The Next Karate Kid (1994, Christopher Cain)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

Four dancing monks out of 10

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Definitely Maybe (1994)

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Cover: From left to right are lead guitarist Noel Gallagher, rhythm guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, bassist Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan, singer Liam Gallagher and drummer Tony McCarroll. Noel was the last to join the band, which was originally called The Rain, but soon took over as songwriter and de facto leader. He wrote all 11 tracks on Definitely Maybe, their debut album. For its cover shoot the group are in Bonehead’s living room, surrounded by not-so-subtle clues to their interests: football is represented by a photo of Manchester City legend Rodney Marsh; movies by 1966’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly playing on the TV; music by a poster of Burt Bacharach and a couple of guitars; and cigarettes and alcohol by an ashtray and glasses of wine. The group’s logo has their name in lower-case Helvetica Black Oblique, while the album title is in a handwrite-y scrawl.

Best track: Live Forever is a soaring rock ballad full of heart and emotion and optimistic yearning. It begins with just drums, then builds up layers and layers of instruments and vocals. The chords are so basic they feel inevitable; the melody is catchy; and the guitar solos are ace. The fact that Oasis songs were often optimistic – even if naively so – was a big reason why the band became so popular. They came along when a lot of guitar music (grunge, shoegazing, art-house Britpop) was pessimistic or aloof. Oasis were like fans of a mid-table football team: life might be shit, they said, but it could get better at any moment. Although a fan of Nirvana, Noel has admitted that Live Forever was a deliberate response to their nihilist attitude.

Honourable mentions:
* Listening to Rock’n’Roll Star makes you walk taller: it’s a straight-up, pumped-up, heads-up track full of attitude. It also introduces Liam’s bizarre delivery of certain words: “I need some time in the sunshiiiine…”
* Shakermaker is a psychedelic rock song and was the second single released from the LP. It has an infectious, singalong melody… because it’s stolen from I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony), a song originally written for a 1971 Coca-Cola advert. The lyrics are – let’s be charitable here – a child-like game of free association. Noel mentions plasticine, a character from a 1970s TV advert, a song by The Jam, the cartoon series Mr Benn… The track doesn’t especially *mean* anything, but then again neither did the Beatles’ I Am The Walrus. The verse about Mr Sifters, a record shop in Manchester, was written on the way to the studio when the band’s car stopped outside it.
* Columbia is a pile-driver of a song and a good indicator of the kind of thing Oasis were doing before they got a record deal. Bootlegs of early recordings tend to be in this vein: simplistic, heavy and repetitive.
* The fun Supersonic was the opening single from the album. It was written and recorded in one day when an ad-hoc jam sounded promising. Like Live Forever, it begins with just the drum beat. Then the riff comes in and we’re away. The nonsense lyrics contain a Beatles reference – “You can sail with me in my yellow submarine” – and were written in 30 minutes.
* Cigarettes & Alcohol has a riff taken from T. Rex’s 1971 song Get It On. This wasn’t the first time Noel had pinched something and it was far from the last. But it’s an apt steal – Marc Bolan got the Get It On lick from a Chucky Berry song. Unlike the gibberish of Shakermaker and Supersonic, or the hopefulness of Live Forever, this fourth single from the album is a more cynical song. It’s all about how life is terrible so why not just get drunk and high? But its sound is immense: tough, big, loud, sneering.
* Slide Away was written during the recording sessions for the album, on a guitar Noel borrowed from Smiths legend Johnny Marr. Liam’s vocal is great (his best performance, reckons Noel) and the melody is terrific. The song also sounds fucking enormous: it’s prime stadium-singalong material. Never a single because Noel balked at having five singles from the same album, Slide Away is said to be Paul McCartney’s favourite Oasis track.
* The gentle Married With Children is a deliberately atypical album closer. It has a comedy lyric and even a key change. It was recorded on a guitar that once to belong to John Squire of the Stone Roses.

Worst track: We could probably live without the throwaway Digsy’s Dinner. It’s an in-joke about an eccentric friend of Noel’s… who then hated the song. At least it’s only two minutes.

Weirdest lyric: Supersonic is a good example of Noel Gallagher’s laisse-fairre attitude to lyrical meaning. Check out this section, which is little more than a succession of empty rhymes. “I know a girl called Elsa; she’s into Alka Seltzer. She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train. She made me laugh; I got her autograph. She done it with a doctor on a helicopter. She’s sniffin’ in her tissue, sellin’ the Big Issue.” (Elsa, by the way, was actually a Rottweiler belonging to the studio engineer who recorded the song. She had bad flatulence. The dog, that is, not the engineer.)

Best video: The promo for Supersonic was shot on a rooftop near Euston train station in London. In retrospect it’s a weird choice, given how Oasis often emphasised their Manchester-ness. It’s mostly in black and white (with some shots in colour meant to create a cinema-vérité feel but which actually make it look like a student video). Performing on a rooftop, of course, is a reference to the day in January 1969 when the Beatles went up to the top of their Mayfair studio and played until the police told them to stop.

Review: It’s all about attitude. Definitely Maybe is a full-on, aggressive, unapologetic sound – thanks in large part to Owen Morris, a producer brought in after the recording sessions. No one was fully happy with the state of the album, so Morris was given carte blache to remix the tapes. He added effects to the drums, stripped out some unneeded guitars, pushed every dial up to 11, and created an amazing wall of noise. It perfectly suits the songs, which are full of ambition and attack.

10 days moving just too fast for me out of 10

Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A gangster takes his boss’s wife out for dinner… A boxer wins a fight he’d been paid to throw… A dead body causes a panic… And a pair of thieves hold up a restaurant…

What does QT do? The script was based on a number of disparate story fragments. One of them – Pandemonium Reigns, which became Butch’s plotline – was by Roger Avary, who helped Tarantino with the draft and gets a ‘story by’ credit. Director Quentin also cast himself in the role of Jimmy, who has significant amounts of dialogue with Samuel L Jackson, John Travolta and Harvey Keitel – he was not short of self-confidence around this time. It’s an okay performance. (He toyed with playing Lance, but wanted to be behind the camera during the famous adrenalin-shot moment.)

Notable characters:
* ‘Pumpkin’ (Tim Roth) and Yolanda/‘Honey Bunny’ (Amanda Plummer) are the young couple who hold up a diner. Despite Pumpkin’s English accent, and the fact he jokingly gets called Ringo, his dialogue is littered with Americanisms. The characters are another example of Tarantino’s Bonnie-and-Clyde-type criminals in love (see True Romance and Natural Born Killers).
* Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson) is a mid-level gangster with a jheri-curl hairdo. When we meet him, he’s retrieving a suitcase from some associates. He quotes a doom-mongering Bible passage before killing one of them, then survives a near-death experience and decides to quit the life. Jackson is *immense* in this film: captivating, cool and chillingly charismatic. You can’t take your eyes off him. He won a Bafta and was nominated at the Oscars.
* Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is Jules’s partner. He’s just returned from a few years in Amsterdam, where he’s become keen on drugs. A confrontational guy, he’s nervous when boss Marsellus asks him to entertain his wife. There are two running gags about Vincent in the film. Famously, he goes to the toilet three times and something catastrophic happens each time. Also, he’s actually fairly incompetent: he kills someone by mistake, can’t wash his hands properly, leaves dangerous drugs for Mia to find…
* Brett (Frank Whalley) is the associate who has the suitcase. He and a friend – referred to as ‘Flock of Seagulls’ because of his silly haircut – are scared shitless when Jules and Vincent show up.
* Marvin (Phil LaMarr) is Marcelles’s man on the inside with the associates. After Brett and co are dead, Marvin leaves with Jules and Vincent – but in the film’s biggest laugh, Vincent accidentally shoots him in the face.
* Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) is a boxer who Marsellus pays to throw a fight. However, Butch secretly bets on himself then wins the bout and goes on the run. When his girlfriend forgets to bring his beloved wristwatch, however, Butch sneaks home to get it – and bumps into Marsellus. They fight in the street and end up being kidnapped by redneck rapists. (In a flashback scene, Butch’s mother is played by Brenda Hillhouse, Quentin Tarantino’s former acting coach.)
* Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) is hidden from view in his first few appearances – he’s shot from behind or kept in shadows. It’s only when he surprisingly appears in front of Butch’s car that we see fully him.
* Jody (Rosanna Arquette) is the girlfriend of drug-dealer Lance and has lots of piercings: “Five in each ear, one through the nipple on my left breast, two in my right nostril, one in my left eyebrow, one in my belly, one in my lip, one in my clit… and I wear a stud in my tongue.”
* Lance (Eric Stoltz) sells Vincent some prime heroine, which he says is making a comeback. He’s later pissed off when Vincent returns with an OD’ing Mia. Lance is a more with-it version of Floyd from True Romance.
* Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) is Marsellus’s wife, who Vincent has to take out for a meal on Marsellus’s orders. She’s a hedonist who forces Vincent to join her in a dance contest and then overdoses on his heroine. This is Thurman’s best performance in a movie by far.
* ‘Buddy Holly’ (Steve Buscemi) is a waiter at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a 1950s-themed diner Vincent and Mia go to. In Reservoir Dogs, Buscemi’s character argued against tipping waitresses; here he plays a dour waiter. A neat gag.
* Captain Koons (Christopher Walken) appears in a flashback (or possibly dream sequence). He served in Vietnam with Butch’s father, who’s been killed, and is giving the young Butch his father’s watch. Walken’s cameo is mostly a monologue.
* Esmarelda Villa Lobos (Amanda Jones) is the taxi driver Butch hires to get him away from the boxing venue. She has a perverse fascination with what it’s like to kill a man. (The scene in the moving cab uses black-and-white footage for its background plates – a nod to the movie’s film-noir inspirations.)
* Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) is Butch’s child-like girlfriend, who witters on about pot bellies and pancakes. She also loses his beloved watch, which doesn’t go down well.
* Maynard (Duane Whitaker) and Zed (Peter Greene) are two rapists who lock Butch and Macellus up in their cellar. Zed’s a copper and has a chopper (not a motorbike) called Grace. They also have another man locked up in their basement: the Gimp (Stephen Hibbert), who’s kept in a box and dressed all in leather.
* Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino) is a pal of Jules’s who seemingly used to be a crim but now lives in a nice house with his wife, a nurse called Bonnie. Early one morning, Jules and Vincent show up with a dead body and ask for his help.
* Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel) is a fixer hired by Marsellus when Jules and Vincent land in trouble. We first see him at an all-night cocktail party (hence why he’s in a tux at 8am).

Returning actors: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Quentin Tarantino had all been in Reservoir Dogs. Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Walken had small roles in True Romance.

Music: It’s one of *the* great movie soundtracks. No score, but a long list of excellently chosen pop tracks. It’s an effortlessly cool playlist in itself, strong with surfer music and instrumentals, but the most impressive thing is how the songs work in context. They’re deployed with precision: the whipcrack Misirlou (Dick Dale & His Del-Tones) to power us into the credits; the chilled Let’s Stay Together (Al Green) to score Butch’s meeting with Marsellus; the trippy Bustin’ Surfboards (The Tornadoes) for Vincent’s drug haze; the cool-as-fuck Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield) when we enter Mia’s world; the jaunty You Never Can Tell (Chuck Berry) for the dance contest; the upbeat Flowers on the Wall (The Statler Brothers) for Butch’s moment of triumph; and so on…

Time shifts and chapters: This anthology film has three main stories with on-screen titles (Vincent Vega & Marsellus Wallace’s Wife, The Gold Watch, and The Bonnie Situation) as well as a subplot about two robbers. But the first story chronologically speaking is actually shown last, allowing the movie to circle back on itself, and the film has a pleasing symmetry. We start and conclude with the robbers, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. Then moving one step in from either end, we have Vincent and Jules. One step further in and Vincent’s recklessness is causing chaos (an overdose and a death). Butch sits at the centre of the film. This structure allows for plenty of fun: for example, on a second viewing you can actually spot Vincent and hear Jules during the opening scene in the diner. More importantly, every major character is given a closing moment of redemption or triumph. Vincent is shot and killed, but then ‘resurrected’ for The Bonnie Situation (which is set earlier). Jules drops out of the film after 25 minutes, but then returns in The Bonnie Situation and we learn that it was his choice. Mia goes through hell in the opening story, but then we see her doing well in The Gold Watch. Butch’s last scene – as he rides off into the sunset a winner – comes with an hour of the film to go, but is actually the final scene chronologically. This playing around with time also allows us to see different points of view of the same events. The film twice loops back to an earlier moment – to Jules killing Brett, and to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s robbery – but now we have new information about what’s happening.

Connections: Vincent Vega is the brother of Mr Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. A fan theory has it that the suitcase Jules and Vincent are collecting contains the stolen jewels from Reservoir Dogs. Harvey Keitel has recently been reprising Winston Wolf in some fairly unwatchable British TV ads.

Review: Pulp Fiction is a sprawling film-noir masterpiece, populated by fascinating and entertaining characters, and there’s more going on in 147 minutes than in most film directors’ entire careers. A strong theme is that while choices have consequences – Vincent buying the drugs, Butch betraying Marsellus – more often than not fate plays a key role. Lance runs out of the right sort of bags for heroine, Fabienne forgets the watch, Butch bumps into Marsellus in the street, Vincent’s gun goes off at the wrong time, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny pick the wrong day to rob a diner, the Pop Tarts are ready at the worst time… These unplanned moments reverberate throughout the movie, and the characters’ reactions to them are really interesting. For example, Jules and Vincent are shot at but survive. The prosaic Vincent shrugs it off as luck, yet Jules is deeply affected and it changes his life. This keeps the character stories interesting and engaging. On every level, in fact, this is superior filmmaking. Tarantino’s attitude-loaded dialogue is extraordinary. The large cast is excellent. There’s some wonderfully staged camerawork, including more long takes (Vincent and Jules walking up to the apartment is five minutes of film with just four cuts). It’s superbly edited by Sally Menke. There’s a tremendous sound mix that reveals lots of subtle details on repeat viewings. The film established Tarantino’s reputation for innovative casting (the then-unfashionable John Travolta in a leading role, movie star Bruce Willis ‘working for scale’). It introduced the director’s foot fetish (characters discuss foot massages, Mia is barefoot a few times), which will crop up again in future films. And the script contains some fantastic conceptual jokes. Guns, for example, either don’t work or go spectacularly wrong, while Winston Wolf is built up as an all-powerful, almost mythical figure who will rescue Jules and Vincent from disaster… then all he does is tell them to clean the car. This film changed my life. It came out when I was 15, and like some kind of Rosetta Stone it opened my eyes to what cinema can be, what it can do. More than any other movie it put me on a road that led to a film degree and a career vaguely connected to the media. I owe it a lot.

Every motherfucking last one of you out of 10

Natural Born Killers (1994, Oliver Stone)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Lovebirds Mickey and Mallory Knox go on a three-week, 52-victim killing spree…

What does QT do? Tarantino’s draft of Natural Born Killers, based on an earlier script by his pal Roger Avary, ended up in the hands of director Oliver Stone. Stone heavily rewrote it with colleagues David Veloz and Richard Rutowski, leaving Quentin with just a ‘Story by’ credit. Tarantino wasn’t involved during production.

Notable characters:
* Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Wilson Knox (Juliette Lewis) are the couple at the heart of the story. They meet when he shows up at her house delivering meat, and they soon kill her parents and go on the run. They become media darlings, though Mickey is disappointed that the TV show covering them gets lower ratings than a Charles Manson special. As with True Romance, this film is about a couple who are so in love they don’t care about anyone else. But unlike Clarence and Alabama, Mickey and Mallory are total wackos. Harrelson and Lewis certainly don’t hold back in their performances.
* Ed Wilson (Roger Dangerfield) and Mrs Wilson (Edie McClurg) are Mallory’s parents, who we see in a sequence presented as a 1960s-style studio sitcom. Ed is a slobbering monster who abuses Mallory, and her brother, Kevin (Ross Malinger), is actually her son. Mrs Wilson is played by Grace from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
* Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr) is a TV journalist on a current-affairs show called American Maniacs (‘Hosted by Wayne Gale, written by Wayne Gale, produced and directed by Wayne Gale’). It sensationalises Mickey and Mallory’s crimes and features staged reconstructions of them killing people. Gale has a mullet and possibly an Australian accent (it’s very hard to tell).
* Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) is the corrupt, prostituting-killing cop on the trail of the Knoxes. After he catches them he writes a book about it.
* Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones) runs the prison that features in the film’s third act. He has a 1970s suit and a 1970s tache. Jones hams it up something rotten.

Returning actors: Tom Sizemore had also played a cop in True Romance. Stand-up comedian Steven Wright, who’d voiced K-Billy in Reservoir Dogs, has a small role here as an expert interviewed on Gale’s TV show.

Music: It’s almost non-stop. There are tracks playing for virtually the entire film. Incidental cues tend to be overblown and melodramatic, while the best use of a pre-existing song is Rage Against The Machine’s Bombtrack. A scene is really well timed to its murmuring bass riff.

Time shifts and chapters: We start with Mickey and Mallory already on the rampage – a newspaper headline tells us they’re just killed six teenagers – then 10 minutes into the film we cut back and learn how the couple met and fell in love. Later on, after Mickey and Mallory have been arrested, there’s a jump to a year later.

Connections: According to Tarantino, the cop Jack Scagnetti is meant to be the brother of Mr Blonde’s unseen parole officer in Reservoir Dogs.

Review: Here’s a sample of the cinematic techniques used in this movie – slow motion, sped-up footage, off-kilter camera angles, point-of-view shots, shots played in reverse, black-and-white shots cut into colour scenes, colour-tinted shots, negative images, film scratches, videotape footage, Super-8 footage, 16mm footage, CCTV footage, stock footage, animation, on-screen captions, subtitles projected onto actors’ bodies, clips from commercials, disorientating editing, obvious rear-projection, an entire sequence presented as if from an old studio sitcom (laughter track and all) and segments from a TV news show. It’s *exhausting*. Early on, you subconsciously expect the film to calm down, but it’s constantly gimmicky and tricksy. And with no variety or nuance, it becomes very boring very quickly. The second quarter, in which the Knoxes meet a Native American who gives them hallucinogens, is especially tedious. Yes, there’s satire going on – the journalists are ruthless, the authority figures have no morals, the public is entertained by mass murder, everyone’s a moron – but it’s like a drunk pontificating in a pub. Even if the points are valid, you just want the ranting to stop. Every now and again there are flashes of Tarantino dialogue or wit, but then comes along more ultraviolence, brutality, incest, torture, vulgarity… A mess.

Three prison riots out of 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation: season seven (1993/94)

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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 the final season …

Best episode:
* All Good Things… Picard’s consciousness leaps about in time… Superb. I can’t immediately think of a more enjoyable series finale. There’s a big plot hole in the MacGuffin, but it really doesn’t matter.

Honourable mentions:
* Gambit, Part I. The rest of the Enterprise crew believe Picard has been killed… Don’t worry, he’s on this mercenary ship over here pretending to be a bad guy.
* Gambit, Part II – Ditto.
* Inheritance. The woman who is, in effect, Data’s ‘mum’ shows up… Fionnula Flanagan guest stars.
* Parallels. Worf is the only crewmember to notice that reality keeps changing… A surreal little episode.
* The Pegasus. Riker’s former captain investigates when an old mission comes back to haunt them both… A tremendously structured drama with conflicting viewpoints, mysteries and twists. Excellent.
* Homeward. Worf’s brother surreptitiously beams a group of people into a holodeck simulation of their dying world… One of numerous (ie, too many) episodes this season with a story based on a regular’s family member, but still enjoyable.
* Lower Decks. Various subplots about junior officers are woven together… A nice POV exercise. (A slight shame, though, that it’s still about *officers*. Surely the Enterprise has janitors and dock workers and IT gremlins – why not show us their lives?)
* Thine Own Self. Data loses his memory on a medieval planet while Troi tries to become a commander… It’s a shame the two halves of the episode are unconnected – and that Troi gets a promotion in a couple of days because she asks for one – but it’s broadly enjoyable.
* Bloodlines. A Ferenghi threatens to kill a son Picard didn’t know he had… Another tremendous example of how good Patrick Stewart was in this show.

Worst episode:
* Liasons. Picard is stranded on a hostile planet while strange ambassadors cause ructions on the Enterprise… Not only are both halves of the story really boring, but it ends with an alien character actually saying he wanted to learn about this earth custom called love. (This was a disappointing season generally, with numerous dull-as-dishwater episodes – Masks, Firstborn, Genesis…)

Conclusion:
* It’s been fascinating to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation again. I hadn’t seen most of the episodes since BBC2 screened them in the early 90s, and on the whole the show held up really well. It can be guilty of many things – naffness, tweeness, parochialism, a patronising attitude, naivety, the use of deus ex machina, unrealistic happy endings, abrupt endings, lack of conflict, a sense of white-man-to-the-rescue, repetition of ideas, technobabble (so much technobabble, especially once creator Gene Roddenberry had died), character stories with no plots, plots with no heart, old-fashioned attitudes to sex and marriage, and a tiresome reliance on resetting the status quo at the end of every episode. But it’s also packed full of great ideas, built on optimism, and has a likeable and charming regular cast. (Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner were consistently impressive.) Now… Do I have the time to give Deep Space Nine another go?

Star Trek: Generations (1994, David Carson)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

James T Kirk is seemingly killed while rescuing refugees from a strange energy ribbon in space – however, 78 years later Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the current USS Enterprise ends up in the same ribbon and comes face-to-face with his predecessor…

Regulars: The film begins with a prologue set in 2293 – Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour at the launch of the new Enterprise. When a crisis develops, Kirk urges the captain to be decisive then has to take charge. He appears to be killed when the energy ribbon blasts a hole in the side of the ship – in actual fact, he’s transported into a surreal fantasy world where time doesn’t exist and he imagines he’s living in a log cabin and is obsessed with cooking. When he returns to the real world, Kirk is genuinely killed during the film’s climax. In that prologue, Chekov introduces Kirk to Sulu’s daughter, who’s a member of the new crew, then press gangs some journalists into being nurses during the crisis. Scotty, meanwhile, attempts to transport people off a stricken ship, but can only get 44 out of 150 before the vessel is destroyed. We’re then introduced to the new team of regulars, fresh from seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard is enjoying some naval roleplaying when we cut to the 24th century, but soon gets the awful news that his brother and nephew have been killed. When he’s later inside the Nexus fantasy world, he imagines a life with a loving family, but turns his back on it so he can save his crewmates. Riker takes charge during a Klingon attack and uses calm man-management skills to win the day. Geordie gets lots of screen time – he tries to help Data with his emotional struggle, then is kidnapped by Soran, who plants a bug in his visor so they Klingons can spy on the Enterprise. Data doesn’t understand why seeing someone falling into water is funny: when Crusher tries to explain, Data responds by pushing her in. (Despite what Geordie says, this *is* funny.) Once he has his emotion chip, Data revels in his new ability to hate things, laughs uproariously at a joke Geordie cracked years before, and uses silly voices. Worf is promoted during that naval roleplay scene. Crusher does the background check on Soren; she also does a bit of doctoring. Troi clocks that something is wrong with Picard and sympathetically gets him to talk about it; when a crewmember is later blown out of his chair at the helm, she takes his place. Guinan – a Next Generation semi-regular played by Whoopi Goldberg – has a small but vital role in the story, and we learn some of her backstory.

Guests: The main bad guy is scientist-cum-maniac Soran, played by Malcolm McDowell. The movie’s early scenes feature Alan Ruck (“It could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong…”) as the Enterprise B’s captain – he’s nervous, green and really can’t get his ship together. Future Star Trek: Voyager regular Tim Russ plays a crewmember, as does Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in Aliens, John Connor’s foster mum in Terminator 2).

Best bits:

* Kirk inspecting the new Enterprise, swatting aside journalists’ questions, meeting Sulu’s daughter, and looking longingly at the captain’s chair.

* Kirk having to keep a lid on his frustration as Captain Harriman dithers during the crisis.

* The ribbon is a cool special effect.

* Guinan’s on the refuge ship!

* The new crew’s first scene – a holodeck recreation of a 19th-century warship. It’s partly a bit of roleplay fun between the regulars, partly a ritual as Worf is promoted to lieutenant commander.

* Picard eulogises how great life at sea must have been. “No engines, no computers, just the wind and the sea and the stars to guide you…” Riker adds: “Bad food, brutal discipline, no women…”

* Picard’s grief, played really well by Patrick Stewart.

* Data’s unpredictable behaviour once he gets an emotion chip.

* The sudden change of ambient lighting – from sunset yellow to harsh white – as the star the ship is orbiting is destroyed.

* Guinan describing the Nexus: “It’s like being inside joy.”

* The stellar-cartography scene. It’s a very smart way to illustrate Picard’s detective work, and also gives him a chance to discuss Data’s issues.

* When their bug in Geordie’s visor is activated, Klingons Lursa and B’Etor see a big close-up of Crusher on their screen. “Human females are so repulsive!”

* Data singing to himself as he taps away at some controls. “Life forms… You tiny little life forms… “

* The Enterprise’s saucer section detaching from the rest of the ship.

* ”Oh, shit!” says an emotionally charged Data as the ship falls towards the planet. The subsequent shots of it appearing out of the cloud, skimming across a forest and crashing are fantastic.

* The energy ribbon passing through a planet.

* Picard’s fantasy inside the Nexus – a vaguely Victorian family Christmas.

* Guinan being in the Nexus too.

* Picard meets Kirk!

* “You say history considers me dead,” says Kirk. “Who am I to argue with history?”

* Kirk imploring Picard to never retire, accept promotion or get himself transferred off the bridge of the Enterprise.

* Kirk showing up in Soran’s way. “Just who the hell are you?” asks Soran. Picard, standing off to the side: “He’s James T Kirk. Don’t you read history?”

* “Oh, my…”

TV tie-in: In Star Trek: The Next Generation’s sixth season, James Doohan guest starred for one episode as Scotty. Relics is an entertaining story, built on the cute premise that someone can survive in a ‘transporter buffer’ for decades. When Generations was made a couple of years later we see Scotty witness Kirk’s ‘death’ – yet in Relics, which is set later, he assumes Kirk has come to rescue him. The episode contains a lovely recreation of the original TV show’s bridge set.

Review: Another terrific Star Trek movie. It’s got to write out Captain Kirk, introduce a whole new crew and tell a self-contained action story, yet never feels mechanical or contrived. It’s really well directed – pacey, smart and often fun – and looks superbly cinematic with some fantastic lighting. The dreamlike, surreal Nexus is also a neat way of bringing Kirk and Picard together, much more interesting and character-based than simple time-travel. On the minor downside, it’s tiresome how much technobabble there is in the dialogue, while some of the new regulars (Worf, Crusher, Troi) get rather lost in the mix. On the whole, though, this is a superb start to a new movement in the Star Trek symphony.

Nine Ktarian eggs out of 10.

Live at the BBC (1994)/On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 (2013)

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Title: Between March 1962 and June 1965, the Beatles regularly took part in BBC radio sessions. They appeared on 52 shows, recording 275 performances of 90 different songs* (36 of which were never part of their EMI discography). These two volumes compile 56 and 40 tracks respectively, mixing them with snippets of the band being interviewed by the shows’ presenters.

*Sources vary over the total of unique songs. I’m going by the index in Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Chronicle.

Covers: Each volume uses a different photograph of the young Beatles – in both, they’re wearing suits and walking confidently down a London pavement. The first image has a rusty wash, while the second is full colour. I’ve been unable to find out when the first was taken, but On Air’s cover photograph dates from 2 July 1963. On that day, the group were at the Beeb’s Maida Vale Studio, taping episode five of radio show Pop Go The Beatles.

(Thanks again to Fraser Dickson for help with the image for this post.)

Best songs:

* Some Other Guy is, in many ways, one of the big missed opportunities of the Beatles canon. It was a 1962 hit for Richie Barrett, and reportedly fascinated Lennon for the rest of his life. The group recorded it three times for the BBC; it was in their set list for a couple of years; and the only time they were ever filmed in the Cavern – just days after Ringo joined the band – they enthusiastically played Some Other Guy. Given some of the lacklustre cover versions they put on early albums, it’s hard to see why they never tackled it for EMI. The take on the first Live at the BBC album is from an episode of Easy Beat and – unlike most of the stuff here – was recorded in front of a live audience.

* The version of And I Love Her on volume two is notable for George playing an electric (rather than acoustic) guitar. It gives the whole song a different feel.

Honourable mentions:

* We get the only ever Beatles recording of Lennon-McCartney song I’ll Be On My Way – it’s a pleasant enough tune, but has terrible lyrics.

* Terrific covers of Soldier of Love and You Really Got a Hold On Me are well sung by John.

* Paul’s vocal on Long Tall Sally is super (we get a different take on each volume); he’s likewise impressive on two other Little Richard tunes: Lucille and Ooh! My Soul.

* There are good run-throughs of I Saw Her Standing There, Please Mister Postman, Twist and Shout, I’ll Get You, She Loves You and From Me To You.

* Things We Said Today and Till There Was You almost match the versions on With The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night respectively, while She’s A Woman is interestingly loser than the B-side recording.

* Lend Me Your Comb, originally recorded by Carl Perkins, is good fun, while the Beatles were never as C&W as on this cut of Perkins’s Sure to Fall (In Love With You) – it’s like listening to Gram Parsons.

* And finally, fantastically, volume two features an unedited sequence from a November 1964 session: the Beatles attempting I Feel Fine and discussing the take with the studio staff.

Worst songs: Nothing especially offends, but on the first volume we could probably cope without a sugary, earnest rendition of To Know Her Is To Love Her. (It’s also always a disappointment how tired Johnny B Goode is. Marty McFly did it better.) On volume two, a poor quality recording of Beautiful Dreamer (a 19th-century song with a speeded-up beat) can’t mask what a dull song it is. It even has a key change to try to keep our interest.

Notable outside contributions: Everything was recorded ‘as live’ or with minimal overdubs – so we’re hearing the musical product of four men. One exception is during A Hard Day’s Night on the first volume. Unable for some reason to recreate George Martin’s piano solo, it was rather inelegantly copied in from the single! (The take redeems itself at the end, though, when the boys and host Brian Matthews ridicule the song’s fade-out.)

Review: As an approximation of what the group must have been like live, these albums are lovely: plenty of well rehearsed performances of some covers, plus a smattering of alternate versions of existing Beatles tracks. Yet I doubt many fans dig these CDs out very often (unless they have an unquenchable thirst for rock’n’roll covers). There’s nothing essential here, while no take betters any EMI equivalent. The bits of between-song chat are fun on a first listen – all four Beatles are witty, charming and quick, while the hosts keep things light – but drag the album down when you can recite the jokes in your head. (Volume two also has some longer interviews, one per Beatle, recorded on the eve of Rubber Soul’s release. Paul sells a funny gag about Indian music.)

Five June lights turning to moonlights out of 10.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

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Written by Ethan, Joel and Sam Raimi; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan

When a company’s boss commits suicide, the stock is due to be sold to the public – so the board appoint Norville Barnes, an imbecile from the post room, as CEO in order to artificially reduce the price…

Seen before? No.

Best performance: Jennifer Jason Leigh as feisty, sassy, quick-talking, sexy yet occasionally klutzy newspaper hack Amy Archer. Her rat-a-tat-tat dialogue is a constant delight – it’s like watching Lois Lane played by Rebecca from Cheers. I wanted the whole film to be about her.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): Steve Buscemi (3) plays a barman in a beatnik bar. John Goodman (3) provides a newsreel voice. Jon Polito (3) has a cameo as a businessman. Bruce Campbell (1) is Amy’s droll colleague, while John Mahoney (2) is her boss. Charles Durning (1) is the guy who commits suicide and sets the plot in motion.

Best bit: The slapstick scene where Norville sets fire to an important contract then tries to put it out in increasingly comic fashion.

Review: Part screwball comedy, part satire on big business – this is very, very entertaining. It’s the Coens’ third period movie on the trot, and has lots of striking Art Deco architecture and 1950s style (it reminded me of both Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Tim Burton’s Batman). It’s inventive, light-on-its-feet and often really funny.

Nine hula hoops out of 10.

Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994, Alan Metter)

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In this leaden, lifeless, lacklustre final Police Academy movie – with only two remaining members of the class of ’84 – the team travel to Russia for, Jesus, some lame reason, I don’t know, I don’t care any more. It’s such a dreadful film, not even managing to be kitsch fun. Christopher Lee plays a Russian general – that’s how awful it is. And it has the most irritating ADR dialogue imaginable. Every “Hmm!” and “Ah!” dubbed over a reaction shot makes your skin crawl with its ineptitude. Here’s the final rundown of running gags and clichés…

Hightower uses his strength! – He’s not in it. Lucky guy

Tackleberry shoots! – When someone trips him up, he does an elaborate gymnastic spin in the air; when demonstrating an arrest on Harris, he takes it too far. He pulls his gun on some people in a sauna, and wants to open a safe by shooting it.

Jonesey’s sound effects! – Squeeky chalk on a blackboard; engine noises as he messes about on a BMX; a blender; a safe opening; Oriental music as he meditates; noisy footsteps; and echoes when someone gives a speech.

Hooks shouts ‘Dirtbag!’ – She’s not in it. Lucky girl.

Callahan’s chest! – While singing undercover in a nightclub, she falls off he piano and ends up sitting on the pianist, crotch in face. When kidnapped by the bad guy (Ron Pearlman), she dresses in lingerie.

Harris shouts ‘Proctor!’ – Proctor’s vanished. Harris says, “Move it! Move it! Move it!” four times. He gets covered in garbage; blows himself up; and goes out on stage (in a ballerina costume) at the Bolshoi.

Lassard is a bit, um, vague! – He pushes a recruit over a barrier; still has fish on his desk; doesn’t notice Harris’s obvious bugging device; and gets in the wrong car at the airport – so spends most of the film with a Russian family.

Obvious replacement characters! – Mahoney’s replacement, Nick, has himself been replaced by the equally boring Kyle Connors (Charlie Schlatter).

Homophobic!/Racist! – The whole thing is pathetically xenophobic. During the nonsensical credit sequence, a stuntman appears to be blacked up to play Jones.

Bare breasts! – There are some topless women in a sauna scene – the series’s first female nudity since film two.

Famous totty – Claire Forlani, who played Colin’s girlfriend in Press Gang, appears as drab Russian translator Katrina.