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


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

Five bonsai trees out of 10

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Red Dwarf III (1989)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat are still in place, though they’ve each had a makeover. Rimmer’s new costumes are very Captain Scarlet-y, for example, while Lister’s developed a love of leather jackets. (The newly hired costume designer was Howard Burden, who worked on Doctor Who between 2012 and 2014.) Elsewhere, Holly has been recast. Norman Lovett was bored of commuting from his home in Edinburgh to rehearsals in London and studio days in Manchester. So replacing him is Hattie Hayridge, who’d played the female Holly in series two. The change of gender is explained during the comically fast-scrolling on-screen text at the start of episode one. Also explained in that copy is the fact that Kryten, a guest character in series two, has joined the regular team. Original actor David Ross wasn’t available, so Robert Llewellyn is now under the mask. He uses a strange, kinda-Canadian accent for some reason, but he’s very funny when given stuff to play.

Episode 1: Backwards (14 November 1989): A terrific start. Rimmer and Kryten fly their shuttle through a ‘time hole’ and end up on a version of Earth where time is running in reverse… Great comedy is mined from footage being played backwards (or actors pretending it is). A woman regurgitates an éclair, people ride a tandem the wrong way, a big bar brawl sees tables ‘unsmashed’ and Lister thrown through a broken window that then reassembles… In truth, a lot of these jokes don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. But it’s all very entertaining.
Observations: The Star Wars-spoofing caption at the beginning tells us that the twin boys Lister was pregnant with at the end of series two have been returned to their original universe. The gang’s new type of shuttle – the green, globular Starbug – makes its debut. This episode features the first Red Dwarf scenes set on a recognisable and real Earth. Writer Rob Grant cameos as a man smoking a cigarette. Tony Hawks has another Red Dwarf role: he’s the compère at the pub in the backwards world.
Best gag: Just before the team leave the backwards Earth, the Cat nips into the bushes…

Episode 2: Marooned (21 November 1989): Red Dwarf is approaching five black holes, so the gang evacuate while Holly flies the ship through the cluster. Lister and Rimmer crash-land on a planet and are stranded without food or heat… Scintillating comedy. Stunning. It’s largely a two-handed playlet based on the twisted friendship of Lister and Rimmer. (The Cat, Kryten and Holly are absent for a 22-minute stretch of this 29-minute episode.)
Observations: Almost everything is set inside Starbug. There are no scenes set on Red Dwarf itself: a first. We also see Blue Midget. Why the gang don’t evacuate in the same shuttle is not addressed.
Best gag: *All of it.* Lister and Rimmer’s bewilderingly entertaining duologue covers Alexander the Great, the meaning of the word mayday, a tube of Bonjela gum ointment, dog food, Harold Pinter, William Shakespeare, virginity, a skateboard, the day Cliff Richard was shot, a Javanese camphor-wood trunk, a Bentley V8 convertible, the ninth hole of Bootle municipal golf course, page 61 of Lolita, Napoleon’s Armée du Nord, an authentic Les Paul copy guitar, She’s Out of My Life and the Last Post. Amazing stuff. Really well played and thoroughly hilarious.

Episode 3: Polymorph (28 November 1989): A genetically modified creature that can drain people of emotions boards the ship… Uproariously funny. There’s a great comedy prologue about Lister using medical supplies while cooking, then the plot kicks in and the episode freewheels along with joy and huge confidence.
Observations: At the start, a gravely voiced narrator warns viewers of scary content. The whole thing is a pastiche of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Since series two, Lister and Rimmer have moved into posh officers’ quarters (well, you would, wouldn’t you?). At one point, Rimmer watches an old home movie, in which we see him as a child (played by Simon Gafney), his three brothers and his mum. The polymorph later takes the form of his mother (played by Kalli Greenwood). Frances Barber cameos when the polymorph poses as a sexy woman to entice the Cat into flirting. Kryten cites a Space Corps directive: not the last time we’ll hear a variation on that joke. He also uses a psi-scan for the first time: it’s a spoof of Star Trek’s tricorder device, and will become a regular source of exposition.
Best gag: There are three *enormous* contenders. The scene of the polymorph taking the form of Lister’s underpants, which he then puts on, is puerile visual comedy of the first rank. The boxers start to constrict, causing Lister agony. So Kryten – wearing a vacuum cleaner attachment on his groin – kneels between Lister’s legs and tries to yank the pants off. Rimmer walks in on them. “Well, I can’t say I’m totally shocked,” he says once the studio audience have stopped hyperventilating. “You’ll bonk anything, won’t you, Lister?!” Just as hilarious is the polymorph pretending to be Rimmer’s mum. It claims to have slept with Lister and goads Rimmer with descriptions of the act: “I honestly thought my false teeth were going to fall out…” Finally, Rimmer as a pacifist hipster after he’s lost all his anger is spectacularly funny.

Episode 4: Body Swap (5 December 1989): Rimmer convinces Lister to trade bodies with him for a time, ostensibly so he can get him fit… Giving Craig Charles and Chris Barrie the chance to play the other’s character is a fun idea. But sadly the practicalities muddy the humour somewhat. The proper actor still voices the character (Barrie dubs dialogue over Charles playing Rimmer, for example), which can be very distracting. You sense the actors having to awkwardly match their words to unfamiliar mouth movements, and it surely means that the audience laughter we hear is not genuine.
Observations: Starbug is featured again. As is another shuttle – it’s referred to as White Midget in dialogue, but the shot of it is of Blue Midget from series two. Rimmer also takes over the Cat’s body in the last scene, so Barrie and Danny John-Jules trade roles.
Best gag: Rimmer, in Lister’s body, pretends that he’s lost his arm in an accident. Lister is aghast. Rimmer: “It’s worse than that. I’ve lost your watch too.”

Episode 5: Timeslides (12 December 1989): Kryten discovers a mutated developing fluid, which prints photographs that allow you to travel in time… The plot makes very little sense, but never mind. Tremendous fun.
Observations: One of the photographs is from the wedding of Rimmer’s brother Frank (played by Chris Barrie). Comedian Mark Steel has a silent cameo as a skier. At one point Kryten suggests they go to Dallas in 1963, stand on the grassy knoll and shout, “Duck!” (a whole episode will be based on this joke in series seven). We meet Lister aged 17 (played by Craig Charles’s brother Emile). Ruby Wax (the wife of director Ed Bye) cameos as a TV reporter. Koo Stark plays Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones, an attractive woman Lister marries in an alternative timeline. Simon Gafney plays a young Rimmer for the second time. It’s taken 17 episodes of Red Dwarf for scenes set on the actual, real, proper planet Earth… unless you count the backwards version from earlier in this series or the home-movie footage Rimmer watched in Polymorph. At the end of the story, thanks to timey-wimey nonsense, Rimmer is fully human again. But he soon accidentally kills himself.
Best gag: Rimmer, realising he’s now alive: “Kryten! Unpack Rachel and get out the puncture-repair kit!”

Episode 6: The Last Day (19 December 1989): A message reaches Red Dwarf that Kryten is at the end of his working life. A replacement is on its way to deactivate him… It’s a good idea to focus on Kryten, who’s settled into the team very nicely, but this is a relatively underwhelming episode.
Observations: Robert Llewellyn also plays a rep from the company that built Kryten. Gordon Kennedy plays Hudson 10, the replacement android. Lister reveals that he was abandoned as a baby in a pub – we’ll see that happen, and learn more of the context, in series seven.
Best gag: Kryten is told there’s no such place as Silicon Heaven. “Then where do all the calculators go?” (Hudson 10 repeats the same joke later on.)

Best episode: You’re a better man than me if you can separate Marooned and Polymorph. Worst episode: The Last Day.

Alternative version: The episodes were ‘remastered’ a few years later. Avoid at all costs. Much more fun is ‘Backwards Forwards’ – a DVD special feature that allows you to watch the episode Backwards playing in reverse. Among a number of treats, you can see what Arthur Smith is actually saying in his rant at Rimmer and Kryten. He’s ridiculing viewers who have bothered to watch the footage in the right order.

Review: This feels very different from the first 12 episodes. For example, giving Kryten stuff to do and involving the Cat a bit more means a more democratic approach to the storytelling. It’s not so much the Lister-and-Rimmer show now, reportedly a deliberate move because of a behind-the-scenes feud. (Having said that, episode two is basically one long scene between the pair.) There are other major changes too. A new high-tempo title sequence is made up of clips from the series and is scored by a rock-guitar instrumental version of the closing song. Sets, costumes and visual effects are all on a much higher level of professionalism. Everything’s more artfully lit, more polished and generally classier. Series two had been consistently funny and entertaining. This is even better.

Ten pistons in an ocean liner’s engine room out of 10

Blackadder Goes Forth (1989, Richard Boden)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Regulars: Captain Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is in the trenches during the First World War. He’s selfish and arrogant, but is a notably less cruel creation than his ancestors. His batman is the dim Baldrick (Tony Robinson), while his second-in-command is perennial public-schoolboy Lieutenant The Hon. George Colhurst St Barleigh (Hugh Laurie). Thirty-five miles behind the front is the British HQ, where the potty General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmany Melchett (Stephen Fry) is assisted by the sycophantic Captain Kevin Darling (Tim McInnerny, back as a regular after taking a series off).

Notable guests: Episode two has Jeremy Hardy as Perkins the jailer, while Stephen Frost and Lee Cornes are members of the firing squad. (About 10 years ago, I did a pub quiz in Dulwich and Frost was in the team at the next table.) Gabrielle Glaister returns to the show for the first time in 15 episodes, playing male-impersonating driver ‘Bob’ Parkhurst in both Major Star and Private Plane. Double act Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson appear in episode four – Mayall is reprising his series-two persona as Squadron Commander the Lord Flashheart, while Edmonson’s only Blackadder role is a cameo as Baron Von Richthofen. Miranda Richardson guests in the penultimate episode as nurse Mary Fletcher-Brown; Bill Wallis has his third Blackadder character in the same storyline.

Best gags:

Episode one: Captain Cook (28 September 1989). When he hears that being a talented artist will get him out of the trenches, Captain Blackadder passes off one of George’s paintings as his own…
* “Tally-ho, pip-pip and Bernard’s your uncle!” “Round here, we say ‘good morning.’
* When George was at school, “education could go hang as long as a boy could hit a six, sing the school song very loud, and take a hot crumpet from behind without blubbing.”
* EVERY SINGLE TIME SOMEONE REFERS TO CAPTAIN DARLING BY HIS SURNAME. (They struck comedy gold when Stephen Fry suggested this joke in rehearsals. The character’s original name had been Cartwright, not Percy as we might reasonably assume.)
* “List of personnel cleared for Mission Gainsbrough, as directed by General CH Melchett. You and me, Darling, obviously. Field Marshall Haig. Field Marshall Haig’s wife. All of Field Marshall Haig’s wife’s friends, their families, their families’ servants, their families’ servants’ tennis partners, and some chap I bumped into in the mess called Bernard.”
* George reveals that he’s an excellent painter. Blackadder excitedly says it could spell “my way out of the trenches.” “Yours?” asks George. Blackadder, after a pause: “That’s right, ours.”
* George tells an incredulous Blackadder to undress before he poses for a portrait. “You mean you want me ‘tackle out’?!”
* “The King & Country cover story was just a cover story.”
* Blackadder gets George to fake a painting of enemy positions. When they show it to Melchett, Blackadder has to admit that there may have been more armaments factories and fewer elephants.
* “Permission to shout ‘bravo’ at an annoyingly loud volume, sir?”|
* Baldrick offers to cook dinner: rat-o-van, which is a rat that’s been run over by a van.

Episode two: Corporal Punishment (5 October 1989). When avoiding communications from HQ, Blackadder shoots a carrier pigeon and eats it – but the bird turns out to be Speckled Jim, the beloved pet of General Melchett…
* “When are we going to give Fritz a taste of our British spunk?”
* Blackadder fakes a bad phone connection when Darling calls with orders: “Schnell, schnell, kartoffelkopf!”
* Blackadder has asked Baldrick and George to tell anyone who asks that he didn’t “shoot this delicious, plump-breasted pigeon.” So of course the first time either is asked any question, they trot out the pat answer.
* In jail, Blackadder sends two letters: one to Bob Massingbird, his lawyer, asking for representation; one to George asking for a sponge bag. Baldrick sends the letters to the wrong people. (Perkins the jailer wonders how good Massingbird is. Blackadder suggests he ask “big, butch, bonking Oscar Wilde.”)
* George reckons Blackadder is as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo.
* “The case is the Crown versus Captain Edmund Blackadder… the Flanders pigeon murderer!”
* When asked if the charges against Blackadder are true, defence counsellor George says, “Oh, yes! I was there!”
* Darling lists instances of Blackadder ignoring orders: “May the 16th, 9.15am… 10.23am… 10.24am… 11.17am…” George, who’s looking at the same piece of paper: “You’ve missed one out there.” Darling: “10.30am, thank you. 11.46am…”
* Walking to the witness stand, Baldrick is told by Blackadder to deny everything. George: “Are you Private Baldrick?” Baldrick: “No!”
* George’s closing statement ends: “Captain Blackadder is totally and utterly guilty!” He then sits down triumphantly. Slowly, Blackadder turns over George’s paper. George then sees more writing: “–of nothing more than trying to do his duty under difficult circumstances.”
* Melchett on the witness stand.
* Perkins brings in some men to meet the condemned-to-death Blackadder, who politely asks who they are. “We’re you’re firing squad, sir.” Blackadder then asks if the leader can leave a pause between the words aim and fire. “Thirty or 40 years perhaps.”
* “I must say, Captain, I’ve got to admire your balls.” “Perhaps later.”

Episode three: Major Star (12 October 1989). Captain Blackadder is given the job of producing a morale-boosting show for the troops…
* “Bob?”
* Melchett says, of the clearly female Bob, that *he* has a splendid sense of humour. “He, sir?” asks a stunned Blackadder. “He?! He?!” Melchett: “You see, you’re laughing already.”
* Melchett suggests to Bob that she have a smoke with Blackadder, who has “rather a good line in rough shag. I’m sure he’d be happy to fill your pipe.”
* Bob: “I want to see how a war is fought, so badly!” Blackadder: “Well, you’ve come to the right place, Bob. A war hasn’t been fought this badly since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the Vikings, accidentally ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside.”
* Blackadder dictates a telegram. “Mr C Chaplin, Sennett Studios, California. Congrats, stop. Have discovered only person in world less funny than you, stop. Name: Baldrick, stop. Yours, E Blackadder, stop.” He then asks Baldrick to add a PS: “Please, please, please… stop.”
* George in drag as Gorgeous Georgina. (In a subplot not a million miles away from Some Like It Hot, Melchett falls in love with ‘her’.)
* When Blackadder is trying to maintain the illusion that Georgina is real, he warns Melchett to tread carefully. “I don’t think you need to be quite so protective,” the general says. “I’m sure she’s a girl with a great deal more spunk than most women you find.”
* Blackadder’s advice for George, who’s about to go on a date with Melchett: “Never remove your wig… Never say anything… Don’t get drunk and let him shag you on the veranda.”
* After the date, George says their conversation covered the war, marriage and proposed changes to the LBW law.
* George’s coy look when he has to admit Melchett asked Georgina to marry him.
* Told that Georgina has died, Melchett is inconsolable… but then shakes it off and says, “Oh, well – can’t be helped.”
* Blackadder says they’re in the stickiest situation since Sticky the stick insect got stuck on a sticky bun.
* “Care for a liquorice allsort?”

Episode four: Private Plane (19 October 1989). When he joins the Twenty-Minuters – a Royal Flying Corps squadron with short life expectancies for pilots – Blackadder is shot down behind enemy lines…
* During an air raid, Blackadder phones the Royal Flying Corps and leaves a message for the Air Chief Marshall: “Where are you, you bastard?”
* “I don’t care how many time they go up-diddly-up-up, they’re still gits.”
* As in Blackadder II, everything Rik Mayall does is hilarilous – Flashheart crash-lands into the episode and *takes the fuck over*.
* “Mind if I use your phone?” asks Flashheart. “If word gets out that I’m missing, 500 girls will kill themselves. I wouldn’t want them on my conscious. Not when they should be on my face!”
* Blackadder is unimpressed with Flashheart: “Most of the infantry think you’re a prat. Ask them who they’d prefer to meet, Squadron Commander Flashheart or the man who cleans the public toilets in Aberdeen, and they’d go for Wee Jock ‘Poo-Pong’ McPlop every time.”
* Flashheart reckons Bob Parkhurst is saucier than a direct hit on a Heinz factory.
* Darling: “I wasn’t born yesterday.” Blackadder: “More’s the pity. We could have started your personality from scratch.”
* Melchett unrolls a map and declares it’s a barren, featureless desert. Darling then tells him to turn it over.
* “Let’s doooooo it!”
* Flashheart says a pilot should treat his kite like he treats his woman: get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back.
* “Goggles on, chocks away, last one back’s a homo!”
* Melchett finds George and Darling arguing. “Now, then! Now, then! Now, now, then, now, then, now, then, then, now, now, then! What’s going on?”
* “Permission for lower lip to wobble, sir?”
* Melchett has a map of the territory taken from the Germans. It’s in a one-to-one scale: 17 square feet.
* Baron Von Richtoven gives a long, portentous speech about finally coming face to face with the famous Lord Flashheart. So Flashheart shoots him and shouts, “What a poof!”

Episode five: General Hospital (26 October 1989). George is hospitalised at the same time that Blackadder is tasked with finding a German spy…
* George and Baldrick’s game of I Spy.
* Nurse Mary says, “If I can’t give my brave boys a kind word and a big smile, what can I give them?” Blackadder: “Well, one or two ideas do suggest themselves but you’d probably think they were unhygienic.”
* “My name is Meeester Smeeeth.”
* “Security isn’t a dirty word, Blackadder. Crevice is a dirty word, but security isn’t.”
* Blackadder wonders whether the army’s plan is to continue the slaughter until the only survivors are Field Marshall Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise, Alan.
* Nurse Mary hopes Blackadder will conduct himself with more decorum. He replies: “No, I’m going to conduct myself with no decorum. Shove off.”
* Blackadder interrogating Darling. Among numerous great lines, Darling says he’s as British as Queen Victoria. Blackadder: “So your father’s German, you’re half-German and you married a German?!”
* Blackadder thinks the spy might be as hard to find as a piece of hay in a massive stack full of needles.
* “Oxford, Cambridge, Hull…”
* The punchline of how the Germans are actually getting their information.

Episode six: Goodbyeee (2 November 1989).
* It seems wrong somehow – reductive, unfair – to mechanically list the best moments of this episode. I may as well just cut-and-paste the entire script. The whole thing feels more like a Play For Today than an episode of a chaotic sitcom. It’s tightly written, based on characterisation, and becomes increasingly serious as it goes along. (You can sense the humour quietly taking a step back as the climax approaches.) But that’s not to say it isn’t funny. It is. Brilliantly so. Highlights include George’s story about his tiddly-winking pals, Blackadder’s attempt to be found insane, Baldrick’s coffee recipe, the discussion of how the war began, Baldrick’s poems, talk of the 1914 Christmas truce and Geoffrey Palmer’s cameo… But it’s far more than the sum of its parts. A triumph.

Best episode: Well, it’s Goodbyeee. (Private Plane is probably the *funniest* episode, though. Christ, I miss Rik Mayall.)

Cunning: In episode one, Baldrick cites two cunning plans within the opening few minutes. (The first time is perhaps the clearest example of Tony Robinson knowing he’s got a catchphrase and is guaranteed a laugh.) Blackadder catches him carving his own name onto a bullet. Baldrick’s theory is that if there’s a bullet in the world with his name on it he may as well own it. Baldrick then suggests that he and Blackadder get jobs as chefs at HQ in order to get out of the trenches. In episode two, Baldrick visits Blackadder in his cell with a cunning escape plan: it involves a bag containing a wooden duck, a pencil, a miniature trumpet and a Robin Hood costume. The following week, Baldrick appears dressed unconvincingly as a woman and asks, “May I present my cunning plan?” (It’s to marry General Melchett.) In General Hospital, Baldrick has a cunning plan to find the German spy: go round everyone and ask them, “Are you a German spy?” In the final episode, Baldrick has two cunning plans. The first is that Blackadder should phone Field Marshall Haig and ask to get out of the trenches. The second comes just as the regulars are about to go over the top – sadly, there isn’t time for him to elaborate.

History: As well as general First World War conventions and cliches, the series makes specific reference to the Royal Flying Corps (a precursor of the RAF), the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the USA joining the war soon afterwards. Field Marshall Douglas Haig (1861-1928) appears briefly in episode six, played by Geoffrey Palmer. Historical figures who get mentioned include Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

Review: Wow. This is machine-gun comedy, which rattles off joke after joke at an amazing rate. Similes continue to dominate, but they’re all very funny. It’s also largely a Porridge-style sitcom about characters trapped in a confined location. Superbly entertaining.

Ten clucking bells out of 10

Ten Things I Love About… Back to the Future Part II (1989, Robert Zemeckis)


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 screen doors on a battleship out of 10’.) Instead, here’s a list of 10 areas in which I think Back to the Future Part II especially excels. I won’t mention the direction, the music, the production design, the dialogue and the main cast (Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Thomas F Wilson) because they were discussed in the previous blog post. But they’re all just as sensational in this film.

1. New Jennifer.
The opening scene is a reprise of the final few minutes from the original movie. However, the footage had to be reshot because Claudia Wells had dropped out of playing Jennifer for personal reasons. I was already a fan of the new actress, Elisabeth Shue, from The Karate Kid and Adventures in Babysitting. She’s a big improvement on Wells: she gets more to do, and is also a better comic actress. (I’ve only this week learnt that there was a *third* Jennifer. Originally cast in the role in 1984 was Melora Hardin, who was later in the US version of The Office. She filmed a few scenes with Eric Stoltz, the original Marty. However, when Stoltz was fired and replaced with Michael J Fox, Hardin was deemed too tall to play opposite Fox so was let go.)

2. “Whoa, this is heavy!”
This film’s plot is dizzyingly complex and all the better for it. The mechanics of who does what, when they do it, what that means, and what it leads to are very complicated but (almost entirely) make perfect sense. The writers even use something they considered a mistake – putting Jennifer in the car at the end of the first film – to their benefit. When the cops in the future find time-travelling Jennifer, they naturally deduce that she’s the Jennifer from 2015 so take her home. We then get a very entertaining sequence at Marty’s future house, which is full of fun gags and character details, *and* provides Biff with the opportunity to steal the DeLorean. The whole script has this kind of plotting panache.

3. “Please, Marty – no one should know too much about their own destiny.”
The DeLorean arrives in the future at 4.29pm on 21 October 2015. Doc even specifies that it’s a Wednesday. I first saw this film at a cinema in Southport in December 1989. It was my cousin’s birthday, so he, some of his pals and I went together. I was only 10, but crucially a year or so older than everyone else. So I felt enormously smug when, after the movie, they all complained that it made no sense and I was able to spell out what had happened. I also remember calculating that I’d be 36 years old in October 2015. That seemed a laughably long time away. It was, I suppose.

4. Future proof.
The twenty-first century on show here has flying cars, self-tying shoes, and Jaws 19 playing at the cinema (tagline: “This time, it’s really, really personal!”). The filmmakers knew they had no hope of accurately predicting 26 years into the future, so they chose to play it for laughs. The main dialogue scene, for example, takes place in the Café 80s – a horrid, pastel, plastic retro joint with AI waiters in the form of Ronald Reagan and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In presenting a future society, the film got a lot of things wide off the mark (Marty Jnr uses a payphone) but some things bang on the money. Check out how Marty Jnr watches six TV feeds all at once, and how he and Marty’s daughter are both obsessed by their Google Glasses while at the dinner table. Behaviourally speaking, they’re kids using social media. (The sight of Michael J Fox playing Marlene McFly, however, is just horrific.) When he arrives in the future, Marty buys a sports almanac from a vintage-goods shop. It’s said to list all major sporting results from 1950 to 2000, including American football, baseball, horse racing and boxing. In 1955, Biff verifies its accuracy by looking up the score of a routine college-football game. Even if we assume it’s only *American* sports, it still seems a very thin book for all that information! (By the way, I’ve looked it up: some if not all of the football scores we hear on Biff’s car radio are from genuine games that took place on 12 November 1955. And UCLA did really beat Washington with a last-minute field goal.)

5. “Manure! I hate manure!”
As with the first film, there are loads of gags only noticeable on repeated viewings. An electronic billboard in 2015 advertises Major Goldie Wilson III’s election campaign. An edition of USA Today we see in the future has jokey headlines such as ‘Washington prepares for Queen Diana’s visit!’ and ‘President says she’s tired’. Some subtle gags are, in effect, in the wrong order. We’ve already seen Lorraine married to a wealthy Biff in the alternative 1985 when, in 1955, she tells him that she wouldn’t marry him “even if [he] had a million dollars!” There are also quite a few forward references to the third film, which was shot back-to-back with this one. Marty plays a Western shoot-’em-up arcade machine in 2015 (a young Elijah Wood is one of the kids in the scene); the Doc laments that he’s never visited the Old West and says he wants to learn more about women; we find out that Biff’s great-grandfather was a Wild West outlaw; and Biff is seen watching A Fistful of Dollars. (One little detail I spotted on this viewing that I’ve never realised before: the old codger in 2015 who gives Marty the idea to go back in time and make money via betting is also in the 1955 stuff. He’s the mechanic charging Biff $300 for the repairs to his car.)

6. “I’m old!”/”I’m young!”
For 1989, the special effects are tremendous. There are numerous split-screen shots where the same actor plays two (or even three) roles at the same time. The characters interact believably and the camera often *moves*, which was just revolutionary for the time. The two Jennifers seeing each other and both fainting might be my favourite example, but there are plenty to choose from. There’s also some smart animation used for the flying cars in 2015. Stylistically it’s reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the movie Robert Zemeckis made immediately before this.

7. History repeating itself.
The same type of events keep happening, but in interestingly different contexts. This kind of story rhyming is not unique to the Back to the Future films – The Godfather and Star Wars series both use the same technique. In the first film, Marty used a skateboard as he was chased round Hill Valley’s square by Biff; here, in 2015, it’s a hoverboard and Biff’s grandson. Marty’s asked for a donation to “save the clock tower” again, this time in the future. When Marty wakes up in the alternative 1985, a scene from the first film is being echoed – however, rather than a slim teenager, his mum is now a middle-aged woman with fake tits. Biff ends up crashing his car into a manure truck for a second film running. Of course, in the final act, events are literally repeating themselves…

8. “It’s like we’re in hell or something.”
The clues that 1985 has changed are evident before Marty learns what’s happened. We see ruined cars and lots of graffiti; Hill Valley Square has been taken over by bikers; and there’s a toxic-waste plant. In its middle section, the film is heading into It’s a Wonderful Life territory – ‘what if’ Biff were rich and successful? Like in It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s now a nightmarish world. There’s lots of violent crime. Everywhere’s rundown and tatty. It’s always night. Biff’s built a Vegas-style casino on top of the clock tower, seems to run the whole town, and is married to an unhappy Lorraine. George is dead (a subplot created because the original actor wouldn’t come back). Doc has been committed. And Marty’s been packed off to school in Switzerland.

9. Back to the Fifties.
The original script set the final third in the 1960s. Lorraine would have been a flower-power girl, George a peacenik. But then the writers made the inspired decision to go back to 1955. It’s a time-travel film, they argued, so we can do anything – including revisiting the events of the first movie. We therefore get the intoxicating, imaginative situation of having two Martys and two Docs running around Hill Valley. For 38 glorious minutes of cinema, the film stitches new scenes in and around footage shot in 1984 (as well as restaging some moments). There’s a joyful exuberance for this kind of tomfoolery – the Doc meets himself, we go back to the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, and we see classic moments from new points of view. It’s heady storytelling that would only work on film or television.

10. “Is your name Marty McFly?”
As two sequels were made back-to-back, we get a monster of a cliffhanger at the end of Part II. The plot concluded and the real 1985 put back on track, the DeLorean is struck by lightening. It vanishes in mid-air, stranding a bemused Marty in the 1950s. Then, out of the rain, comes a man with a letter. His company have had it in their possession for 70 years, with specific instructions to deliver it to Marty as this precise moment. The letter is from the Doc, telling Marty that he’s living in the Wild West. Writing to someone in the future: it’s a sensational concept. Cinema tricks us into accepting that the two times – 1885 and 1955 – are somehow concurrent, that Doc is speaking directly to his friend. (The 2007 Doctor Who episode Blink uses the same letter idea. I have no idea if it’s a coincidence or was deliberately half-inched. But the show has lately become more and more fascinated with Back to the Future-style time-travel trickery. A thought occurs: did Steven Moffat name Clara after Part III’s main guest character?) The movie then ends with an in-film trailer for the third chapter – that was a stunningly exciting move in 1989. But a frustrating one, as the next film was eight months away…

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989, Anthony Hickox)


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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The modern day. In Purgatory, a town in western America.

Faithful to the novel? A group of vampires have taken over a town in the American West, wanting to live peacefully and using artificial blood to survive. Sunscreen and sunglasses mean they can just about cope out in the daylight. David Harrison (Jim Metzler), his wife and two daughters arrive for a family trip. He helped develop the blood-synthesising process, but doesn’t know what it’s now used for. Also new in town is Robert Van Helsing (Bruce Campbell), who is the great-grandson of the character from Stoker’s book. He’s on the trail of Count Mardulak (David Carradine), the town’s vampire elder. Mardulak is actually Count Dracula – but in a neat twist, he’s essentially gone straight. However, a rival faction of vamps are planning a coup…

Best performance: Bruce Campbell is hamming it up entertainingly as the bumbling Van Helsing.

Best bit: Van Helsing is about to kiss a local waitress (Deborah Foreman), when he spots that she has no reflection in a nearby car’s hubcap.

Review: A B-movie with a sense of humour, this is fun stuff. It’s still creepy, though, with a kooky vibe that satirises the darkness behind an all-American veneer. Although set in the modern day, there’s also a Western theme going on, which is evident in costuming, shot choices and incidental music.

Seven cheeseburgers out of 10

Batman (1989, Tim Burton)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In Gotham City, the Caped Crusader comes up against a maniacal master criminal called The Joker…

Good guys: Bruce Wayne – a multimillionaire philanthropist who has a secret crime-fighting alter ego – is played by Michael Keaton. It’s a quirky casting choice and is all the more interesting for it. Keaton can do both light and pensive. Early on in the story, Bruce meets photographer Vicki Vale and falls for her. After they sleep together, she wakes to find him hanging upside-down from a metal bar – it’s almost like he wants her to guess his secret identity. He’s tempted to just tell her, but she works it out before he plucks up the courage. Bruce is haunted by a childhood memory of his parents being killed in front of him. In a clever twist on the established Batman continuity, he soon works out the Joker was the murderer. We see Batman in action a fair amount, usually with ingenious gadgets and cool vehicles. Vicki, meanwhile, is played by Kim Basinger. (Sean Young was originally cast, but was injured early into filming and couldn’t continue.) We first see her legs, propped up on a desk as she reads a copy of the Gotham Globe. She’s come to the city to investigate the rumours about the Batman and teams up with a journalist called Knox, who ticks the friend-who-fancies-the-girl-but-isn’t-a-serious-option-for-romance box. Vicki meets Bruce Wayne at a benefit party and, after an initially awkward date, they spend the night together. The Joker develops an obsession with Vicki and she’s often in danger.

Bad guys: Jack Napier, aka the Joker, is played by Jack Nicholson, who gets top billing and was paid tens of millions of dollars. He’s fantastic. “Wait until they get a load of me!” Jack boasts at one point: he’s off-the-chart mental, unpredictable, dangerous and dominates the frame. When we meet Napier, he’s a gangster who’s sleeping with his boss’s girlfriend and bribing cops. After he’s set up to be killed by his angry boss, he falls into a vat of corrosive chemicals. He survives, but with a reconstructed face now stuck in a rictus grin and his skin burnt white. Driven insane by his experience, he kills his boss, reinvents himself as the Joker, and takes over the mob business. His diabolical plan involves flooding the consumer market with toxic beauty and health products. (In the flashback scene to Jack as a young man, he’s played by Hugo Blick, who went on to write TV shows Operation Good Guys, Marion & Geoff, The Shadow Line and The Honourable Woman.)

Other guys: Michael Gough plays Bruce’s butler, father figure and general confidant, Alfred. Pat Hingle appears as Commissioner Gordon. Jack Palance plays mob lord Grissom. Billy Dee Williams cameos as District Attorney Harvey Dent, a character deliberately being seeded for a larger role in a sequel (when, in the event, he was recast). Robert Wuhl plays journalist Knox and Jerry Hall plays the Joker’s moll, Alicia.

Best bits:

* Danny Elfman’s macabre incidental music.

* The title sequence: sweeping camera moves across an ornate Batman logo, which I learnt last week my friend Fraser’s housemate helped build.

* The realisation of Gotham City. It’s an Art Deco/Gothic/retro/futuristic/industrial masterpiece, an equal of Blade Runner’s LA in terms of how darkly beautiful it is. It’s fascinating, textured, detailed and strange. The film’s art direction won an Oscar.

* Oh, look: it’s Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter from Star Wars) playing a bloke struggling to find a taxi. I met Hagon once and pestered him with questions about Star Wars.

* Batman glides silently into view in the background as two muggers divide their loot.

* “What are you?!” “I’m Batman!”

* Jack admires himself in the mirror. His girlfriend says, “You look fine.” He glares at her: “I didn’t ask.”

* Oh, look: it’s Denis Lill playing a newspaper hack.

* Our first sight of Vicki Vale. Wowzers.

* Vicki and Knox ridiculing Bruce Wayne as he listens behind them.

* Jack’s acid-burnt hand reaching out of the water.

* Bruce and Vicki having dinner while sitting at a different ends of a ridiculously long table. When Vicki asks if he likes eating in this room, Bruce admits he’s never been in it before.

* Jack at the back-street plastic surgeon. When he sees his rebuilt face, he wanders off laughing uncontrollably.

* The reveal of the Joker as he gleefully shoots Grissom dead.

* Jerry Hall’s faint when she sees that Jack’s not dead.

* The Joker shaking a colleague’s hand and electrocuting him to a crisp. (“I got a live one here!”)

* Oh, look: it’s Red Dwarf’s Mac MacDonald as one of the Joker’s henchmen.

* The Joker throws a tantrum: “Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in where a man dressed as a bat gets all my publicity?!”

* Oh, look: it’s Trinity Wells from Doctor Who as a TV director.

* The scene at the museum/restaurant. Vicki thinks she’s meeting Bruce, but a waiter brings a box to her table. In it is a gas mask and note that reads: “Put this on right now.” Smoke fills the room, knocking everyone out (or killing them?), then the Joker and his goons burst in. They hit play on a ghetto blaster and, to the sound of a Prince song, delight in defacing the museum’s artwork.

* Vicki throws water in the Joker’s face and he acts like he’s in agony, then turns to her and says, “Boo!”

* The Batmobile.

* Bruce’s ham-fisted attempt to tell Vicki who he really is.

* Bruce confronts the Joker in Vicki’s flat. The Joker simply doesn’t know what to make of him.

* The flashback to Bruce’s parents being murdered – and the revelation that Jack Napier was the shooter.

* Vicki turns up in the Batcave.

* The Joker refers to Batman as the ‘junior birdman’. Apt, given Keaton’s most recent film.

* The Joker dancing away to a Prince track on the carnival float.

* The Batwing.

* Forcing Vicki to dance with him, the Joker says into her ear: “It’s as though we were made for each other. Beauty and the Beast. Course, if anyone else calls you Beast, I’ll rip their lungs out.”

* Trying to distract the Joker, Vicki pretends to flirt with him and even ducks down towards his trouser department. The Joker has an expression of serene expectation… until Batman punches him in the mouth.

Review: Nineteen-eighty-nine was a busy year for geek cinema. There were new adventures for Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, James Bond, the crew of the Enterprise, the Karate Kid, Riggs & Murtaugh and the Ghostbusters: manna from heaven for a 10-year-old fanboy like me. But Batman still stood out and felt like an *enormous* event. There was a smart advertising campaign built around an ubiquitous logo and a tie-in album from Prince. There was talk of a dark, serious take on a character I only knew as campy and cartoony. And there was a sense of danger from the fact the film was one of the first to get the new ‘12’ certificate. Well, over a quarter of a century later (Jesus, really?), it absolutely stands the test of time. It sweeps you along right from the start. The dialogue’s crisp and the story’s never dull. It’s an origin story, but done economically with flashbacks and illusions rather than a drawn-out opening act. It’s dark, but also has a huge sense of fun. What especially impresses me is the film’s sense of timelessness. It partly looks like the past – men wear 1950s suits, coats and hats; there are newspaper hacks in busy, vibrant offices; and the cars look retro. But it’s all mixed in with 1980s glamour, technology and TV news crews. It’s also mostly a black-and-white world, so any splashes of colour – especially when connected to the Joker – pop out. Director Tim Burton may have been coasting lately (last great film? Sleepy Hollow?), but he used to be something special. And this is one of his best.

Ten wonderful toys out of 10.

Next time: Miaow!

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, William Shatner)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When a mysterious Vulcan called Sybok takes three diplomats hostage, Captain Kirk and his crew are sent to the ‘Planet of Galactic Peace’ to rescue them…

Regulars: Kirk is back to being ‘Captain Kirk’ for the first time since the TV series (or the animated series, I suppose). As the story begins, he’s on a rock-climbing holiday in Yosemite National Park. When Spock asks why he’s scaling a mountain, Kirk gives the standard ‘Because it’s there’ answer. Later on, he misses his old captain’s chair, not liking the new Enterprise’s version, and gets to shout down God. Spock is on the shore-leave holiday too, struggling to understand what the lyrics of Row, Row, Row Your Boat mean (though he later learns how to play the tune on a Vulcan lute). When the plot kicks into gear, he’s shocked to discover that the antagonist is Sybok, who shows Spock a vision of his own birth in an attempt to recruit him to the cause. Dr McCoy is on that holiday too – getting nervous as he watches Kirk traverse a rock face. It’s odd how rarely Bones gets to do any doctoring in these films; he acts more like Kirk’s consigliere. When Sybok tries to turn him, an emotional McCoy is shown a representation of his dying father. Scotty, meanwhile, is worried about the state of the new Enterprise (“She’s got a fine engine, but half the doors won’t open!”). He’s also seemingly developed a relationship with Uhura since the previous movie. At the start of the film, Sulu and Chekov are on a hiking trip, but are feeling embarrassed because they’ve got lost. Later on, Chekov gets to pretend to be the captain in an attempt to stall Sybok, while Uhura performs a bizarre dance routine to distract some bandits on Nimbus III. The two of them and Sulu then fall under Sybok’s spell.

Guests: David Warner – an actor who can do no wrong, if you ask me – plays Federation representative St John Talbot. He smokes, calls his Romulan counterpart ‘my dear’ a lot, and is fantastically louche. Sadly, though, after a few early scenes he spends most of the film standing around and taking no real part in the story. Laurence Luckibill plays Sybok (a ‘passionate Vulcan’, as McCoy describes him). It’s a good, charming performance of an interesting character: a man more deluded than evil. (The part was written with the hope of casting Sean Connery, according to the internet.)

Best bits:

* The atmospheric surface of Nimbus III – a cracked desert, sand in the air, a rotting tree and a bald man drilling for water. All very Mad Max 2. Sybok riding into shot is a lovely image. Paradise City, which we see later, is just as good. It feels like a textured, decaying frontier town.

* Spock, wearing anti-gravity boots, coolly levitating up to Kirk as the latter climbs the mountain.

* Kirk loosing his grip and falling of the mountain, and Spock nose-diving down to catch him.

* Chekov blowing on the communicator to try to trick Uhura into thinking he and Sulu are trapped in a storm.

* Kirk, Spock and McCoy’s fireside chat, meal and singsong.

* There’s a splendid long take as Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura’s shuttle comes to rest in a docking bay, they get off and have a chat with Scotty, and the three men get into a lift to continue the scene.

* The Enterprise’s observation deck with its sailing ship’s wheel.

* “Hold your horse,” Spock says to Kirk when he asks him a question *while they’re riding horses*.

* A triple-breasted nightclub dancer attacks Kirk so he throws her into a liquid pool table.

* The reveal that the hostages are in on the deception.

* Kirk is pleading with Sybok not to force their shuttlecraft onto the Enterprise because some Klingons are nearby and may attack. “In order for this craft to enter the landing bay, Enterprise must lower the shields and activate the tractor beam. To get us inside and re-raise the shields will take…” He looks to Spock, who deadpans, “Exactly 15.5 seconds.” “An eternity,” Kirk says, not missing a beat.

* Emergency landing plan B. (“B, as in barricade.”)

* Spock refusing – or perhaps being unable – to shoot Sybok.

* The revelation that Sybok is Spock’s brother, which comes during a terrific scene between Spock, Kirk and McCoy while they’re locked in a cell. Plot, character, conflict and comedy all happening at the same time.

* Kirk, Spock and McCoy deciphering some Morse code coming through their cell’s wall. Kirk: “That’s an S… a T… A… N… er, D. End of word. New word: B… A… erm…” Spock: “C.K.” McCoy: “Back.” All: “Stand back!” The wall then explodes.

* “I know this ship like the back of my hand…” Even if you’d never seen this film you could probably guess the punchline.

* Kirk and McCoy laboriously climbing a very tall ladder. Spock leaves them to it, then floats into view on his anti-gravity boots.

* “Well, don’t just stand there,” says Kirk, striding off the bridge to head to the planet. “God’s a busy man.”

* “Excuse me, I’d just like to ask a question,” says Kirk when the being they’ve found at the centre of the universe is pontificating. “What does God need with a starship?” (McCoy: “Jim, you don’t ask for the Almighty’s ID!”)

* Kirk is stranded on the planet with ‘God’ closing in on him… when a Klingon Bird-of-Prey shows up to save him.

* Kirk goes to hug Spock. “Please, Captain, not in front of the Klingons.”

TV tie-in: There was no mention of Spock having a brother when his parents, Sarek and Amanda, first appeared in Star Trek. They showed up in an episode of the original TV show called Journey to Babel, which I rewatched alongside The Final Frontier. It includes political intrigue, moral dilemmas and generation-gap drama.

Review: Much maligned, this is more enjoyable than its reputation suggests. There’s great comic chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, while good fun is mined from the Enterprise being new and untested. William Shatner, directing Star Trek for the only time, also gives us some fantastic images and sequences – the ‘visions’ scene is especially well staged, as is all the stuff filmed on location. But the movie rarely feels ‘epic’, some special effects are on the dodgy side, there’s a lacklustre final act, and the dull Klingon threat feels arbitrarily bolted on to the main story. The most interesting thing about the movie might be its moral complexity. Kirk gets the key line when Sybok attempts to ‘turn’ him by purging him of any negativity. “I don’t want my pain taken away,” he says. “I need my pain.” Sybok and his followers are literally searching for heavenly serenity, but are therefore believing in a lie. Kirk knows the necessity of living in the real (flawed) world. In this way, whether intentionally or not, the film is quietly subversive.

Seven ‘Go climb a rock’ T-shirts out of 10.

Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989, Peter Bonerz)


The penultimate entry in the franchise – hollow but harmless fun – sees the team tackle a crime spree. Here are more of the series’s running gags and clichés…

Hightower uses his strength! – He pulls a leg off Harris’s chair so it’ll collapse when he sits down; hits a table flipping a live grenade out of a window; bashes a computer when it won’t give the team access to a file; easily pulls up a manhole cover; gets covered in falling masonry and metal and survives; and has a titanic brawl and similarly huge bad guy.

Tackleberry shoots! – He sleeps with a handgun in his pillow; shoots at his father-in-law when he mistakes him for an intruder; threatens a man with a grenade; gets suited up in camouflage gear; has a game of who-can-shoot-best? with the villain; and drives a monster truck.

Jonesey’s sound effects! – Squeaky footsteps to embarrass a man in a museum; radio bleeps when calling Hightower; a sound-effects-heavy stand-up routine (including Jimi Hendrix’s guitar); YET MORE SODDING badly dubbed kung-fu-movie dialogue; and robotic motors and voice.

Hooks shouts ‘Dirtbag!’ – When a pompous man rips up a parking ticket and calls her “girl”, she serves him loads more, impounds his car and shouts “Boy!” into his face. To get some rappers’ attention, she throws out some rhymes of her own.

Callahan’s chest! – Various guys stare at her in the gym, then wince as she beats up a dummy. When undercover as a jogger, her radio is hidden in her cleavage and a gaggle of horny men follow her. She’s turned on after beating up a baddie, turns to a SWAT team member and says, “What a big gun,” while he fondles it suggestively.

Harris shouts ‘Proctor!’ – He and Proctor don’t notice the robbery they’re staking out taking place behind them. He breaks the mayor’s beloved model ship. He and Proctor pretend to be window cleaners, high up on a skyscraper and Harris almost falls off the gantry. He gets superglued to a chair. When he and Proctor commandeer a bus to chase some bad guys, Proctor keeps making the stops. He says, “Move it! Move it! Move it!” just twice.

Lassard is a bit, um, vague! – He, seemingly on purpose, out-hustles some pool players. He falls asleep (standing up) during the big denouement scene.

Obvious replacement characters! – Nick’s now just part of the gang, and accident-prone Fackler (who was in the first couple of movies) has been brought back to beef up the numbers.

Homophobic!/Racist! – Hightower uncomfortably says, “As you were, Sergeant!” when Nick hugs him.