True Romance (1993, Tony Scott)

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Spoiler alert: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Having killed a pimp and stolen some drugs, newly-weds Clarence and Alabama head to LA to sell the cocaine…

What does QT do? The project began in the 1980s as a script written by Roger Avary, a pal of Tarantino’s, which told the story of a wild couple called Mickey and Mallory. When he got the chance to rewrite it, Quentin added a new storyline about another young couple in love called Clarence and Alabama, and the original plot became fantasy scenes in a script Clarence was writing. Later, QT cut the story in two. The Mickey-and-Mallory half became Natural Born Killers, while the Clarence-and-Alabama sections – True Romance – ended up in the hands of director Tony Scott. Tarantino wasn’t involved in the filming, but has said he likes the end product.

Notable characters:
* Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) is a geek who works in a comic-book shop. He’s a fan of Elvis (who he’d fuck if he had to), kung-fu movies and Spider-Man, and has a rockabilly fashion sense. There’s a chance he’s a Mary Sue for the writer. Slater is charismatic and full of energy.
* Alabama Worley née Whitman (Patricia Arquette) is a prostitute hired as a birthday present for Clarence, but she quickly falls in love with him. In a less sexist world, True Romance would be more definitively Arquette’s film: she provides opening and closing voiceover and is, in many ways, the real heart of the story.
* Drexl Spivey (Gary Oldman) is Alabama’s pimp. He has dreadlocks, deals drugs, bandies the N-word about with his posse of sidekicks, and speaks in a ghetto accent. Despite all that, he’s played by someone who was born in New Cross.
* Big Don (Samuel L Jackson) has one scene where the bad guys discuss pussies. This was Jackson’s first landing on Planet Tarantino – he’s never really left.
* Elvis Presley (Val Kilmer) appears twice to Clarence as a ghostly mentor who guides him through the story. He’s always slightly out of frame so we never quite see his face.
* Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) is Clarence’s dad: a night-watchman who lives in a caravan parked next to the train tracks. He hasn’t seen his son for three years when Clarence shows up asking for help. After Clarence and Alabama leave, bad guys arrive and torture Cliff for information.
* Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport) is Clarence’s actor friend in LA who helps connect him to someone who’ll buy the cocaine. We first see Dick auditioning to be in an episode of TJ Hooker (said to be “the new TJ Hooker” because the show was actually axed in 1986). Despite being clearly terrible he gets the role.
* Vincent Coccotti (Christopher Walken) is the mafia lieutenant who interrogates Clifford in the film’s most famous scene: a sensational, potent and deliberately offensive dialogue exchange between Walken and Dennis Hopper. (In a later scene, Clarence mentions films staring the actors – Walken’s Deer Hunter and Hopper’s Apocalypse Now.) Coccotti is a walking stereotype: a mobster who dresses immaculately, mixes good manners with brutal violence, and has a gaggle of dim Italian sidekicks.
* Virgil (James Gandolfini) is the most heavily featured of Coccotti’s heavies. Coccotti drops out of the film after his one and only scene, with Virgil becoming his proxy. He’s killed while beating up Alabama.
* Floyd (Brad Pitt) is Dick’s permanently stoned housemate. He’s a fun bit of comic relief.
* Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot) is an acting-class friend of Dick’s. While negotiating the sale of the drugs, however, he’s caught by the cops and forced to wear a wire at the transaction.
* Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek) – a movie producer famed for Vietnam flick Coming Home in a Body Bag – wants to buy Clarence’s cocaine.
* Nicky Dimes (Chris Penn) and Cody Nicholson (Tom Sizemore) are the pair of clichéd police detectives on the trail of the drugs.

Returning actors: Chris Penn had been in Reservoir Dogs.

Music: The score is by Hans Zimmer. Making great use of the marimba, it’s uplifting and whimsical. The pre-existing tracks used in the film rarely feel vital to the scene, though we get to hear bits of Billy Idol’s White Wedding, The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and The Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow.

Time shifts and chapters: Tarantino’s shooting script – which was published in the UK in 1995 – shows that he wrote the film with a flashback structure. Essentially, he started with Clarence and Alabama showing up at Clifford’s caravan, then followed them to LA. Only after Dick asks how they met would we have cut back to the earlier events. This explains a few oddities in the movie, such as Coccotti’s inaccurate description of Drexl’s death (it would have been a set-up for when we later saw what *really* happened). But Tony Scott felt the story worked better in chronological order and re-edited it during post-production.

Connections: It’s often said that the Alabama mentioned by Mr White in Reservoir Dogs is meant to be this film’s Alabama. However, his description of a career criminal doesn’t ring true here.

Review: This is a geek wish-fulfilment story. Watch Clarence go: he kills! He woos the hooker with a heart! He steals a suitcase of cocaine! He evades the cops! He cons a powerful film producer! He survives being shot in the face! The film can never even remotely justify any of these things. Clarence has no journey, Alabama is a maternal-whore character, and the cops and gangsters are all walking stereotypes. But it doesn’t matter. The title says it all – this is a story with a blinkered, romantic view of the world. It’s a *fantasy*. On the face of it, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott are very different filmmakers. One revels in crafted dialogue, pop-culture references, innovative structures, shocking violence and surprising plot twists. The other made Top Gun, perhaps the most straight-ahead movie ever shot. But Tony Scott also directed a number of very interesting films, such as neo-noir The Last Boy Scout, the tense Crimson Tide, techno-thriller Enemy of the State, the contemplative Man on Fire and a glossy remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. True Romance is actually a pleasing meshing of his and Tarantino’s styles. Scott brings his Hollywood sheen – close-ups with out-of-focus backgrounds, side-lit faces, neon lighting, smoke and steam, a sex scene shot like it’s a music video – to a script full of character and colour. As mentioned above, he also flattened out the story’s chronology. But this gives the film a vibrant visual shift from the early Detroit scenes (set at night or dawn, cold, menacing) to the later LA stuff (set in blazing sun, warm, hedonistic). If Scott’s contribution has any negative effect, it’s in his use of violence. True Romance contains some savage acts of brutality. Alabama being beaten up is especially difficult to watch, while the climactic shootout in the hotel suite is *ridiculously* over-caffeinated. But on the whole this is a really enjoyable watch.

Eight Sicilians out of 10

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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: The Next Generation: season six (1992/93)

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

Best episode:
* Starship Mine. Picard must combat terrorists who have taken control of the Enterprise… It’s the Next Generation does Die Hard. Comedy, suspense and drama go hand-in-hand. It’s not especially Star Treky (not being ‘about’ anything), but very entertaining.

Honourable mentions:
* Time’s Arrow, Part II. Data’s colleagues travel to 1893 to locate him… Very enjoyable follow-up to last season’s finale.
* Relics. Long-missing Captain Montgomery Scott is found trapped inside a transporter buffer… SCOTTY!
* True Q. A young woman seems to have godlike powers, so Q arrives to help her… It’s always fun whenever Q shows up.
* A Fistful of Datas. Worf and his son, Alexander, take part in a holodeck Western programme, but things go wrong… Very entertaining and often funny. It revels in its Old West conventions. The first Worf-based episode to really succeed (all the others are so po-faced).
* Chain of Command, Part I. The Enterprise gets a new captain… The start of a fine two-part story. Ronny Cox guest stars and shakes up the cosy Enterprise family.
* Chain of Command, Part II. A captured Picard is interrogated by a Cardassian officer… Anything with David Warner in it is going to be worth seeing.
* Ship in a Bottle. A sentient hologram of Professor Moriarty escapes from the holodeck… Amazing episode with an audacious plot development.
* Tapesty. When Picard is ‘killed’, Q lets him relive a key moment from his youth… Let’s face it, if it’s about Picard it’s going to be a good one.
* Frame of Mind. While rehearsing a play about being imprisoned, Riker suddenly finds himself in the same situation as his character… A trippy story in which we don’t know what’s real and what’s not.
* Second Chances. A transporter malfunction results in a duplicate Will Riker… The kind of idea Star Trek does so well – taking a silly sci-fi concept and turning it into a fascinating character story.
* Timescape. Picard, Troi, Data and La Forge find the Enterprise frozen in time… Another science-fiction gimmick, but enjoyable stuff.

Worst episode:
* Aquiel – in which Geordie falls for a murder suspect – is boring, twee, and it ends very abruptly. Characters also have to act stupidly for the plot to work.

Red Dwarf VI (1993)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Andy de Emmony. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Holly’s been dropped, so we’re now down to Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten.

Episode 1: Psirens (7 October 1993): Two hundred years later: the crew wake up from suspended animation. They’re in Starbug, chasing a stolen Red Dwarf, but soon encounter creatures who suck out your brains… The episode sets up the show’s new format well enough and there are some good laughs.
Observations: The psiren monsters pose as women in attempts to lure the crew into danger. The Cat is tempted by two sexpots who want him for his body; Lister is shown visions of Kristine Kochanski and a woman he fancied when he was young; while Kryten sees his creator, Professor Mamet. Clare Grogan returns as Kochanski for the first time since series two’s Stasis Leak, while Anita Dobson cameos in the same scene. Jenny Agutter – Jenny Agutter! – plays Mamet. Craig Charles also plays one of the psirens when it poses as Lister, though it’s guitar-noodling hands are those of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera. At the time of writing, this is the middle episode of Red Dwarf – there had been 30 before, and there have been 30 since.
Best gag: The two Listers are challenged to play the guitar so Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat can determine which is a psiren. As soon as one Dave shows genuine talent they know that’s the imposter so shoot at it.

Episode 2: The Legion (14 October 1993): Starbug is ensnared by a tractor beam, which takes it to a space station where a strange man called Legion lives in apparent luxury… A so-so episode. The slapstick’s quite fun.
Observations: When the gang meet Legion he converts Rimmer’s hologramatic projection unit from ‘soft light’ to ‘hard light’ (a bit of sci-fi nonsense that means Rimmer can now touch things). There are a noticeable number of references to old episodes – The Inquisitor, Psirens, Timeslides – which suggest the writers now expect viewers to be ‘fans’. Robert Llewellyn plays Legion in one scene.
Best gag: During a crisis Rimmer demands they step up to red alert. Kryten: “Sir, are you sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”

Episode 3: Gunmen of the Apocalypse (21 October 1993): There’s great comic momentum to this one. It clips along and packs a lot of good stuff into 30 minutes. Blah blah blah plot plot plot means that Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten end up in a computer-generated Wild West simulation…
Observations: The episode starts with a black-and-white film-noir spoof because Lister in taking part in a virtual-reality roleplaying game. (Jennifer Calvert from CITV sitcom Spatz plays Loretta, the dame he’s shagging.) In the episode proper, Denis Lill plays the rogue android the crew encounter; Liz Hickling is his second-in-command. The set used for the Wild West town was a pre-existing site built by aficionados in Kent. When Lister enters Kryten’s fantasy he assumes the identity of Brett Riverboat, knife man. Rimmer is Dangerous Dan McGrew, a bare-fist fighter, while the Cat is a gunslinger called the Riviera Kid. In keeping with the theme of the story, the final shot sees Starbug flying off into the sunset and the end music has been replaced by a Western version. This episode won an International Emmy Award in 1994.
Best gag: When the others realise Kryten’s battle with a computer virus is being played out in a Wild West dream, the Cat says, “Isn’t there some way we can get in there and help him? Somehow turn ourselves into tiny, electronic people and get into his dream? Isn’t there some sort of gizmo lying around here somewhere that could do that? And if not –” he bangs the table “– why not?!”

Episode 4: Emohawk – Polymorph II (28 October 1993): An emohawk, a small creature that feeds on people’s emotions, finds its way onto Starbug… The story is in three sections – the encounter with a spaceship, negotiations with some GELFs and a rehash of an old episode back on Starbug – which are only loosely connected. A few good lines, but it gets tiresomely self-indulgent. Going over old ground is rarely a good idea, and this episode feels desperately eager to please the type of fan who goes to Red Dwarf conventions.
Observations: This is, in effect, a sequel to *three* classic episodes – Polymorph from series three, Dimension Jump from series four and Back to Reality from series five. When Rimmer is bled of his bitterness and negativity, he transforms into Dimension Jump’s Ace Rimmer – haircut, accent and all. (The running gag from the earlier story – “What a guy” – is given a couple more airings.) The Cat, meanwhile, is drained of his cool so ends up as Duane Dibbley from Back to Reality. Hugh Quarshie voices an automated spaceship that speaks in reverse (“Plead you do how?”). Ainsley Harriott and Steven Wickham play GELFs.
Best gag: “Change of plan! Leg it!”

Episode 5: Rimmerworld (4 November 1993): Rimmer is separated from the others and, thanks to a time-squeezing wormhole, has to live on a planet for 600 years while only a few hours pass on Starbug… Another episode that takes a surprisingly long time to set up its premise. But once we get to the world of multiple Rimmers it’s quite fun. Just a shame it’s so fleeting.
Observations: The simulant ship from Gunmen of the Apocalypse and its sexy female robot (Liz Hickling) appear again. Chris Barrie, of course, plays the entire population of a planet: its Roman-like ruler, various guards and even a concubine.
Best gag: Lister has a plan for how to escape the prison cell: “Why don’t we scrape away this mortar here, slide one of these bricks out, then using rope weaved from this hessian rig up a pulley system, so that when a guard comes in he sets off a trip-wire, gets laid out, and then we put Rimmer in the guard’s uniform, he leads us out, we steal some swords, and fight our way back to the Bug?” Kryten, holding up the object in his hand: “Or we could use the teleporter.”

Episode 6: Out of Time (11 November 1993): Starbug flies through some ‘unreality bubbles’, pockets of space that cause hallucinations. Then, after the crew have found a time machine, versions of themselves from the future show up… The episode was rewritten very late in the day and only lightly rehearsed, a fact you can infer from seeing the actors reading dialogue off monitors or cue cards. Showing the crew as old men is a good idea, but sadly it’s only a small piece of a muddled, cluttered episode. Too many ideas, not enough refinement.
Observations: This is the last episode of Red Dwarf to be co-written by Rob Grant. The final scene sees Lister, the Cat and Kryten all killed off and Rimmer attempting to change history… ‘To be continued,’ promises a caption.
Best gag: Having installed a time machine on Starbug, the crew travel to 16 August 1421… but of course they’re still in deep space, so it’s a rather meaningless trip.

Best episode: Gunmen of the Apocalypse. Worst episode: Out of Time.

Review: Red Dwarf has been ditched. The characters’ home base is now Starbug, though that craft is significantly roomier than we’ve seen before. It’s now a TARDIS-like space, compacting new levels, decks, engine rooms, bunk rooms, kitchens and a larger mid-section into the same exterior shape. It’s a good idea to do something different, as it raises the stakes and provides a change of pace. But chunks of this series are made up of the characters in designated cockpit seats, rattling off Star Trek-like commands and exposition. The gang acts like a well-oiled team, rather than the bunch of incompetents established earlier. (We also have to get used to the same two or three camera angles of the cramped cockpit.) Losing Red Dwarf, meanwhile, sees Holly being written out. It was getting obvious that Grant and Naylor had run out of things for her to do, especially as Kryten had taken over the heavy lifting when it comes to explaining the plot. Elsewhere, the Cat is involved more, both in the sense of being around all the time but also in having a function in the team (he’s the pilot, for example). It’s a jolt to remember how he was in earlier series. Try picturing the 1988 version having a line like “Eighty per cent of the manoeuvring thrusters are out!” This is part of a general remodelling process: the show is now a sci-fi adventure series with laughs, rather than a sitcom set in space. Humour happens incidentally and lines are plastered on top of dense plots. To replace the character comedy, there’s a big increase in running jokes. As well as lots of regular mentions of the shape of Kryten’s head, Rimmer often quotes Space Corps directives only to be corrected. (For the record, the directives Rimmer evokes are 1742, 34124, 68250 and 196156.) On a practical level, series six sees yet is another improvement in the visuals. The special effects, model work, sets and costumes are very impressive indeed. Mostly good fun.

Seven rats trapped together, marooned in deep space, out of 10

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce W Timm)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

No, seriously. I’m going to spoil the ending.

When Gotham City’s gangsters are systematically killed by a bizarre being known as the Phantasm, Batman is wrongly blamed – and must also face dark secrets from his past…

Good guys: Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) is a square-jawed hunk and, at first anyway, a commitment-phobic womaniser. We see extensive flashbacks to him as a young man and his early attempts at vigilantism (his costume is a basic all-black affair); after proposing to girlfriend Andrea, the pair are scared by some bats, which gives the young Bruce an idea. In the present day, Batman is falsely accused of the Phantasm’s crimes and is hounded by the police…

Bad guys: Weasel politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner, who was also in Supergirl) used to be an assistant of Andrea’s dad, Carl Beaumont, and is now in league with mobsters. The Joker turns him insane and he ends up laughing uncontrollably in a mental hospital. The maniacal yet dapper Joker doesn’t appear until about halfway through, voiced entertainingly and energetically by Mark Hamill. He’s taken over the ruins of a theme park and made it his lair. When he’s hired by a gangster to stop Batman, who the bad guys assume is the assassin, he quickly learns the Phantasm is actually to blame. At first, we’re led to believe that the Phantasm – a powerful, masked vigilante who appears, kills and disappears enveloped in smoke – is Carl Beaumont, out for revenge on the gangsters who ruined his life. The same actor voices both characters. However…

Other guys: Not properly fitting into either of the previous two categories is Andrea Beaumont. She’s voiced by Dana Delany, whose name sounds like a comic-book character. Andrea is a sharp-talking, sexy dame who had a relationship with Bruce years earlier. Her father was in hock to some gangsters, and just after Bruce has proposed to Andrea, she had to flee Gotham City with her dad. Returning in the present day, she soon figures out Bruce’s secret identity. She also drops enough hints – and then actually states – that her father is the Phantasm. However, the Joker has guessed the truth: it’s actually Andrea. When Bruce finds out, he calls her on her pointless vengeance. She rightly points out he’s a hypocrite. From the established Batman mythology, Alfred gets a few scenes with Bruce, while Commissioner Gordon won’t believe that Batman has turned evil.

Best bits:

* The first appearance of the Phantasm.

* Bruce surrounded by attractive women at a party. “Never mention the M word,” says one, meaning marriage.

* The flashbacks – like in Lost, the switch to the past is always smartly motivated by an emotional character beat.

* Andrea talking to her mother’s grave. “She doesn’t have much to say today,” she quips to Bruce.

* Bruce’s first attempt at crime-fighting – “Who’s this clown?” asks an incredulous bad guy – and the subsequent action sequence.

* The scene in the moonlight graveyard. The Phantasm kills a mobster by tricking him into an open grave and then pushing a huge tombstone on top of him.

* The Gotham World’s Fair, one of those futurist theme parks that predicted hover-cars and robotic domestic staff. There’s a gorgeous dieselpunk aesthetic to the whole thing. A similar sequence features in Captain America: The First Avenger.

* Bruce sees a sleek, retro-futuristic car at the fair: the same model as the future Batmobile.

* Bruce: “You think you know everything about me, don’t you?” Alfred: “I diapered your bottom. I bloody well ought to, sir.”

* Bruce puts his Batman mask on for the first time. We don’t see it, but Alfred looks terrified.

* Just before the first appearance of the Joker (played by Luke Skywalker, of course), we get a sound effect either copied or actually cribbed from The Empire Strikes Back – it’s the noise the Millennium Falcon makes when it breaks down.

* The Batwing.

* The running gag of Alfred walking in on Bruce and Andrea kissing then walking out again.

* The Phantasm pulls off its mask, revealing Andrea!

* Batman and the Joker fighting in the abandoned World’s Fair – their brawl takes place in a scale model of Gotham City, so they seem like giants. (It reminded me of similar gags in Hot Fuzz and Crank: High Voltage.)

Review: After a successful first season of Batman: The Animated Series, its producers set about making a feature-length, direct-to-video special. Impressed with the quality, however, the studio decided to give the film a cinema release. I’m no expert on the TV show and had never seen Mask of the Phantasm before, so I don’t know how representative it is. But it’s an enjoyable piece of storytelling. There’s a good structure, with plenty of plot development. The flashbacks – a nod to Citizen Kane, according to the producers – work really well in simultaneously fleshing out character and filling in back-story. And it also looks gorgeous, with some stylish animation which mixes up its eras to create a fun and interesting world. Enjoyable stuff.

Eight knife-wielding robots out of 10.

Next time: Riddle me this, Harvey Dent!

Schindler’s List (1993)

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A German profiteer opens a factory during the Second World War and uses his position to protect Jews in Nazi-controlled Poland and Czechoslovakia…

Seen before? Yes, at the cinema in 1993. I was a year too young for a ‘15’, so lied about my age to get in.

Best performance: Has there ever been a more chilling portrayal of pure evil than Ralph Fiennes’s turn as Nazi cunt Amon Goeth?

Best scene/moment/sequence: The ‘liquidisation of the ghettos’. It’s a huge sequence, covering hundreds of characters and a massive area of a town, but it’s the personal moments that especially hit you in the gut: most famously, Oskar Schindler’s dreadful epiphany when he spots a young girl in the mayhem.

Review: It’s a tough watch, but a necessary one. The terror rises inexorably over the first half. At first, the cruelty and violence are shocking and sudden; then they become sickeningly commonplace. Spielberg’s direction – for which he finally won an Oscar – is controlled, unshowy, focused. Liam Neeson is excellent in the lead role. Some say the ending gets too sentimental; I don’t agree.

10 red coats out of 10.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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Two paleontologists and a mathematician are given a preview of a unique new theme park, to see whether it’s viable. Things go wrong when the exhibits – cloned dinosaurs – start to escape…

Seen before? Yes, three or four times now. I first saw it at the cinema when it came out, having accepted and completed my mum’s challenge to read the novel in the week before we went to the flicks.

Best performance: Jeff Goldblum plays chaotician Ian Malcolm: it’s very possibly the most Jeff Goldblum-appropriate bit of casting imaginable.

Best scene/moment/sequence: The T-Rex attack, which comes about halfway through the film, is a stunning action sequence. It begins with the now famous rumbles of sound and shaking glasses of water. It’s tense and scary. And it features one of the best ever combinations of CGI and real photography (seriously: even after 21 years it’s seamless). Superb stuff.

Review: I fear familiarity may have dulled a) what a killer idea for an adventure film this is – what a great twist on the disaster-movie format – and b) just how mind-bogglingly impressive the special effects are (both CGI and practical). When Jurassic Park came out, it felt revolutionary. It still does. In 2014, when there are countless CGI-heavy films available, few (if any) are as crafted, integrated and classy as this. In Spielberg’s hands, photo-real dinosaurs are simultaneously a tool for telling story *and* a spectacle within themselves – as characters look up in awe at a Brachiosaurus, so do we; as they flee for their lives from Velociraptors, our heartbeat goes mental. His sense of endless wonder is very evident throughout. The story is simple, but we’re in the company of a likeable cast – even the two brats aren’t too bad. And there are good, know-what-they’re-doing actors in supporting roles (Wayne Knight, Samuel L Jackson, Bob Peck). This is a blockbuster of a B-movie. Sensationally entertaining.

10 mosquitoes incased in amber out of 10.