Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995, John McTiernan)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

An enigmatic man called Simon forces Lieutenant John McClane to complete a series of tasks and puzzles in New York City – otherwise he’ll blow up a school…

Source material: Whereas the first two Die Hard movies were adapted from unrelated novels, this one is based on a film script called Simon Says. Originally intended as a standalone thriller, it was then rewritten as a potential Lethal Weapon sequel. But after Bruce Willis rejected several storylines for a third Die Hard film – including an idea that was later used for Speed 2: Cruise Control – Simon Says was appropriated and retooled as Die Hard With a Vengeance.

John McClane: He’s in a bad way as the story begins. John’s back working as a cop in New York but has been suspended; he hasn’t spoken to his wife for a year, and spends the whole film with a monster hangover. Incidentally, between the previous Die Hard movie and this one, Bruce Willis had cameoed as John McClane in Loaded Weapon 1. One of the leads of that 1993 comedy film was Samuel L Jackson, who’s the chief guest star of Die Hard With a Vengeance. Both Willis and Jackson were also in Pulp Fiction together in 1994, though their characters only shared one scene and didn’t talk to each other. So as an in-joke during Die Hard With a Vengeance, John McClane quotes some lyrics from Flowers on the Wall, a song that Bruce Willis’s character listens to in Pulp Fiction.

Regulars: Holly McClane is mentioned a couple of times and we hear her over the telephone briefly. But this is essentially the only Die Hard movie with no recurring characters other than John. 

Villain: The film’s bad guy is only a voice to begin with – he makes calls to the cops and demands that John McClane play parlour games. They deduce that he’s German and clearly holds a grudge against John, yet no one puts zwei and zwei together… The character is played by a blond, athletic Jeremy Irons, who finally appears on screen after 45 minutes. Sadly, it’s a pretty irritating performance. Truly successful bad guys don’t think of themselves as evil; in their heads, they’re the heroes. However, Irons is a paid-up member of the Jonathan Pryce School of Villainy – ie, he thinks his character should be twirling his moustache and laughing manically. (The actor also does a naff American accent during one scene.) He has several lackeys, but none makes much impression. Eventually, it turns out that all the games and puzzles are just a distraction while Simon steals tons of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Why involve John McClane at all? Because Simon is the brother of the first movie’s Hans Gruber and wants revenge for his death.

Music: Michael Kamen returns for a third Die Hard score, and has perhaps too much fun quoting the tune of 19th-century song When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

Review: After LA in film one and Washington, DC in film two, the Die Hard series now hits New York – and it’s a very NYC-centric story. Manhattan, Harlem, Central Park, Wall Street, traffic jams, the subway, yellow taxis, coarse cops, rude businessmen – they’re all here! The spine of the story sees Bruce Willis’s John McClane forced to team up with Samuel L Jackson’s Zeus Carver, a smart, pragmatic shopkeeper from Harlem. They make a great, bickering team and we’re soon into classic mismatched-duo, buddy-movie territory. The characters bounce around New York, solving puzzles and trading sharp dialogue. It’s a lot of fun… for 45 minutes. Then the actual plot kicks in, Jeremy Irons shows up, and it all becomes very on-the-nose. The stunts get bigger, the villains’ plot becomes more convoluted, the terror levels are raised – but we’ve lost any Die Hard-ish distinction.

Seven sandwich boards out of 10

PS: I spotted an oddity while rewatching this 22-year-old film – the script mentions both candidates from the 2016 US Presidential election…

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The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Transylvania, January 1918 (1995, Dick Maas)

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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The bulk of the story takes place in January 1918 in Venice and Transylvania. There are also bookends featuring an older Indiana Jones (George Hall) back home in America; it’s Halloween in the early 1990s.

Faithful to the novel? The connection to Dracula lies in the fact that this TV episode – which obviously was a spin-off from the 1980s movie series – features a vampire version of Vlad the Impaler who is Bram Stoker’s character in all but name. Indiana Jones (Sean Patrick Flanery) travels to Venice during the First World War. He’s operating under the alias Henri Defense and working for US intelligence. Four months previously, a POW camp in Austria was attacked by a Romanian general called Mattias Targo and the Allied prisoners are now missing. So Indy and his superior officer Colonel Walters (Keith Szarabajka) are sent to find out what’s happened. There are lengthy shots of them travelling into rural Transylvania and then they have an edgy encounter in an unfriendly bar. Hooking up with some local agents – Dr Franz Heinzer (Sam Kelly), Nicholas (Paul Kynman) and Maria (Simone Bendix) – they track down the prisoners, then head to a nearby castle… which is spooky and on a hilltop. Lightning strikes as they see it. After Indy and the others break in, they find bodies impaled on spikes – and deduce that Targo is copying Vlad Tepes, the 15th-century warlord known as Vlad the Impaler who killed over 100,000 people. There’s other weird shit going on too, including balls of lightning that float about. Maria is then possessed, blood flows down the walls, and Walters is electrocuted to death. Eventually, Indy finds General Targo (Bob Peck), who turns out to be a vampire with a Bela Lugosi accent. He’s been capturing soldiers for his army of undead warriors. Indy and Maria try to escape, but Targo gives chase. The pair eventually stake him.

Best performance: Sam Kelly as Dr Heinzer, who is later revealed to be a double agent for the Austrians called Adolf Schmidt.

Best bit: Clearly a lot of money was spent on this series – the sets and locations are very impressive.

Review: This episode was meant to be the final instalment of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicle’s second season in 1993. However, the series was axed by ABC and Transylvania, January 1918 was one of four episodes not shown. There was a screening on German TV in 1995, then it got a wider public release in 1996 when the series was reedited into movie-length specials for a VHS release. Transylvania, January 1918 was combined with an episode called Istanbul, September 1918 (originally broadcast 17 July 1993) and the result was branded as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Masks of Evil. Sadly, Indy’s adventure in Transylvania doesn’t exactly sing. There’s cheesy dialogue, a few dodgy performances, and clichés all over the place. Characters have penis-measuring contests for no reason; Indy is a passive character who’s just along for the ride; and the horror is either implied or tame. A dud.

Five paper aeroplanes out of 10

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

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Cover: The image shows two men passing each other on Berwick Street in Soho. One of them is Brian Cannon, who designed this and many other Oasis covers. In the background is a third man: it’s co-producer Owen Morris, who’s holding the album’s master tape aloft. The title is in full caps across the top of the image. The space before the question mark is quite irritating.

Best track: Don’t Look Back in Anger was a number-one hit when released as the album’s fourth single in February 1996. It starts with a piano phrase that’s noticeably similar to John Lennon’s Imagine. Noel Gallagher says one of the reasons he nicked it was to wind people up – well, if you’re going to steal you may as well be shameless about it. A few of the lyrics are also Lennon’s work: the line about starting a revolution from your bed is said to be taken from a cassette of rambling monologues he recorded in the 1970s. And the thievery doesn’t stop there: the song’s emotive chords are the same as Mott The Hoople’s All the Young Dudes (1972). But the result is *fantastic*. Surely everyone has a song that reminds them of what it was like to be 16 and happy and optimistic? This is mine. Noel takes the lead vocal – the first time he’d done that on a single – and belts it out for all it’s worth.

Honourable mentions:
* Opening track Hello obviously, and now unfortunately, nicks its hook from the 1973 Gary Glitter song Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again. (It’s been reported that Glitter has earned over a million quid because of its use here.) The track actually begins with the chords from Wonderwall, then a fun siren-like effect cuts in and powers us into a terrific wall-of-noise rocker.
* Roll With It was the single Oasis released in August 1995 in direct competition with Blur’s Country House. (Coincidentally enough, Country House’s lyrics use the phrase ‘morning glory’.) The bands’ rivalry made the Six O’Clock News and – guess what – gave both singes huge amounts of publicity. I never liked Roll With It at the time, thinking it too Status Quo. But it’s grown on me in recent years, for nostalgic reasons. The intro’s fun and the song has a carefree charm. Country House, though, is still the better track and had a winsome video that starred Keith Allen and Matt Lucas. It sold about 50,000 more copies in the first week and pipped Roll With It to number one.
* Wonderwall was the third single from the album. It has a great sentimentality to it – the sweeping melody, the use of strings, lyrics about an imaginary friend, soft backing vocals, a surprisingly tender lead vocal from Liam Gallagher. No wonder it quickly became ubiquitous, even being covered by a comedy band within a few months. The song is named after George Harrison’s debut solo album, Wonderwall Music (1968), which was the soundtrack to a now-forgotten movie. While writing this review, I heard Noel say on Absolute Radio that he’s never especially liked Wonderwall. What would he know?! It’s brilliant.
* Some Might Say – the band’s first number-one single when released six months before the album – took a lot of work. Co-producer Owen Morris says he used post-production tricks to disguise mistakes and timing issues in the backing track. But it was worth it. This is a powerhouse of guitar rock: vibrant, gleaming, and full of attack. (Quite what the lyrics mean is another thing…) It was the first song recorded for the album so features original drummer Tony McCarroll. He was then sacked, partly due to his lack of ability and partly due to a clash with Noel Gallagher. In his place came Londoner Alan White, who had been recommended by Noel’s showbiz pal Paul Weller.
* Cast No Shadow was the last song written for the album, and according to the sleeve notes is ‘dedicated to the genius of Richard Ashcroft’, then lead singer of The Verve. It’s a delightfully laid-back ballad with acoustic guitar and a string section.
* She’s Electric is a very likeable, upbeat song with lots of comedy rhymes (“She’s got a sister/And God only knows how I’ve missed her/And on the palm of her hand is a blister…”). The song also features melodic quotations from the theme tune to 1970s kids show You and Me and the Beatles song While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
* Morning Glory is a heavy-rock track with the kind of aggression that dominated Definitely Maybe. People more expert than me have pointed out that it owes a huge debt to the REM song The One I Love. It begins and ends with the sound of a helicopter, while a brief clip of Soul II Soul’s Love Enuff (1995) is audible in the fade-out. For some reason. There’s also another Beatles reference: the track Tomorrow Never Knows is namechecked in the lyrics.
* The album ends – well, climaxes is the best word for it – with the seven-and-a-half-minute Champagne Supernova. We reach it via a snatch of an untitled instrumental and the calm sound effect of lapping waves. The song begins slow and a bit stoned-out: there’s the drone of a synth, some arpeggio guitar and gentle drumming. Then something magical happens – the intensity builds and builds and builds. About halfway through, it’s become a monumentally enormous anthem. It’s one of the *the* great album closers. (Incidentally, Paul Weller plays guitar and provides some backing vocals.)

Worst track: There isn’t a bad one. Hey Now! is the most disposable.

Weirdest lyric: Some Might Say’s “The sink is full of fishes/Cos she’s got dirty dishes on the brain. And my dog’s been itchin’/Itchin’ in the kitchen once again.” It’s possible Noel had taken drugs the day he wrote this.

Best video: The promo for Don’t Look Back in Anger features Patrick Macnee as a limo driver (perhaps it’s a reference to his role in the Bond movie A View to a Kill). He takes the band to an American mansion, where loads of women dressed in white are larking about. Noel wears red Lennon glasses and sings into a fish-eye lens; Alan White drums on a platform in the middle of a swimming pool; and because he doesn’t actually feature on the track Liam sits around looking bored.

Review: Noel once said that while Definitely Maybe is about dreaming to be a pop star, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is about *being* a pop star. It’s bigger, more ambitious and more vibrant than the first Oasis album – and what it loses in raw energy it makes up for in dynamism. There are rockers, ballads, comedy songs, orchestras, sound effects, presumably somewhere a kitchen sink. (Oh, maybe that’s what that lyric from Some Might Say is about….) For good or bad (I’d argue the former), Britpop dominated mid-90s youth culture. Oasis ruled Britpop, and this album was their mandate.

Ten roads we have to walk are winding out of 10

Four Rooms (1995, Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Hotel Mon Signor, Los Angeles, New Year’s Eve. A bellhop called Ted becomes embroiled in the goings-on of four groups of guests…

What does QT do? Quentin Tarantino and three pals wrote/directed a quarter of this film each – the stories are set in the same hotel on the same night and are linked by a bellhop called Ted. Quentin’s story, The Man from Hollywood, is based on a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called Man from the South (which itself was an adaptation of a Roald Dahl short story). The characters acknowledge the debt in the dialogue, though for some reason they think the episode was called The Man From Rio. Quentin cast himself as a flamboyant, successful actor called Chester Rush.

Notable characters (The Man From Hollywood only):
* Ted (Tim Roth) is running the hotel singlehanded on New Year’s Eve and is not having fun. After an hour of trauma in the other stories, he’s called by the penthouse and asked to deliver some champagne… Roth is *horrendous* in this film. It’s a jittery, manic, childish, cartoony and intensely irritating performance, gurning and eye-popping all over the place. (In one scene he does a Michael Caine impression, seemingly just to assume himself.) The part was written for Steve Buscemi, but he wisely passed.
* Angela (Jennifer Beals) is hanging out in the penthouse in a dressing gown. She’s one of the main characters in the movie’s second story, and it appears Tarantino added her here simply as a way of connecting the sections.
* Chester Rush (Quentin Tarantino) is an actor staying in the hotel’s penthouse. He’s just had a hit with a movie called Wacky Detective and has high hopes for new film The Dog Catcher. He’s made a bet with a hanger-on that the guy can’t light a cigarette lighter 10 times in a row. If the mate can’t, he loses a finger.
* Norman (Paul Calderón) is the sycophant who’s risking a digit for the bet.
* Leo (Bruce Willis) is Chester’s manager, who’s drunk and distracted by his on-going divorce. Willis is not credited on the film because he did the part for free and that broke union rules.

Returning actors: Tim Roth and Quentin Tarantino were in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, while Bruce Willis and Paul Calderón were just in the latter. Kathy Griffin (Pulp Fiction, ER) appears earlier in the film – as does Madonna, who was mentioned in dialogue in both Dogs and Pulp.

Music: Pretty awful. The score is annoying cocktail-lounge music by a band called Combustible Edison. The film’s theme tune, which plays over a Pink Panther-style animation, is a scat-sung travesty.

Time shifts and chapters: The Man From Hollywood is one scene played in real time. Elsewhere, the movie’s second and third stories seem to be happening concurrently.

Connections: Earlier in the film, producer Lawrence Bender has a cameo as a drunk party guest. He’s credited as Long Hair Yuppie Scum, the same credit he had for a cameo in Pulp Fiction – so let’s assume this is the same man. Around this time, Tarantino did some script-doctoring on films such as Crimson Tide (1995, Tony Scott) and The Rock (1996, Michael Bay).

Review: The opening section of Four Rooms is The Missing Ingredient, written and directed by Allison Anders. It’s a dreary, inconsequential story about a coven of witches trying to resurrect their goddess. They get stuck when they realise they need semen for a spell, so one of them seduces Ted. In story two, The Wrong Man by Alexandre Rockwell, Ted gets caught up with a married couple who are staging a hostage situation as a sex game. It’s very silly. The highlight of the movie is the third quarter, The Misbehavers by Robert Rodriguez, in which Ted has to babysit two children. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, as well as good visual comedy and a pleasingly macabre punchline. So it’s been a mixed bag by the time we reach Tarantino’s The Man From Hollywood, which is a fun enough shaggy-dog story with a good climax. There are two interesting things about the sequence. Firstly, like in Reservoir Dogs, cinephile Quentin actually relies on a theatre-like style. There are numerous uninterrupted takes of actors giving big performances as they move choreographically around the small set. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s long-take-heavy Rope (1948). (Having said that, the final gag is delivered via some nifty editing). And secondly what the scene says about its writer/director is very telling. Between this movie’s production and its release, Quentin acted in From Dusk Till Dawn. A behind-the-scenes film called Full Tilt Boogie was shot on and around the set, and the real-life Tarantino it documents (successful, brash, verbose, upbeat, the centre of attention) is not a million miles away from his Four Room character. Chester Rush rules his little world and does most of the talking. He even appears to be a fan of Quentin Tarantino: his dialogue contains the phrase ‘tasty beverage’, a reference to Pulp Fiction.

The Man From Hollywood: Seven declarative statements out of 10.
Four Rooms overall: Five balls to back up the action of your huge cock out of 10.

ER: Motherhood (11 May 1995, Quentin Tarantino)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In this penultimate episode of ER’s first season, Dr Susan Lewis’s sister gives birth to a baby…

What does QT do? Quentin Tarantino was a fan of ER (1994-2009) right from the start so jumped at the chance to direct an episode. Unless you count one scene in 2005 movie Sin City, this is the only time in his career he’s directed someone else’s script. (It was written by ER’s supervising producer Lydia Woodward.)

Notable characters:
* Dr Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) is woken early by her flighty sister, Chloe, who’s gone into labour but waited until the contractions are two minutes apart before doing anything about it.
* Chloe Lewis (Kathleen Wilhoite) gives birth to Little Susie in this episode – a plotline that had major implications for the next season or more. While in labour she insists on hearing the Beatles song Blackbird.
* John Carter (Noah Wyle) is a medical student who ends up helping with the delivery. He struggles to find the Beatles cassette, so Susan and Chloe have to sing Blackbird themselves. (Presumably this was done to avoid paying for the use of the original recording?)
* Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) is the ER’s head nurse.
* Dr Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) is the chief resident.
* Dr Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) is a surgical resident and Carter’s mentor. During his shift, he gets a call to go and see his elderly mother. By the time he arrives, though, she’s died.
* Dr Doug Ross (George Clooney) is a womanising ER doctor who ruins a fledging relationship by messing around with an ex.
* Dr Angela Hicks (CCH Pounder) is everyone’s boss. She tells Carter he’s missed out on the surgical placement he wanted.
* Cookie Lewis (Valerie Perrine from Superman: The Movie) is Susan and Chloe’s ditzy mother. We first see her holding an enormous bunch of flowers, which mask her face.
* The episode has a flurry of one-off patients and other characters, including… A 15-year-old boy who’s been impaled on a metal bar (his mother is played by Tarantino’s old drama teacher, Brenda Hillhouse)…  Boy Scouts with diarrhoea (their adult supervisor is played by Kathy Griffin)… A man found unconscious after mixing ammonia and bleach (his concerned wife is played by Amanda Jones)… A young girl with a fever… A girl who’s been bitted by a bee… A guy with an obstruction in his throat… An elderly woman who dies before she can be examined… A drug overdose… And two warring gang chicks, one of whom has had her ear bitten off.

Returning actors: Amanda Jones, Kathy Griffin and Brenda Hillhouse all had small roles in Pulp Fiction. (Although not in this episode, Pulp Fiction’s Ving Rhames was a semi-regular in ER around this time.)

Music: The incidental music – tense but unshowy – is by ER’s in-house composer, Marty Davich.

Time shifts and chapters: The episode is presented in chronological order.

Connections: A character losing an ear a la Reservoir Dogs is a coincidence, apparently. It was in the script before Tarantino was assigned to the episode.

Review: The episode title is bang on the money. This story is set on Mother’s Day, Chloe gives birth, Cookie refuses to help her daughter, Susan’s thrust into a surrogate mother’s role, and the mums of patients recur throughout. The episode actually begins with a labour and ends with the death of Benton’s mother. The early birth comes in a pre-titles sequence that’s quite astonishing. It’s a fast, funny, five-minute prologue that tells the story of Chloe’s labour; like a little mini-episode in itself. As the episode progresses, as well as ER’s standard well-written drama, we get a lot of comedy: pratfalls, fart gags, projectile vomiting and people running around in the background of a serious drama scene. There are also a couple of brilliantly playful scenes where, bored of their respective families, Susan and Carol sneak up on the roof and sunbathe. Tarantino, ever the arbiter of cool, insisted on the characters wearing all-black sunglasses. (He also has them barefooted: another example of the director’s fascination with women’s feet.) In fact, given that this is the 24th episode of a TV show with its own storytelling conventions, Tarantino is able to bring a lot of himself to the party. Motherhood is a fascinating mixture of ER’s house style (Steadicam shots arcing around characters, long takes, frenetic medical jargon, lots of extras rushing around a huge, four-walled set) and Tarantino’s obsessions (fetishist close-ups, flashes of violence, self-conscious coolness). Of course, a visual technique that both ER and Tarantino have excelled at is the long take. The show used them routinely, especially in high-energy scenes to build tension and a sense of real-time, and Motherhood contains Quentin’s most elaborate example yet. Just shy of two minutes and featuring dozens of characters and huge reams of dialogue, it’s a rather spectacular piece of work. Check it out here:

Nine blackbirds singing in the dead of night out of 10

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995, Mel Brooks)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting? It begins in Transylvania, 1893. Dracula arrives in London soon before 30 November (which is said to be a Wednesday – it was actually a Thursday). The action then possibly moves to Whitby.

Faithful to the novel? Kind of. It’s Thomas Renfield (Peter MacNicol) rather than Jonathan Harker who travels to Castle Dracula, where he meets the Count (Leslie Nielson), who wants to buy Carfax Abbey in the UK. There are two busty Brides in the castle (Darla Haun and Karen Roe), who try it on with Renfield. Dracula hypnotises him and he becomes the vampire’s slave. The two of them travel to England on a ship called the Demeter. Dracula seeks out Dr Seward (Harvey Korman from The Star Wars Holiday Special), who runs the sanatorium next door to Carfax (both buildings are said to be in Whitby, despite the action seeming to take place in London). He also meets Seward’s assistant, Jonathan Harker (Steven Weber), and Seward’s daughters, Lucy (Lysette Anthony) and Mina (Amy Yasbeck). Dracula seduces Lucy; when the others notice her bite marks, they call in Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) of the London Hospital. But they can’t stop Dracula killing her, so when she rises from the grave, Jonathan has to stake her. The Count then targets Mina, so they men hunt him down. He turns in to a bat (with Leslie Nielson’s head!) but is killed when idiotic sidekick Renfield accidentally shines daylight on him.

Best performance: Lysette Anthony is the only one playing it anywhere near ‘real’.

Best moment: The key story beat from the book where Dracula’s houseguest (Renfield here, Harker in the novel) innocuously cuts himself is given a silly twist: despite being a paper cut, the blood *gushes* all over the place. The same joke is repeated later when Harker stakes Lucy – only this time there’s even more blood. Buckets of the stuff.

Review: Very puerile stuff. It’s really badly directed, mostly badly played, and gags fall flat all over the place. There are lots of Americans doing awful British accents. It’s limp, tired and a waste of time. Toothless.

Three closed windows out of 10

Batman Forever (1995, Joel Schumacher)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

It’s double trouble for Batman when he has to combat both former District Attorney Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent and ex-employee Edward Nygma, aka the Riddler…

Good guys: Michael Keaton jumped ship after two films, so Batman has been recast. It’s now Val Kilmer in the role and he’s absolutely rotten. There’s no charm, no sparkle, no life to the performance – at times, no expression. We see newly shot flashbacks to Bruce’s parents’ murder, then scenes of a young Bruce in mourning and being terrified by a giant bat. The present-day version sees something of himself in new friend Dick Grayson – they’ve both been orphaned – but he’s initially reluctant to have the lad as a sidekick. We first meet Dick (Chris O’Donnell) when he and his family are in an acrobatic circus troupe called the Flying Graysons. After the others are killed, Dick is taken in by Bruce. Intrigued by a locked door in Wayne Manor, Dick stumbles across the Batcave, steals the Batmobile, and pretends to be Batman to impress women. He then decides he’s going to be Batman’s partner – using his dad’s old nickname for him, Robin, and a costume that echoes the red and green of his acrobatic outfit. Meanwhile, Bruce is having a romantic subplot with psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman, bland). There’s no chemistry at all between her and Bruce. Rene Russo was originally cast in the part and would have been *much* better, but there was a worry that she was too old (41) to play opposite Val Kilmer (36). Sigh.

Bad guys: Again, there are two villains. Harvey Dent had been in the first film in this series, but Billy Dee Williams has been replaced by a more bankable star: Tommy Lee Jones. Dent was Gotham’s DA. After being attacked in court (a scene we see briefly), he’s disfigured and insane. His face and costume are split 50/50 down the middle, reflecting his new name: Two-Face. He tosses a coin to help make decisions and has homoerotic henchmen. Out for revenge, he wants Batman dead – so teams up with the film’s other big guy. Jim Carrey does his usual tiresome shtick as the Riddler. The character begins as geeky lab rat Edward Nygma, who works for – and has a man-crush on – Bruce Wayne. He’s been researching brainwaves; after he goes a bit crazy, he starts to send Wayne cryptic messages. In order to get the money to launch his new 3D TV system, which reads people’s minds, he joins forces with Two-Face. Bruce ends up using his machine, so the Riddler learns that he’s Batman. He and Two-Face then break into Wayne Manor and destroy the Batcave; they kidnap both Robin and Chase, but are defeated. The Riddler ends up in an asylum.

Other guys: Alfred and Gordon are back from the last couple of films, again played by Michael Gough and Pat Hingle. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar appear as Two-Face’s diametrically opposed molls: Sugar and Spice.

Best bits:

* Gotham City has had a makeover. Architecturally speaking, it’s still a masterpiece of heightened Gothic design – there are also bits of Art Deco and baroque in there too. But it’s had a pop-art infusion of colour: virtually every space has floods of red, purple, green or yellow light. It’s like a nightmarish neon-lit Tokyo.

* Batman’s escape chute, allowing him quick access from his desk to the Batcave.

* Batman, to Chase: “It’s the car, right? Chicks love the car.” Later in the same flirty banter, Chase refers obliquely to Catwoman.

* When his boss fires him, Nygma pushes him out of a window. Defenestration or people falling off a building are a recurring theme in these movies – Lois in Superman and Superman IV, Gus in Superman III, Grissom in Batman, Selina in Batman Returns

* The fake suicide note: “To: Whom It May Concern. From: Fred Stickley. Re: My Suicide. Goodbye Cruel World!”

* Nygma’s ridiculously narrow apartment.

* Bruce looking at a Rorschach test and assuming it’s a picture of a bat.

* Two-Face threatens to blow up a circus tent full of people if Batman doesn’t reveal himself. Bruce shouts out: “I’m Batman!” but no one hears him in the panic.

* A quick reference to Metropolis.

* The Batmobile driving up the side of a building.

* Nygma using Photoshop to try out looks for his new persona. He has a list of potential names too: “The Puzzler? The Gamester? Captain Kill? Question-mark Man?”

* Two-Face’s divided-down-the-middle lair: in each half, there’s a girlfriend and a different design aesthetic. (It reminded me of that Steptoe & Son episode where they cut their house in half but can’t decide who gets the telly.)

* The Riddler and Two-Face’s version of Crocodile Dundee’s “That’s not a knife!” joke – this time with diamonds.

* We see 32 TV viewers captivated by the Riddler’s 3D TV device. One of them is a dog.

* Batman crashing through a skylight, landing in a fountain and back-flipping into some bad guys. The Riddler, to Two-Face: “Your entrance was good; his was better.”

* “I need a name,” says Dick. “Batboy? Nightwing? What do you think? What’s a good sidekick name?”

* The Riddler and Two-Face playing Battleships for real as Batman and Robin approach in boats.

* “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” exclaims Robin as he notices the ground is made of metal. “It’s full of holes. You know, holey.”

* Batman getting Two-Face to toss his coin – then throwing a handful more at him.

* Oh, look: it’s Rene Auberjonois (Police Academy 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Warehouse 13) as a doctor at Arkham Asylum.

Review: “Was that over the top?” asks the Riddler at one point. “I can never tell!” Well, yes. Yes, it was. Batman Forever often matches the 1960s Batman series in terms of how ridiculous, outrageous and risible it is. However, that earlier incarnation had a clear underlying irony. New director Joel Schumacher doesn’t seem aware of the concept. He’s gone for a very different tone from Tim Burton’s take: more flippant, less witty; more cartoony, less plausible; more childish, less interesting. There are off-kilter camera angles, whether they suit the scene or not; there are numerous self-referential gags; and half the cast think they’re in a panto while the other half think it’s a daytime soap opera. It was a chore watching this one.

Three Bat-nipples out of 10.

Next time: Clooney. Schwarzenegger. Thurman. That’ll be good.

Anthology 1 (1995)/Anthology 2 (1996)/Anthology 3 (1996)

ANT

Title: Apt enough. This is a three-volume chronological collection of pre-fame recordings, alternate takes, variant mixes, live performances, TV appearances and interviews. The first two releases were headlined by new Beatles songs, created by Paul, George and Ringo playing along to John Lennon demos from the 1970s. (Plans for a third ‘Threetles’ track, Now and Then, fell through when George got cold feet.)

Covers: Sumptuous artwork from Klaus Voormann, which combines images from throughout the Beatles’ career into a collage of poster fragments. The complete piece smartly divides into thirds for each individual album cover.

Best song:

* The best ‘song’ on the first volume is actually a clip from the Beatles’ appearance on Morecambe & Wise’s ITV show Two of a Kind in 1963. It’s stunningly likeable – a meeting of popular-culture giants, who are all on fantastic form and clearly loving the experience. Watching the clip is even better than hearing it. The *priceless* comedy banter begins at the seven-minute mark:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysfvM9uhFdg

* On volume two, the best bit is John’s home recording of an embryonic Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s so stark and delicate.

* On volume three, I love the *joyful* rehearsal of Oh! Darling with Paul and John having a whale of a time with the vocals.

Honourable mentions:

* The two ‘new’ Beatles songs – mid-tempo rock ballads Free As a Bird and Real Love – are diverting enough, though the old joke that producer Jeff Lynne spent the 1970s making ELO sound like the Beatles, and the 1990s making the Beatles sound like ELO, is funny because it’s true. Free As a Bird has a fantastic video, while Real Love is currently being covered by Tom Odell for a TV advert. Elsewhere, the quality, quantity and variety of alternate and unreleased studio recordings are astonishing.

* On volume one, I especially like: an early take of You Can’t Do That; some experimentation with I’ll Be Back; an unused George Harrison song called You Know What To Do; a terrific demo of No Reply; an outtake of Lennon mucking up Mr Moonlight’s vocal; and Eight Days a Week with a killer intro that was later abandoned.

* Volume two’s highlights include: some entertaining banter before a take of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away; two songs recorded in February 1965 that were then both shelved (the turgid If You’ve Got Trouble, sung by Ringo, and Paul’s rather good That Means A Lot); John and Paul giggling through And Your Bird Can Sing; a rehearsal jam of I’m Only Sleeping; early takes of Strawberry Fields Forever; a composite of early attempts at A Day In The Life; and the basic track of I Am the Walrus. There’s also a raft of first takes: Yesterday, Norwegian Wood, I’m Looking Through You, Tomorrow Never Knows, I’m Only Sleeping and Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite! – all absolutely fascinating.

* Anthology 3’s best bits include: seven demos recorded at George’s house in May 1968 when the Beatles had returned from a long holiday in India; a cool-as-fuck early take of Helter Skelter; a good alternate version of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; take four of Blackbird; George demoing While My Guitar Gently Weeps; John and Paul busking in the studio and making a song up on the spot (a spoof polka track called Los Paranoias); a few decent cuts from the Let It Be sessions; George’s demo of All Things Must Pass (he later recorded it for a solo LP); Paul’s multi-instrumental demo of Come and Get It (whether intended for Abbey Road or to give to another band is unknown; in the event, the latter happened); and a beautiful a cappella version of Because.

Worst songs: Volume one features spoken-word clips between the songs, an idea that was then wisely dropped. On Anthology 2, we could do without 12-Bar Original, a derivative song the Beatles recorded in 1965 then forgot about. The album was, allegedly, originally going to contain this song. However, George vetoed its inclusion, so it was replaced with some backing tracks of Eleanor Rigby and Within You Without You. Unreleased at the time, What’s the New Mary Jane (written by John and recorded in 1968) was long considered the Holy Grail of Beatles recordings – on Anthology 3, we can all hear what self-indulgent rot it is.

Notable outside contributions: Early bassist Stuart Sutcliffe appears on a few tracks, as does sacked drummer Pete Best. (The take of Love Me Do the latter plays on from the group’s first EMI session shows why he was replaced by Ringo: it goes out of time.) Tony Sheridan, who the Beatles worked with the Hamburg, sings lead vocal on My Bonnie.

Review: When these albums came out, I devoured them – barely a week went by without me listening to them. But before #BeatlesReview, I hadn’t heard them for donkey’s years, so it was great fun to familarise myself again. A bit like the BBC albums, they’re interesting rather than entertaining – but they’re very, very interesting. The accompanying TV series, by the way, is my all-time favourite documentary. It was shown on ITV in 1995, then later a much longer edit was released on VHS and DVD, and it tells the history of the band from childhood to split. While clearly biased – being the official Beatles story, it pulls its punches when it comes to drugs, arguments, failed projects and the breakup – the power of the storytelling is immense. The three living Beatles gave wide-ranging and (mostly) frank interviews, while Lennon is represented by archive material. A huge trove of fantastic footage is cleverly arranged and juxtaposed; we get full-length performances of most key songs; and there’s no authoritative voiceover or presenter – the whole thing zips along confidently and engrossingly.

Eight lives that we once knew out of 10.

GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995)

GoldenEye

SPOILER WARNING: Just a note to specify that these reviews reveal plot twists. I wasn’t too fussed with the older ones, but over the last 20 years or so the movies have more often used definite surprises in their storytelling. I love these films, so wouldn’t like to spoil them for anyone.

Bond is back, after a six-year hiatus. At the time, that felt like an eternity – but it was only the same distance we now are from Quantum of Solace! We have a new 007, a new M, a new Moneypenny; we’re in a new decade and a new post-Cold War world, and this was a big roll of the dice. It came up double-sixes. What strikes me most about GoldenEye – aside from just how blinking entertaining it is – is how ‘knowing’ the whole thing manages to be. It’s having its cake and eating it: it’s able to be a full-bloodied, full-on Bond movie *and* slyly wink at the audience. It’s an audacious achievement. GoldenEye is very 1990s – there’s talk of sexual harassment and the break-up of the USSR, jokes about safe sex, and the use of the embryonic internet. It’s aware of cliché too: “I might as well ask you,” says the bad guy to Bond, “if all the vodka martinis ever silenced the screams of all the men you’ve killed. Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all these willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” But this is no spoof or undercut of the series. The story is involving and the character stuff very good; the action is superb throughout, and there’s some really excellent model work. A total triumph. 10 “I am invincible!”s out of 10.

Bond: Pierce Brosnan is terrific – instantly at ease in the role. He handles action, comedy and drama with aplomb and plenty of charisma. One of his best moments, which I mention because Robert Dick reminded me of it, is a nonchalant tilt of the head to avoid the backlash of an explosion: effortless cool. The opening sequence is set ‘nine years earlier’ – ie, 1986, the year Brosnan was originally cast as James Bond.

Villains: Sean Bean plays 006-turned-villain Alec Trevelyn. The public-school accent might be a bit distracting, but he’s an effective enough bad guy. He’s in league with off-his-trolley Russian general Ourumov (an earnest Gottfried John) and recruits cyber-geek traitor Boris Grishenko (a fun Alan Cumming). The diabolical highlight of GoldenEye, however, is Xenia Onatopp (“Onatopp?” “Onatopp.”), played by the strikingly sexy Famke Janssen. She’s a fantastically perverse creation – she smokes cigars, murders an admiral during sex by squeezing him between her thighs (well, if you have to go…), seemingly takes orgasmic pleasure in machine-gunning innocent people, and licks Bond’s face as she tries to kill him.

Girls: Brosnan’s first conquest is Caroline, a psychologist sent by M to appraise Bond. He darts around in his Aston Martin with her nervously in the passenger seat, then pops open the champers and moves in for the kill. The female lead is Natalya Simonova, played by the gorgeous Izabella Scorupco. She might have a Secret Squirrel job, working in a satellite control bunker, but she feels like a real woman, a believable human being. She’s no pushover, but is not a spy or agent – she gets scared, she acts tough, she’s clever and resourceful. She actually carries her own subplot for over half the movie, not teaming up with Bond until the 68-minute mark, and then vitally helps with the mission. We’ve come a long way since Britt Ekland. Natalya’s one of the best.

Regulars: Moneypenny’s been recast again, much more successfully this time. Samantha Bond is instantly attractive, classy and interesting, giving as good as she gets in a well-written flirting scene with Bond. Q gets a deliberately old-school gadget show-and-tell that’s played for all it’s worth. MI6 man Tanner crops up, this time played by Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. In a series first, the real MI6 HQ in Vauxhall is used for establishing shots. Most significantly, M is now played by Judi Dench. It seems natural now, but was a bold decision at the time. Making her a woman, and casting such a good actress, adds a new energy to the Bond-M dynamic. The often-shown ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ scene is just knockout. Dench is easily in charge, Bond’s boss and a ballbreaker – but she’s also concerned, fair and empathetic. Seeing how Felix had his leg bitten off in the last film, we get a replacement character: Bond’s CIA pal is now Jack Wade, played with sparkle by The Living Daylights’ Joe Don Baker. Robbie Coltrane appears in a semi-comic role as Russian gangster Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky.

Action: The famous opening bungee jump is a mission statement for the whole film – leaping into new territory. The subsequent sequence sees Bond and 006 break into a nerve-gas plant, then James has a physics-defying stunt when he rides his bike off a cliff and catches up with a falling plane. There’s a playful car chase in the hills above Monte Carlo (see ‘Music’). The destruction of the Severnaya base is very well directed. Bond fights Xenia at a posh swimming pool in a scene more like rough sex than a punch-up. Bond uses an ejector seat to flee an exploding helicopter. His and Natalya’s escape from the Russian jail is great, and is followed by the outrageous tank-through-the-streets-of-St Petersburg stuff. Bond derails the bad guys’ train by parking the tank on the tracks – quite how he got ahead of a speeding train to do this is best not questioned. 007 and Natalya’s plane is shot down over Cuba; Xenia then shows up and Bond kills her. We end with a massive run of fine action at the secret base, which includes Bond and Trevelyan’s scrap on top of the massive radar dish.

Comedy: In the pre-titles scene, a squeaky wheel on a trolley gets a good laugh. There are a few old-style sight gags, such as a peloton of cyclists being knocked over like dominoes, and the punning quota is at its highest in a while. Bond and Xenia have some innuendo-heavy banter over the card table. James flirts stylishly with Moneypenny. There’s also M reprimanding a sarcastic Tanner, Jack Wade’s knackered car (and his sledgehammer approach to restarting it), and Minnie Driver as a tone-deaf club singer.

Music: The score is by Eric Serra. Oh, dear. Although not a total disaster – some action cues are quite good – it has sections of staggeringly awful music. It’s charmless, badly dated nonsense, sometimes sounding more like the theme to The Krypton Factor than a movie score. Check out, if you can bear, this inane piece from early on in the movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImPfR-6yUu4

The theme is written by Bono and The Edge (how is the drummer?), and sung by Tina Turner. I find it very difficult to have any kind of opinion either way on it. It’s just *there*. Over the end credits is an awful, slushy number called The Experience of Love from Eric Serra.

Personal connection: This was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema. It was in December 1995 and I went to the UCI Derby with my old pal Stuart Oultram.