A Matter of Life and Death

Whilst returning home to England after a mission over Germany during World War II, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) reports back to American radio operator June (Kim Hunter) and alerts her to the presence of his squad, who all bailed out of their severely damaged aircraft. With his own radio technician, Bob (Robert Coote), dead and no intact parac/hutes remaining, Carter knows he will not survive the return journey, but plans to eject anyway, preferring to jump rather than fry, but during his brie dialogue with June the pair develop an attraction. Suffice to say, Carter bails out and his plane crashes but, miraculously, he awakes on shore, fully alive. You see there has been an error in Heaven and, due to the heavy fog across the English Channel, Carter’s body could not be found. An agent of Heaven, Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), is sent to retrieve him, but alas he has met in person with June and the two have fallen hopelessly in love, and therefore Carter is far from willing to accept his allotted demise, and instead intends to fight his case to the end.
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The Sand Pebbles

The year is 1926, just before one of the many Chinese revolutions. Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) is a ship’s engineer who has been transferred to a small run-down gunship named the San Pablo, or the Sand Pebble to her crew. Aboard the Pebble, Holman causes tension amongst the already tight-knit yet divided crew, which doesn’t help when the Chinese public attempt to instigate a war with the US. Continue reading

Hamlet

There are some films on the List that I’ve no idea when I’ll get to them. These films fall into three categories – the ones I absolutely adore but have no clue how I’ll even start writing about them, the ones I desperately do not want to watch (but am too much of an anal completist to ignore) and the really long ones. This four-hour-plus cut of Hamlet obviously falls into the latter, but fortunately for me, my girlfriend opted for Kate Winslet as her Film-Maker of choice, and seeing as I’ve reached that point in Winslet’s career in which she appeared in Hamlet as Ophelia, I can cross off Kenneth Branagh’s opus from the Empire 5-Star 500. As for the unspeakable films I don’t want to see, whenever LoveFilm drop Salo through my letterbox it shall not be a good day, though I could pull an In The Realm Of The Senses and bottle it when I’ve taken as much as I can stand.
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Jurassic Park

Last week some friends and I started a Movie Night, an event that will hopefully become a regular occurrence, and should allow me to keep crossing off films, whilst also achieve something approaching a social life. We kicked off the soon-to-be tradition with a film that means a great deal to me, Jurassic Park. I have previously waxed lyrical about the virtues of this cinematic landmark, or rather the shortcomings of the third film in the series, but I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.
 
The plot, and I really hope that none of you need to know this, although one of the attendees at the movie night admitted ashamedly that this was his first ever viewing of Jurassic Park, concerns a group of people traveling to an island where an eccentric (you can’t be mad if you’re rich) scientist (Richard Attenborough) has discovered a way of cloning dinosaurs from DNA found in mosquitoes frozen in amber. Inevitably, not all goes to plan, and there’s much merriment to be had in the dinos vs. people aftermath.
 
Jurassic Park is a masterclass in efficient film-making, showing a lot with a little. This is shown early on, when an early velociraptor encounter is terrifying, yet only a couple of close-ups of the raptors eyes are seen. Shaking leaves, haunting sound effects and shots from the dinosaurs own point-of-view are enough to believe the presence of this creature. When shown, the Stan Winston-created dinosaur models and ILM-rendered CGI are on the whole impeccable and, even though they are obviously fake (obvious for lack of plausibility, not quality) the illusion is so well realised that you almost believe.
 
As with most Spielberg classics, the key is in casting ordinary, relatable characters in extraordinary situations. In this case, Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant has a well rounded persona, a palaeontologist stuck firmly in the past, unable to touch a computer without breaking it and loathing children. Just watch him trying to let go of Lex’s hand after he helps her up, or how he probably scars a child for life with his raptor story at the start of the film. He is ably supported by Attenborough’s scientist and Laura Dern as a paleobotanist, as well as Jeff Goldblum’s excellent interpretation of rock-star chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm, although I never really understood why he was invited onto the island. Wayne Knight’s Newman-esque bad guy (does he play anyone else? But then why should he, he’s so good at it) is also a joy to behold, especially his childlike glee at the Bond-style gadgetry he’s provided with to steal dinosaur embryos, causing the chaos that ensues.
 
We’re introduced to the dinosaurs gently, first meeting the gentle herbivores and baby dinosaurs, before building up to the more threatening velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rex. The plot is largely dealt with in the first half of the film, leading for the remainder to be made up of unforgettable set pieces, such as the electric fence, or raptor encounter in the kitchen. Greatest of all though must be the introduction of the T-rex. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ripples forming in a glass of water since without being concerned there is a giant dinosaur about to attack me.
 
It’s not just a monster disaster movie though, as there are genuinely hilarious moments of comedy (the blink and you’ll miss it rear view mirror gag is comic perfection), and the scenes are pitched perfectly, with the T-rex car chase immediately calmed by a gentler encounter with a herd of brachiosaurs. All in all, this is an example of movie perfection, and I look forward to enjoying it many more times in the future.


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