this album, they’ve been sequenced separately.

Honourable mentions:

* Panic (a single in July 1986) was the first Smiths recording with new fifth member Craig Gannon. He’d been hired to replace bassist Andy Rourke due to the latter’s drug habit; when Rourke was reinstated, Gannon moved to second guitarist but only lasted a few months. A short and punchy guitar song, Panic has lyrics attacking modern music. The refrain “Hang the DJ!” was – maybe apocryphally – inspired by Radio 1’s Steve Wright following a news report about the Chernobyl disaster with Wham!’s upbeat I’m Your Man. Anyone criticising Steve Wright is going to be in my good books.

* Ask was released as an A-side in October 1986, though this version is a slight remix. It’s based on a chord sequence allegedly cooked up by Gannon, who to his chagrin wasn’t credited. Lightweight but likeable.

* London, a B-side on the 12” of Shoplifters of the World Unite, has a terrific urgency about it. The incessant drums dramatise the lyric’s story about a journey to Euston, echoing a train’s buffeting rhythm. An almost punk guitar drives the track along, while the bassline chugs away brilliantly. With 40 seconds to go, the song switches mood and we get arpeggio guitar and madcap drumming.

* Shakespeare’s Sister was single flop in March 1985 (if number 26 can be considered a flop, which a lot of people did at the time). Another Smiths song about suicide, its title alludes to Virginia Woolf’s feminist argument that if Shakespeare had had a talented sister she would never have been given equal credit. It’s maybe an interesting song rather than a purely entertaining one. It’s only 128 seconds, but fits a lot in: a fun intro, changes of rhythm, and more action-packed drumming.

* Shoplifters of the World Unite had been a single in January 1987. It was recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, which the Beatles used in 1968 and which is only a two-minute walk from my office. Obviously punning on Karl Marx, its lyrics are said to be about Morrissey’s habit of cribbing material from other sources. The track has a surprising switch to rock at the 1.41 mark, when Johnny Marr cranks open a very 1980s-sounding guitar solo, his first true solo on a Smiths record.

* Money Changes Everything was only on cassette versions of this album at the time (and then subsequent CD reissues). It had been the B-side to Bigmouth Strikes Again and is a rare Smiths instrumental. Inconsequential fun, the track was later given lyrics and renamed The Right Stuff by Bryan Ferry. Marr himself played on the resulting travesty.

* Half a Person was Shoplifters’ B-side and is thoroughly gorgeous. Full of linguistic oddities, the words swim their way through some delightfully arranged music. A joy.

* Stretch Out and Wait had been a B-side on the Shakespeare’s Sister 12”, but this a slightly different version with some added sound effects. It has a great acoustic feel – check out the soft rattles of snare drum! – while a lyric celebrating sex is not something you hear often in the Smiths’ discography.

* Oscillate Wildly, the band’s first instrumental, had been a B-side to How Soon Is Now? in January 1985. Morrissey seems to have been happy not to feature (though he still insisted a co-writer’s credit). Built around a piano phrase, the track also uses a cello part played by Andy Rourke and some fake woodwind instruments. It’s rather magnificent.

* You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby was recorded in October 1986 as a potential single. But it was shelved in favour of Shoplifters, so is the only exclusive track on this compilation. It’s a jingle-jangle-tastic pop song with a catchy chorus.

Worst song: Golden Lights was originally a B-side to Ask, then added as a bonus track to CD reissues of this album. It’s absolutely *ghastly*.

Review: There’s loads of great stuff here, though obviously most of it would have been familiar to fans at the time.

Eight provincial towns you jog round out of 10.

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Louder Than Bombs: A few weeks after the release of The World Won’t Listen, US label Sire brought out Louder Than Bombs. This American compilation more or less merged The World Won’t Listen with the earlier Hatful of Hollow, but because it also contained three tracks not on any other LP it was soon available in the UK too. Its title is a quotation from Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, a favourite prose poem of Morrissey’s. The cover is an image of Shelagh Delaney, the writer of A Taste of Honey and one of Mozzer’s heroines. The songs not available on previous albums are…

* Is It Really So Strange? (a B-side on Sheila Take a Bow) is from a December 1986 BBC radio session. An earlier attempt to record it had disappointed the group. It’s a decent track, though perhaps a strange choice for the opener to Louder Than Bombs. Morrissey’s lyrics are funny: “I got confused, I killed a horse/I can’t help the way I feel.”

* Sheila Take A Bow, released as a single in April 1987, is sadly one of the band’s poorest A-sides.

* Sweet and Tender Hooligans, a B-side on Sheila’s 12”, is a blistering burst of guitar rock. A return to the brutal attacking style of Handsome Devil, the song starts with a cunning bit of stereo mixing as the guitar riff flits around the channels. Like Is It Really So Strange?, this version was recorded for the BBC.

* The edit of You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby is a different mix.

* Stretch Out and Wait is the original B-side cut, which has slightly different lyrics.

Spaceballs (1987, Mel Brooks)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In this spoof of the Star Wars movies, the president of the planet Spaceball plans to steal the clean, fresh atmosphere from their neighbours on Druidia. In order to extort the king, Spaceball military leader Dark Helmet is sent to kidnap Princess Vespa…

WHICH VERSION? The cut released in cinemas in 1987 and on DVD in 2004.

GOOD GUYS

* Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) is the film’s Princess Leia equivalent. She’s a spoilt brat of a young woman with a flash sports spaceship. In the opening scene, she’s being married off to a dull, yawning prince called Valium, so does a runner. After meeting up with the roguish Captain Lone Starr, the pair bicker in a we-clearly-fancy-each-other way.

* Dot Matrix (body: Lorene Yarnell, voice: Joan Rivers) is the C-3PO of this story – a female, gold android with a droll sense of humour.

* Barf (John Candy) fulfils Chewbacca’s function as the hero’s co-pilot. He’s a ‘mawg’ – half man, half dog, who is his own best friend – and has a big appetite. He and Lone Starr travel round the galaxy in Eagle 5, a Winnebago motorhome with wings.

* Captain Lone Starr (Bill Pulman… or is it Bill Paxton? Jeff Bridges?) has a combination of Luke Skywalker’s destiny-driven purity and Han Solo’s edgy anti-hero charisma. Hired by Druidia’s King Roland to save Princess Vespa from the Spaceballs, Lone Starr tracks her down and rescues her – but they then crash-land on an unnamed desert planet (not unlike Tatooine). There, some cloaked midgets (not unlike the Jawas) take our characters to an underground temple where they meet a guru called Yogurt (not unlike Yoda). Later, Lone Starr confronts the bad guy Dark Helmet, who reveals that they have a familial connection: he’s Lone Starr’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.

* Yogurt (Mel Brooks, in one of two roles he plays in this film) is, as mentioned, the film’s version of Yoda. A short, green alien played by Brooks on his knees like someone doing a Toulouse-Lautrec impression, Yogurt teaches Lone Starr in the ways of the Schwarz (a mystical energy field not unlike the Force). He’s also managing a range of Spaceballs: The Movie merchandising. When Lone Starr leaves the temple, Yogurt hopes they’ll meet again… in Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money.

* John Hurt shows up in a scene at a space diner and comically recreates the iconic chestburster moment from Alien. “Oh, no,” he says mid-birth, “not again!” (I never spotted this when I was a kid, but the people he’s with are specifically cast and costumed to resemble Kane’s crewmembers in Alien.)

BAD GUYS

* Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) is one of the Spaceballs military officers, usually seen at Dark Helmet’s side. His name has seemingly been chosen solely so there’s an extra laugh when Dark Helmet accuses him of being ‘chicken’.

* Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) is obviously the Darth Vader of the story, though a lot shorter than his inspiration. And clumsier. He has an enormous helmet with a retractable visor (when it’s down he sometimes struggles to breathe). He enjoys playing with his Spaceballs action figures.

* Pizza the Hut (voice: Dom DeLuise) is a large sentient mass of cheese, tomato and bread. Like Return of the Jedi’s Jabba the Hutt, he’s a gangster who wants some money from the scoundrel in the cast. He has a robotic Mafia-like sidekick called Vinnie.

* President Skroob (Mel Brooks again) is the leader of Spaceball City. He’s a man of no principles – a smarmy 1980s businessman of a character. He likes sniffing air from cans of ‘Perri-air’ and having threesomes with twins. (Skroob in an anagram of the actor’s surname, of course. Well, I say ‘of course’. I’ve only just spotted it. And I first saw this film 27 years ago.)

* Michael Winslow has been brought over from the Police Academy series to do exactly the same kind of vocal-gymnastics jokes he was doing there. He cameos as a radar technician.

* Gretchin (Brenda Strong, who was later in Seinfeld, Sports Night and Desperate Housewives) is a sexy nurse in a scene where the Spaceballs threaten to reverse Princess Vespa’s nose job.

* The captain of the guard (Stephen Tobolowsky) is very smug when he thinks he’s captured Lone Starr, Barf, Vespa and Dot Matrix. When they turn to face him, however, he realises he’s actually imprisoned the characters’ stunt doubles.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: During Lone Starr and Dark Helmet’s duel (using beams of energy not unlike lightsabres), Dark Helmet accidentally kills the movie’s boom operator.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Another, more inventive, fourth-wall-breaking gag is when Colonel Sandurz suggests they watch a VHS copy of Spaceballs: The Movie in order to find out where the missing Vespa has gone. As indicated above, the film is littered with self-aware references to it being a work of fiction.

MUSIC: The score is by John Morris and is pretty good.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I saw this film a silly amount of times as a child, but this was my first viewing in God knows how long. A lot of it was still familiar to me.

REVIEW: The Star Wars-spoofing elements are all obvious but generally funny – the wordy crawl of text that starts the film, the ridiculously enormous spaceship seen in the opening shot, the character types and mysticism… But it also pokes fun at Star Trek a few times; has a completely delete-able scene taking off Alien; and also has a Planet of the Apes gag. There are a lot of jokes and they come at a relentless pace – and most are successful enough for the film to gallop along enjoyably. Whether it’s characters being laughably earnest or making intertextual asides, it’s all great fun.

Eight virgin alarms out of 10

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, Sidney J Furie)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Lex Luthor creates a henchman called Nuclear Man – but can he defeat Superman?

Good guys: A final appearance as Clark Kent/Superman from Christopher Reeve. Despite this film’s phenomenal and fundamental failings – some of which must be laid at his door because he has a ‘Story by’ credit and was a de facto producer – he’s been superb. The best ever actor in the role, I’d say. At the story’s start, in a subplot that doesn’t go anywhere, Clark is selling the farm he grew up on but is wary of property developers (“We don’t need another shopping centre…”). When an earnest schoolboy who clearly needs to find a hobby asks Superman to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the Man of Steel feels guilt-tripped into doing it. His decision comes after an atrociously realised scene in which Clark jumps off a balcony while holding onto Lois Lane’s hand, then switches to Superman on the way down. It seems that putting her in fear of her life is preferable to just telling her his secret. He then collects all the nuclear weapons in the world (no, really) and puts them in a huge sack in space (I’m not making this up) and flings it into the sun. When Nuclear Man appears on the scene, Superman comes off second-best in their first fight and begins to artificially age. But after he fiddles with the last remaining Kryptonian crystal, he feels okay – so heads off to defeat his new enemy. Lois, meanwhile, is learning French for some reason so drops bits of the language into her dialogue. She’s on a subway train – clearly filmed on the London Underground! – when the driver has a heart attack and Superman has to save everyone. She learns Clark’s secret identity (again), but then forgets it after a kiss (again). Sadly, Margot Kidder is pretty poor. For whatever reason, she lacks the zip and confidence from the first couple of movies.

Bad guys: Gene Hackman is back as Lex Luthor, who’s in prison as we begin (he’s been given hard labour, it seems). After he escapes, he plots to clone his own version of Superman; after that plan fails, he ends up back in the same prison camp. Otis and Miss Teschmacher have vanished from his life, so as a sidekick Lex has roped in his nephew, Lenny. Jon Cryer (terrific as Duckie in Pretty in Pink, a bit annoying here) does what he can – loud outfit, crazy haircut, flash car, surfer-dude drawl – but the character doesn’t make much impact. Nuclear Man himself is played by Mark Pillow, though Hackman dubbed the dialogue (for some reason). According to one of the film’s writers, the original intention was for Reeve to double up to play Nuclear Man. That would have been more interesting, though maybe there was a worry of echoing the Clark vs Superman fight from the previous film.

Other guys: Back from earlier films are: Jackie Cooper as Perry White, who’s so annoyed by what’s happening to the Daily Planet that he organises a bank loan to buy a controlling stake in it; Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen, who stands around doing nothing in three scenes; and Susannah York in a voice-only cameo as Superman’s mum. Sam Wanamaker plays David Warfield, a tabloid tycoon who’s bought the Daily Planet and is, I guess, a parody of Rupert Murdoch. His daughter, Lacy (Mariel Hemingway), has big glasses, big shoulder pads and a big crush on Clark Kent. She isn’t the soulless business-bitch you first assume her to be and is one of the film’s few successes.

Best bits:

* Well, it’s not the tacky, cheap opening credits. (Tempting though it is to actually list all the film’s Worst Bits, I’ll stay positive from now on…)

* Clark returns to Smallville and the farm seen in film one. It’s a decent match, especially when you consider that Superman: The Movie filmed in Canada and Superman IV filmed in Hertfordshire.

* Clark hits a baseball into space.

* Lex refers to Lenny as the Dutch elm disease of his family tree.

* Lacy’s mock-up for a new-style Daily Planet: red logo, sensationalist headline, saucy photograph. It’s The Sun, basically.

* Lacy, casually: “All men like me. I’m very, very rich!”

* Oh, look: it’s Robert Beatty as the US President.

* Lacy reclines on her desk in an unsubtle attempt to flirt with Clark.

* Oh, look: it’s Porkins from Star Wars, Howard from Ever Decreasing Circles and Roy Slater from Only Fools and Horses as a trio of arms dealers.

* Clark at the gym, acting like a doofus.

* The six-minute sequence where Lois and Lacy go on a double date with Clark and Superman – so, of course, he has to keep finding excuses to leave and then come back in as the other persona. It’s good fun, but could do with being directed more briskly.

* Lex’s penthouse has some gorgeous Art Deco furnishings.

* Oh, look: in the deleted scenes available on the DVD, Clive Mantle from Casualty plays a prototype version of Nuclear Man (a character entirely cut from the film). I worked with Mantle once. Nice guy. We discussed talking books and agreed that people who buy the abridged versions are pussies.

Review: Abysmal. Boring. Cut-price. Depressing. Empty. Flawed. Gaudy. Hapless. Inept. Jumbled. Klutzy. Lobotomised. Moribund. Nasty. Odd. Perfunctory. Quizotic. Rubbish. Sloppy. Tatty. Useless. Vulgar. Witless. UneXciting. Yawnsome. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I couldn’t improve on this assessment from Screen Junkies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWNqbqcV4dU

Two strands of Superman’s hair out of 10.

Next time: Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Raising Arizona (1987)

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Written by Ethan and Joel; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan

Recidivist H.I. and policewoman Ed get married and want a baby, but she’s infertile so they decide to steal one…

Seen before? I honestly don’t know. I either saw it as a child, soon after it came out, or just sitting through the trailer 700 times on various VHS rentals has tricked my brain into thinking I watching the whole film.

Best performance: Holly Hunter as Ed, the smarter but even more deranged half of the couple.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): Holly Hunter (2). Frances McDormand (2) is unrecognisable from her role in Blood Simple, here playing a loud, OTT mum-of-brats. John Goodman (1) plays H.I.’s prison buddy Gale Snouts. M. Emmet Walsh (2) has a cameo as a boring work colleague.

Best bit: H.I.’s attempt to steal some nappies and the subsequent police chase.

Review: This is exuberant stuff, especially to begin with – a great opening 10 minutes is a banjo-scored montage of backstory, which is pacey and funny. Whereas Blood Simple was po-faced noir played straight, this is cartoon excess. No one in it has even a toe, let alone a whole foot, in reality. We get laughably inept bank-robbers, a Mad Max bounty hunter, and a pair of full-of-themselves swingers. It’s all good fun, but it’s very throwaway: it’s like watching a live-action Family Guy at times. Enjoyable fluff.

Seven packs of Huggies out of 10.