[PASSNOTES] ‘SUITE FRANCAISE’ (2014)

By on March 27th, 2015

Suite Francaise (2014)

Suite Francaise (2014) Dir. Saul Dibb – QFT Belfast 28th Mar

Who’s in it? Michelle Williams, Kristen Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts

What’s it about? Suite Francaise portrays the often impassioned relationship between occupier and occupied with warmth and colour against the cold, hard backdrop of the Nazi occupation of France, exploring the subtle nuances and overwhelming details of forbidden love amid the tragedy of war. Based on Irene Nemirovsky’s 2004 true life novel of the same name, Suite Francaise is set in German occupied France in 1940 during the early years of the Second World War and tells the story of french villager Lucille (Williams), anxiously awaiting news of her husband, a prisoner of war in a Nazi POW camp, when a troop of German soldiers and handsome German officer Bruno (Schoenaerts) roll into her quiet town and turn her world upside down. When Bruno is posted at Lucille’s house, despite her attempts to ignore him, perhaps inevitably, she falls for him. Searching for her missing husband while struggling with her conflicted feelings and with an overbearing mother-in-law (Scott-Thomas) to contend with, Lucille must come to terms with her confused new situation and decide where her loyalties lie.

Memorable Moments? In one sequence Parisien refugees are seen streaming into a small French village from the country, a long line of bodies as far as the eye can see, when panic breaks out as German fighter planes swoop down dropping bombs, scattering everyone into the wheat fields on either side of the narrow country lane.

Look who’s talking: ‘Sterling performances lift the occasionally soapy storyline in this semi-successful adaptation.’ – Empire

Like that? Try this: Starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin (2001) is a similarly themed adaptation in which a Greek fisherman’s wife falls in love with an Italian officer when her husband goes off to war.

Trivia Pursuit: The costume design was based on French magazines and movies of the period to ensure authenticity.

[PASSNOTES] ’71 (2014)

By on March 13th, 2015

'71 (2014)

’71 Dir. Yann Demange – QFT Belfast 15th Mar

Who’s in it? Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Sean Harris

What’s it about?’71 is an exhilarating action thriller set in Troubles era Northern Ireland which sees British squaddie Gary Hook (O’Connell) separated from his regiment when a routine RUC house raid quickly becomes a high stakes game of cat and mouse following a riot in Republican West Belfast. After seeing a fellow soldier shot dead in cold blood by the Provisional IRA, scared and disoriented, Hook goes on the run in a desperate attempt to make it back to his barracks alive. Lost and alone in the wrong place at the worst time, as dusk deepens to night, the chase is on through a seemingly endless labyrinth of terraced houses and narrow back-alleys, trying to avoid the paramilitaries who want him dead and tentatively seeking refuge among the locals. With an accomplished central performance from Belfast boy O’Connell, supported by a strong cast of local talent, including Good Vibrations star Richard Dormer, ’71 is a showcase of the best of contemporary British cinema, handling a sensitive subject with a deft touch and delivering a masterclass in escapist entertainment in the process.

Memorable Moments? At one point Hook crosses paths with a young Loyalist boy who guides him to a friendly part of town in a sequence which is as funny as it is tense and intimidating, offering a frightening insight into the tribal tendancies which lend the film it’s unique complexion.

Look who’s talking:‘Powerfully directed and acted, ’71 stays true to its fact-based origins while remaining as gripping as any solidly crafted action thriller.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Shadow Dancer (2013) is a similarly familiar and thought provoking Belfast based Troubles thriller about an IRA member who turns informant for MI5 to protect her son.

Trivia Pursuit: The exterior shots were filmed on location with Blackburn, Sheffield and Liverpool doubling as 70s Belfast.

[PASSNOTES] STILL ALICE (2015)

By on March 6th, 2015

Still Alice (2014)

Still Alice (2014) Dir. Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland QFT Belfast 6th-19th Mar

Who’s in it? Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart

What’s it about? Featuring a heartfelt, Oscar winning central performance from Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a Columbia University Linguistics professor diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimers, Still Alice is a heartbreaking and life affirming story about the fragility of our carefully crafted lives, the danger of taking anything for granted and the necessity of realising and appreciating what we have. Based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 bestselling novel of the same name, the film tracks Alice’s diagnosis after the first effects of the disease cause her to forget the words to a speech she gives at the University. The film is an intimate portrayal of the devastating impact the disease has on Alice’s husband (Baldwin) and their children as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that, in spite of her condition and the irrevocable changes it brings, she’s still Alice.

Memorable Moments? Alice tells her daughter (Stewart) that she wants to see her go to university, who complains that it’s not fair for her to use her condition to get her to go to college, to which Alice responds “It don’t have to be fair, I’m your mother”. In another scene Alice writes down important questions like ‘What is the name of your oldest daughter?’ and practices answering them so she doesn’t forget.

Look who’s talking: ‘Elevated by a gripping performance from Julianne Moore, Still Alice is a heartfelt drama that honors its delicate themes with bravery and sensitivity.’

Like that? Try this: Also featuring an 2015 Best Actor Oscar winning portrayal of a character with a degenerative disease, The Theory of Everything (2014) sees Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in this critically acclaimed biopic.

Trivia Pursuit: Co-director Richard Glatzer, who suffers from ALS and can’t speak, directed the film using a text to speech app on a tablet.

[PASSNOTES] SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993)

By on February 20th, 2015

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Sleepless in Seattle (1993) Dir. Nora Ephron – Ulster Hall 21st Feb

Who’s in it? Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

What’s it about? Probably the archetypal rom-com, in which two relative strangers are brought together apparently by providence, with a little help from family and friends. In this particular version of events widower Sam (Hanks) is forced into a seemingly inevitable cosmic collision with Annie Reed (Ryan), when his son Jonah, still missing his mother, calls into a radio show saying that all he wants for Christmas is a new wife for his dad and new mother for himself – naturally provoking an outpouring of estrogen fuelled marriage proposals from women all over the country. Hearing little Jonah’s impassioned plea while driving to Washington Annie decides, obviously, that she and Sam are meant to be together, despite the fact she’s already in love and engaged to someone else, and that she is yet to meet her soul mate. Ephron, Hanks and Ryan would collaborate again under similar narrative circumstances in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. Sleepless in Seattle is undoubtedly mushy and sentimental but remains the quintessential chick flick, in the good sense.

Memorable Moments? In on scene David Hyde Pierce, channelling his role as fussy psychiatrist Niles from Frasier, tells Annie, “Annie, when you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious. Subconsciously.”

Look who’s talking: ‘Not one of the cleverer rom-coms of this ilk… but sweet and touching nevertheless and Tom Hanks is always watchable.’ – Empire

Like that? Try this: You’ve Got Mail (1998) reunited Hanks, Ryan and director Ephron for a similarly pitched rom-com in which the pair fall in love online, apparently anonymously, when in fact they already know and detest each other.

Trivia Pursuit: The role of Annie was originally offered to Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeifer, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Jason Lee and Jodie Foster, who all turned it down.

[PASSNOTES] THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)

By on February 13th, 2015

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Dir. George Cukor – QFT Belfast 14th Feb

Who’ in it? James Stewart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

What’s it about?My Fair Lady director George Cukor brought together three Hollywood legends for this old school rom-com in which Hepburn’s headstrong socialite has her wedding plans scuppered by the arrival of ex-husband (Grant) and Jimmy Stewart’s charming and handsome young reporter. A situation comedy which, known at the time as a comedy of remarriage – in which a couple separate, flirt with other suitors and end up back with their spouse, the film mirrored the Hollywood Production Code of the day which prohibited the depiction of extra-marital affairs. The film was secured by Hepburn as a vehicle to help her re-launch her self as a serious box office contender, something Louis B Meyer was skeptical of given the star’s recent box office flops, so much so that he enlisted two known A-list quantities in Grant and Stewart to shore up what was at the time a bit of a gamble. Nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two, Best Actor for Stewart as well as Best Adapted Screenplay, it was a gamble that paid off for MGM, being selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1995.

Memorable Moments? The sequence in which Jimmy Stewart arrives at Cary Grant’s house the worse for wear after a night out is one of the scenes credited for winning Jimmy Stewart his Oscar. Stewart gets steadily more and more drunk showing off his astounding technical ability and natural talent.

Look who’s talking: ‘Offering a wonderfully witty script, spotless direction from George Cukor, and typically excellent lead performances, The Philadelphia Story is an unqualified classic.’ -Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Bringing Up Baby (1938), sees Hepburn cast again as the kooky aristocrat (with pet leopard in tow) opposite Cary Grant’s straight laced paleontologist.

Trivia pursuit: Cary Grant donated his fee to the War Relief Fund.

[PASSNOTES] TRON (1982)

By on February 10th, 2015

Tron (1982)

Tron (1982) Dir. Steven Lisberger – QFT Belfast

Who’s in it? Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner

What’s it about? When a hacker is abducted by a computer program he must escape his digital prison with help of a security program called Tron. Though not everyone’s cup of tea and ever so slightly dated by astronomical developments in modern special effects and digital imagery, 80s cult icon Tron was undoubtedly the most original and groundbreaking films of its time, spawning a loyal fan following, despite initial skepticism at the the time of release, and a recent big budget reboot in the shape of 2010’s disappointing flop Tron Legacy. The film’s development began in the 70s after director Lisberger became in engrossed with nascent arcade game Pong, after which he and producer Donald Kushner set up their own studio to develop their initial story idea as an animated short. Combining back-lit animation, live action and computer generated image, Tron was initially rejected by various studios until Disney took a chance on it. Despite relative success at the box office, the film was more of critical than commercial success, impressing critics with its creative vision and committed performances, in spite of a disappointing story.

Memorable Moments? In one scene Bridges’ character engages in a game of futuristic to-the-death handball, which he wins, but then incurs the wrath of David Warner’s villainous Sark by refusing to kill his opponent.

Look who’s talking:‘Though perhaps not as strong dramatically as it is technologically, TRON is an original and visually stunning piece of science fiction that represents a landmark work in the history of computer animation.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Flight of the Navigator (1986), is a sci-fi adventure in which a young boy uses a spaceship to get back to his own time.

Trivia Pursuit: The film was awarded a visual effects Oscar 14 years after its release given as at the time CGI was considered cheating.

[PASSNOTES] HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004)

By on February 6th, 2015

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Dir Alfonso Cuaron – QFT 8th Feb

Who’s in it? Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Thompson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman

What’s it about? Arguably the only one of the Harry Potter adaptations to live up to and exceed the expectations of the books, which undoubtedly made the films inevitable and a guaranteed success. Oscar Winning Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron faithfully brings to life the spirit of the beloved boy wizard’s adventures, as he gradually becomes a man and learns to choose what’s right over what’s easy. Harry’s third year at Hogwarts finds him under threat from infamous alleged murderer Sirius Black, the man who apparently betrayed his parent’s trust and handed them over to Lord Voldemort, and now seems to be after Harry to finish the job. Outstanding central performances from Gary Oldman as the charmingly unpredictable Sirius Black and a wonderfully wicked Helena Bonham Carter as unhinged psycho Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange – not to mention the scene stealing CGI addition of the Dementors of Azakaban – add a tangibly more mature dimension to the third installment of the madly successful franchise.

Memorable Moments? Beside a few moments from Emma Thompson’s Hermione Granger, most notably landing a haymaker of a right hook on Malfoy and, elsewhere, remarking “Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?”, the stand out sequence of the film is the genuinely frightening moment the Dementors board the Hogwarts Express, reminiscent of LOTR’s hooded Ringwraiths.

Look Who’s talking: ‘Under the assured direction of Alfonso Cuaron, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban triumphantly strikes a delicate balance between technical wizardry and complex storytelling.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: The other standout film from the Potter series is the decidedly darker The Half Blood Prince (2009), offering a more introspective and revealing character-centric approach.

Trivia Pursuit: The three young leads were asked to write a first person perspective essay on their characters.

[PASSNOTES] BIG HERO 6 (2014)

By on February 5th, 2015

Big Hero 6 (2015)

Big Hero 6 (2014) Dir. Don Hall, Chris Williams – Nationwide

Who’s in it? Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney

What’s it about? Inspired by the Marvel Comic strip of the same name, Big Hero 6 is the 54th Disney animated film and the first since the success of last year’s double Oscar winning phenomenon Frozen. With Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for best animated feature for 2104 the film, the first to feature Marvel characters, sees gifted robotics engineer Hiro create a hi-tech team of superheroes to taken on a mysterious masked villain. Spending his spare time fighting the robots he’s built in the back alleys of futuristic, playfully named Fransansokyo, Hiro’s elder brother Tadashi, worried he’s wasting his prodigious talent as well as his time, takes him to his university’s robotics lab where Hiro is inspired to apply for a place himself and uses his talent for tinkering for the greater good. Big Hero 6 is an action adventure movie for the digital generation, it’s focus on the healing power of friendship is bound to resonate whatever your age.

Memorable Moments? In one scene Hiro is introduced to his brother’s ingenious creation Baymax, a friendly marshmallow shaped robot programmed to “heal the sick and injured”, as the pair get acquainted Hiro reconnects with his brother through his new friend, in a sequence that’s as typically funny and touching as you’d expect from a Disney animation.

Look Who’s talking: ‘Agreeably entertaining and brilliantly animated, Big Hero 6 is briskly-paced, action-packed, and often touching.’ -Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Iron Giant (1999) is a gorgeous looking critically acclaimed and BAFTA winning animation about a young boy’s relationship with a giant alien robot who crash lands near his home and is wanted by the government for experimentation.

Trivia Pursuit: Hiro is the first mixed race character to have featured in a Disney film following The Princess and the Frog (2009) which featured the first black animated character.

[PASSNOTES] TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014)

By on January 23rd, 2015

Testament of Youth (2014)

Testament of Youth (2014) Dir. James Kent – 24th Jan, QFT Belfast

Who’s in it? Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan

What’s it about? Based on the bestselling 1933 memoir of World War I survivor, author, pacifist and feminist trailblazer Vera Brittain, who dared to defy the expectations of her family and the era into which she was born. Postponing her degree to serve as a nurse in London during the Great War and later publishing a first hand account of her experiences, which would come to epitomise the notion of Remembrance in the UK, Testament of Youth is a poignant and timely adaptation of a generation defining work on the tragedy of war and the lost promise of youth. The story follows Vera (Vikander) as she is accepted to Oxford to study Literature and meets and falls in love with Roland Leighton, a friend of her brother Edward (Egerton), neither of whom would survive the war. Just as their romance begins to blossom, war changes everything and Vera must say goodbye to her Fiance as he signs up to fight.

Memorable Moments? The film’s blending of passion and pathos, with breathtaking pastoral imagery against the disruptive influence of war, reveals a tension and an emotional vigour which takes and hold and refuses to let go. When Vera discovers her fiance has signed up to go to the front she’s heartbroken and begs him not to go, but he insists, “I can’t let someone else do my duty for me”.

Look who’s talking: ‘Testament of Youth is refreshingly old school in its approach, shunning frantic editing and acting histrionics to keep things strictly British and stiff upper lip.’ – Digital Spy

Like that? Try this: Gallipoli (1981), starring a young Mel Gibson, is a moving testament to the extent of the needless loss of life during WWI.

Trivia Pursuit: Saoirse Ronan was originally cast as Vera but had to pull out due to a scheduling conflict.

[PASSNOTES] WHIPLASH (2014)

By on January 16th, 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash (2014) Dir. Damien Chazelle – QFT Belfast 17th Jan

Who’s in it? Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, Paul Reiser

What’s it about? Incendiary and provocative, Damien Chazelle’s gripping character study about the cost of success at any price and the danger of obsession is critically acclaimed for good reason. A powerful and affecting emotional tour de force featuring awards quality work all round, this relentlessly intense story of an ambitious young musician (Teller), pushed to sacrifice himself at the alter of self-development by his uncompromising and down right abusive band leader (Simmons), is a front runner for the next month’s Best Picture Oscar. We follow aspiring Jazz drummer Andrew from his tentative first few practice sessions at a prestigious music school and watch as he is pushed to his limit by his unforgiving conductor, who makes a point of pushing people “beyond what’s expected of them”. Refusing to settle for anything less than perfection, he tells his fearful students that “there are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”

Memorable Moments?A standout scene, shrewdly used as the centrepiece for the trailer, sees Simmons’ psycho conductor screaming at his terrified students, picking on Teller’s determined drummer as he strives to meet his impossible standards, saying, “If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig”, eventually bringing him to tears, at which the merciless maestro berates him for “weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a nine year old girl!”.

Look who’s talking: ‘Sum up the plot and it sounds interminable. Watch the film and it will spit you out elated, exhausted and cheering for an encore.’ – Empire *****

Like that? Try this: Fellow 2015 Oscar contender Foxcatcher (2014), starring Steve Carrell as unhinged millionaire wrestling sponsor John DuPont, catalogues one man’s descent from enthusiastic cheerleader to crazed obsessive.

Trivia Pursuit: The film was shot, edited, and submitted to Sundance Film Festival in just ten weeks.

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