Friday, 31 August 2012

"Back in 1991, I Wasn't Havin' Any Fun"

Not me, I was turning ten and probably having a great time. The title comes from the lyrics of Weezer's 'Heart Songs' on 2008's The Red Album.

1991 was the year that the USSR dissolved, the First Gulf War was fought, the German capital moved from Bonn to Berlin, Tim Berners Lee first announced the world wide web and a spectator was killed by lightning at the US Open Golf Championship.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1991:

The Fisher King
Terry Gilliam's second attempt at a quest for the holy grail is a truly fantastic film. Richard LaGravenese's script is a witty and touching modern fairytale. Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer and Michael Jeter are all wonderful. The opening scene in Jack's DJ booth, Parry's entrance, ballroom dancing commuters, cloud busting nudity and the terrifying visions of the red knight are all beautifully shot. Here's the trailer.

Shadows And Fog
Woody Allen does German Expressionism and the results are fantastic. The film looks brilliant, the cast are wonderful and Woody's character gets all the best lines. Here's the trailer.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Mark Lenard, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Iman, Michael Dorn and Christopher Plummer are all wonderful in this dignified sendoff for a generation. The zero gravity scenes, the showtrial, the footage of the surface of Rura Penthe are all great. Star Trek grows up with this cold war allegory that could never have realised how topical it would be during its production. "Only Nixon could go to China" indeed... Here's the trailer.

Dominique Pinon leads an excellent ensemble cast in Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's French macabre romance story set in an SF post-apocalyptic dystopia. The rhythmic sequences are great and the seemingly insignificant chain reaction set pieces are stunning and the compelling world rewards repeat viewings. Here's the trailer.

Dark Season
Russell T. Davies' six part childrens' TV story is a game of two halves, or rather two connected three-parters. School can be a dangerous place, there's no such thing as free and don't trust Nazis are just three of the lessons on offer. Victoria Lambert, Ben Chandler, Kate Winslet, Brigit Forsyth, Grant Parsons, Cyril Shaps, Samantha Cahill and Jacqueline Pearce are all wonderful. The Behemoth is brilliantly realised. This serial is fantastic and I cannot stress strongly enough the affect that it had on me as a ten year old. It made me want to write and it made me want to write well. Thanks Russell.

Red Dwarf: Camille; DNA; Justice; White Hole; Dimension Jump; Meltdown
The first episode of Series IV sees Kryten fall in love with Camille, it's a bittersweet romance and Robert Llewellyn and Judy Pascoe are fantastic, while the object of the Cat's desire (with great delivery from Danny John-Jules), the reveal of Camille's true form and the exploration of noble deception are all wonderful. Llewellyn is on form again in the next episode as Kryten has his DNA is altered and briefly becomes human, other great moments are Rimmer's reaction to Glenn Miller, the Cat's insults, Craig Charles' smirk mode, the Double Polaroid scene, Spare Head 3 and the story of how Lister nearly sold out. Lister's spacemumps, the escort boots, the courtroom scenes and Rimmer's objections in Justice are very, very funny, while the concept of the justice field itself is simply genius. The crew encounter a White Hole, which in another very inventive leap of SF logic is the opposite of a black hole, it's a joy to see the always great Hattie Hayridge getting more to do as the intelligence-compressed Holly, David Ross is great as the voice of Talkie Toaster and the "So what is it?" scene is fantastic. Ace Rimmer Dimension Jumps into our reality and the result is a brilliant character study on the road less travelled, while Ace's introduction, both his lunch offers and the in-flight magazine scene are very funny, while the "What a guy!" effect gets cumulatively funnier, the effect he has on our Rimmer is fascinating and Chris Barrie is excellent as both Rimmers. Season finale, Meltdown, is atypical and all the better for it. Sadly for the army of Waxdroids, Pat Boone wasn't available and so Rimmer plays Risk with their lives. Jack Klaff, Tony Hawks and Clayton Mark are excellent, the anti-war theme is never overbearing or preachy, Caligula slapping Lister, "I'm watching you, Gandhi" and the Elvis' version of the end theme are great, while the description of Winnie the Pooh's execution is one of the funniest things ever unseen on television. The bunkroom scenes are at a minimum and Series IV is more of an ensemble show. Rimmer gets geekier, Lister inherits a backstory from the novels, the Cat is arguably at his most integrated, Kryten breaks his programming and although Holly's role has mostly contracted she is still a vital part of the show. Barrie, Charles, John-Jules, Llewellyn and Hayridge are excellent throughout these six brilliant episodes.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data's Day; The Wounded; Devil's Due; Clues; First Contact; Galaxy's Child; Identity Crisis; The Nth Degree; Qpid; The Drumhead; Half A Life; The Mind's Eye; In Theory; Redemption; Darmok; Ensign Ro; Disaster; The Game; Unification; A Matter Of Time
The fourth season continues with Data's Day, a 'day-in-the-life' episode with a brilliant script and a great central performance from Brent Spiner, ably surrounded by LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao. Meaney and Marc Alaimo are fantastic in The Wounded. Devil's Due is probably the oddest courtroom drama on TV and Marta DuBois is wonderful as the funny, flirty and fearsome Ardra. Clues is a great mystery. First Contact with a xenophobic alien race does not go according to plan in an episode that provide an interesting insight into a modern society and Bebe Neuworth is hilarious. Galaxy's Child reunites Burton with Susan Gibney and they are great together again. Geordi's Identity Crisis looks great, the holographic forensic investigation scene is impressive and Burton is wonderful. Dwight Schultz is fantastic in The Nth Degree. Qpid is practically a remake of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, but the end result is a lot more fun. Patrick Stewart and Jean Simmons are fantastic in The Drumhead, a courtroom drama par excellence that turns into a witch hunt. Majel Barrett and David Ogden Stiers are wonderful in euthanasia allegory episode Half A Life. Compellingly advancing the political storyline, The Mind's Eye is brilliantly shot to evoke The Manchurian Candidate and Burton is great. Spiner is wonderful in In Theory and the phased woman falling through the deck is a very shocking image. The season ends with the first half of two-parter Redemption and the ensuing Klingon Civil War is great, the cliffhanger is excellent and Stewart, Michael Dorn, Tony Todd, Robert O'Reilly, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara March, Gwynyth Walsh and Denise Crosby are all fantastic.
The second part is even better than the first and as the story widens to include the Starfleet blockade the scenes of B'Etor's attempted seduction of Worf, Picard meeting Sela and Spiner is wonderful overcoming minor mutinies aboard Data's first command. Paul Winfield's wonderful performance makes the Tamarian metaphorical language both believable and fascinating in Darmok. Michelle Forbes is fantastic as Ensign Ro, Goldberg is on form again and this episode's treatment of the plight of refugees and the political wrangling is well-handled and a sign of things to come from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Enterprise crew find themselves in an episode with the structure of a Disaster movie and Jonathan Frakes & Spiner, Burton & McFadden and Dorn & Chao are all magnificent in their respective stories. Wil Wheaton and Ashley Judd are great as they attempt to prevent the insidious spread of The Game. Paralleling Spock's experiences 75 years earlier (see above) the two-parter Unification is fantastic, both Picard and Data's undercover mission on Romulus to find Spock and the Enterprise's detective work to uncover the role of a dismantled Vulcan ship in the affair are equally compelling. The appearance of Leonard Nimoy is powerful and the scenes between Spock, Picard and Data are superb. A Matter Of Time is a brilliant concept for a comedy episode and Matt Frewer is very, very funny as the brilliantly named Berlinghoff Rasmussen.

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (Pilot Version)
The first attempt at the first ever episode of Doctor Who was finally shown twenty-eight years after it was made. Although clunkier than the version broadcast in 1963, the blocking and editing is awkward, but the ideas and the performances are still fantastic. Carole Ann Ford's unearthliness isn't quite ready yet, but William Hartnell, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill are already on top form. While not up to the standard of the eventual remake, the first sight of the police box in the junkyard, the inside of the TARDIS and the final shot are still very impressive.

The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes: The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax; The Problem Of Thor Bridge; Shoscombe Old Place; The Boscombe Valley Mystery; The Illustrious Client; The Creeping Man
Holmes and Watson investigate The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax and Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Cheryl Campbell, Jack Klaff and Michael Jayston are fantastic. Holmes' deduction of The Problem Of Thor Bridge is well-realised. Holmes and Watson investigate Shoscombe Old Place in a nice little mystery. Peter Vaughn is brilliant in The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The Illustrious Client engages Holmes to prevent a marriage in an impressively terrifying tale of manipulation and perversity. Charles Kay is phenomenal in aptly-named series finale The Creeping Man.

Northern Exposure: Goodbye To All That; The Big Kiss; All Is Vanity; What I Did For Love; Spring Break; War And Peace; Slow Dance; The Bumpy Road To Love; Only You; Oy, Wilderness; Animals R Us; Jules et Joel; The Body In Question; Roots; A-Hunting We Will Go; Get Real; Seoul Mates
The show that expertly deals with philosophy and metaphysics in everyday life returns for a second season with Goodbye To All That and a Dear John letter for Joel, his dreams and Ed's attempt at closure for him are great, but Shelley's addiction and subsequent confession are hilarious. One Who Waits is a great character and the public interest in ending Chris' silence is very funny in The Big Kiss. This public interest in private matters is taken to extremes with Holling's elective circumcision in All Is Vanity and Maggie's premotion of Joel's death in What I Did For Love. From Ruth-Ann's pornography suggestions to Holling spoiling for a rumble via Maurice's enchantment with Officer Barbara Semanski, Spring Break is very funny. War And Peace sees Cicily united by a duel with a fascinating meta-textual scene and commentary on violence. Rick's death, Gary's attempt to woo Maggie and Bill's wife are hilarious in season finale Slow Dance.
It transpires that Rick was less than faithful as the third season begins with Maggie still on The Bumpy Road To Love, she flirts with drunken misandry and briefly visits heaven in a great dream scene, while Semanski's hard line on breaking the law. Only You has a great teaser and Chris' irresistibility and Joel's obsession with it are very funny. Shelly's radio divorce is great in Oy, Wilderness. The cinema debates and Ed's movie about Cicely is great in Animals R Us. Rob Morrow plays twins Jules Et Joel Fleischman, the former asks Maggie out and the latter undergoes Freudian analysis, whilst each masquerades as the other which reveals a huge amount about Joel's psyche. Chris discovers The Body In Question that has the potential to undermine European history, but it's Ed and Ruth-Ann's scenes that are an absolute joy to watch. Bernard returns in Roots and Chris declares himself a 'person of colour'. In many Northern Exposure episodes the 'B-story' is better than the A, and so it is with Ruth-Ann's fragility and 75th birthday in A-Hunting We Will Go and Darren E. Burrows and Peg Phillips are fantastic. Marilyn's scenes with her silent suitor are very cute in Get Real. The brilliantly-named Seoul Mates introduces Maurice's Korean son and Joel has a great crisis of confidence as he attempts to celebrate Christmas.

Jeeves & Wooster
The second season gives us six more episodes and therefore six more ill-advised and short-lived marriage announcements. Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Woodnutt, John Turner, Charlotte Attenborough, Simon Treves, Martin Clunes, Mary Wimbush, Niamh Cusick and Janet Henfrey are excellent. Highlights include Bertie's telegrams and Treves’ magnificent pratfalling, "Would it be too much to ask you to attach a stout lead to the little fellow's collar thus making the world safe for democracy?", Jeeves' detective work, Jeeves as a servant of three masters, Barmy playing the ukelele competitively and Bertie's school assembly, while the spread of fascism is brilliantly satirised by the depiction of Spode's Blackshorts.

Blur: Leisure
The band's debut album shows Blur at their baggiest, but tracks like 'There's No Other Way' and 'Sing' shows signs of things to come.
Stand-out tracks: 'She's So High', 'Bang', 'Sing', 'There's No Other Way', 'Fool', 'High Cool', 'Wear Me Down'

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
The eleventh Discworld novel sees Death go AWOL again and the legions of the undead are bolstered by his inactivity. Windle Poons is my favourite of the Unseen University wizards and the story of his life-after-death is a joy to read. Reg Shoe and the Fresh Start Club are hilarious, while Death's sabatical has all the hallmarks of a western and his relationship with Miss Flitwick is beautifully written.

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
The third novel to feature the witches of Lancre follows them to foreign parts. Witches Abroad is fantastic, taking in fairy tales, voodoo and happy endings, featuring Casanunda the Discworld's second greatest lover and a candidate for my favourite paragraph of Pratchett:
"Bad spelling can be lethal. For example, the greedy Seriph of Al-Yabi was cursed by a badly-educated deity and for some days everything he touched turned to Glod, which happened to be the name of a small dwarf from a mountain community hundreds of miles away who found himself magically dragged to the kingdom and relentlessly duplicated. Some two thousand Glods later the spell wore off. These days, the people of Al-Yabi are renowned for being remarkably short and bad-tempered."

Doctor Who: The Mark Of Mandragora
Combining elements from the TV story The Masque Of Mandragora with gritty elements like drug addiction making The Mark Of Mandragora feel fresh and a great tale that could easily have been a contemporary UNIT story on TV, but it's the destruction of the Doctor's question mark umbrella that cuts the deepest.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge
Guybrush Threepwood returns in another very funny point-and-click adventure game. This time he's searching for the legendary treasure of Big Whoop in a quest concerning voodoo dolls, map fragments and spitting contests.

Sid Meier's Civilization
This empire-building and exploration strategy game is brilliant and very, very addictive.

Recommendations welcome.

Next Month: 1990


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, look at those old games. How far we've come.

Dave said...

Yes, but in which direction?