[PASSNOTES] ‘THE DEER HUNTER’ (1978) AN EMOTIONALLY UNFLINCHING ANTI-WAR EPIC

By on August 1st, 2014

The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter (1978) Dir. Michael Cimino – QFT Belfast 2nd Aug

Who’s in it? Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, Meryl Streep

What’s it about? Three steel workers from a close knit Pennsylvania community leave together to serve in Vietnam shortly after one of them is married. Winning Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Actor in a Supporting Role (Walken), and boasting generation-best performers at their peak, Heaven’s Gate director Michael Cimino’s emotionally unflinching anti-war epic is as politically motivated as any other post Vietnam war movie; more concerned with channeling the frustrations of a generation than commemorating the victorious dead. From a decade defined by antagonistic anti-heroes (foreshadowing, in hindsight, Iraq War inspired Oscar winners Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thrity) Cimino’s film, along with Apocalypse Now!, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and others, powerfully, perhaps justifiably, denounces America’s apparently pointless involvement in a controversial conflict and defiantly asks why?

Memorable Moments? If you haven’t seen The Deer Hunter chances are you’re still familiar with its most memorable sequence, in which the three young friends are subjected to emotional and psychological torture by the Vietcong as they’re forced to play Russian Roulette with each other.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Its greatness is blunted by its length and one-sided point of view, but the film’s weaknesses are overpowered by Michael Cimino’s sympathetic direction and a series of heartbreaking performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Another equally recognisable film from the same era, and of the same ilk, is 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining director Stanley Kubrick’s iconic Full Metal Jacket (1987). It’s no holds barred depiction of the deliberate dehumanization of Marine Corps recruits during Basic Training, at the hands of R. Lee Ermy’s merciless drill instructor, is a real eye-opener for the uninitiated.

Trivia Pursuit: A live round was reportedly requested by DeNiro for filming one of the Russian Roulette scenes.

[PASSNOTES] ‘THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI’ (1947)

By on July 25th, 2014

The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

The Lady from Shanghai (1947) Dir. Orson Welles – QFT Belfast 25th July

Who’s in it? Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane

What’s it about? Best known to some as the girl from the first of the posters on Andy Dufresne’s cell wall in The Shawshank Redemption, Rita Hayworth stars as Femme Fatale Elsa in The Lady from Shanghai, another classic, if slightly less well known noir-thriller from Oscar Winning The Third Man director, and genius, Orson Welles, who here continues his habit of directing, writing and starring in his own films. When Welles’ Irish sailor meets upper crust blonde Elsa in Central Park minutes before her horse drawn carriage is hijacked by three would be thieves, he rescues her only to be embroiled in a murder plot on the high seas aboard her husband’s yacht. Based on Sherwood King’s novel If I Die Before I Wake, Welles and Hayworth were husband and wife before and during the film’s production though the marriage ended a year after its release. Some interpret the dizzying hall of mirrors finale as a wry comment by the Citizen Kane director on his marriage to the Gilda star.

Memorable Moments? Hayworth’s Femme Fatale frantically scampering through a fairground hall of mirrors, as her reflection is bounced from wall to ceiling during the film’s thrilling end sequence, is a fitting end to a heady and memorably thrilling film, if less well remembered than Welles’ other iconic Noirs.

Look Who’s Talking:‘Though the plot is impossible to follow, there are many glimpses of Welles’ signature atmosphere-making.’ – Empire

Like that? Try this: The Third Man (1949), arguably Welles’ signature film, in spite of his groundbreaking work in Citizen Kane, is a much more atmospheric and intriguing film and has virtually set the template par excellence for the Noir genre ever since.

Trvia Pursuit: As well as starring in the film, Welles also wrote the screenplay though his role as director was strangely uncredited.

[PASSNOTES] ‘SOME LIKE IT HOT’ THE PERFECT COMBINATION OF WIT, CHARM AND IRREVERENT FARCE

By on July 18th, 2014

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Some Like it Hot (1959) Dir. Billy Wilder

Who’s in it? Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

What’s it about? The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard director Billy Wilder ingeniously choreographed the perfect combination of wit, charm and unforgettable farce in this classic comedy which sees struggling musicians Joe (Curtis) and Jerry (Lemmon) on the run from the mob. After witnessing the infamous St Valentine’s Day massacre, the pair drag-up and join an all female band in order to escape the mafia hit squad and iconic screwball comedy ensues. Featuring a knockout performance from Marilyn Monroe as the sassy ukulele touting songstress Sugar Kane, and some of the most memorable scenes and quotable one-liners in cinema history, Some Like it Hot is one of Hollywood’s most recognisably irreverent films, and earns its place as the American Film Institute’s Greatest American Comedy.

Memorable Moments? Whether it’s Monroe’s appearance at the train station, skipping between the steam puffs of that train as Jerry and Joe look on in admiration, Curtis’ inimitable “Nobody talks like that” Cary Grant impression or that devastating final sequence and Lemmon’s big reveal on the boat, “I’m a man”… “Nobody’s Perfect”, Some Like it Hot is feverish fun from start to finish, with some irresistible Monroe numbers (I Wanna Be Loved by You) thrown in for good measure.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘This is a flawlessly scripted, superbly performed and endlessly witty comedy that deserves its place among the all-time greats.’ – Film4

Like that? Try this: Mrs Doubtfire (1993), featuring an unrecognisable performance from Robin Williams under half a ton of rubber, co-stars Sally Field as the long suffering wife of William’s irresponsible Actor. When the pair separate, their children’s lives are turned upside down by the family’s eccentric new housekeeper, as she helps their parents rediscover the best of each other.

Trivia Pursuit: Billy Wilder had originally considered Frank Sinatra for the role of Jerry.

[PASSNOTES] ‘BOYHOOD’ A PERSONAL AND POIGNANT LOVE LETTER TO THE UNIQUE BOND BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD

By on July 17th, 2014

Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood (2014) Dir. Richard Linklater

Who’s in it? Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

What’s it about? Reminiscent of ground breaking 70s family focused British bio-doc Seven Up, which charted the progress of a group of children every seven years from birth, Before Sunrise director Richard Linklater gets up close and autobiographical in this personal and poignant love letter to the unique bond between parent and child. Shot over a period of 12 years, the film revisits Linklater’s prevalent preoccupation with the coming of age character development which features in the director’s critically acclaimed filmography, here tracking Mason Jr (Coltrane) and his journey from boyhood to man. Casting his own daughter as Mason’s elder sister, Linklater saw the project as an opportunity for a real appreciation of the affect the passage of time has on people, creating a close knit cast and crew to capture peculiar, circumstantial changes and their influence on a given story and its protagonists.

Memorable Moments? Aside from referential pop culture landmarks to help orientate us amid the sprawling narrative, likely Mason Jr’s excitement over the release of the latest Harry Potter book and the PR juggernaut for presidential candidate Barack Obama, in one scene his father (Hawke) imparts some timely wisdom via a bowling metaphor, “You don’t want bumpers – life doesn’t give you bumpers”.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Linklater’s beautiful film is an extraordinary achievement – tender, funny, wise and wistful, full of warmth and humanity.’ – Empire Magazine

Like that? Try this: Linklater’s hallmark trilogy Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), follows the evolving relationship of star crossed lovers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, from their serendipitous meeting in the first film, reacquainting unexpectedly in the 2nd and meeting them again when they’re married with kids in the third.

Trivia Pursuit: The film was inspired by Linklater’s childhood experience of his parent’s divorce.

[PASSNOTES] ‘A HARD DAY’S NIGHT’ A POP CULTURAL MUSIC DOC ON A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE FAB FOUR

By on July 17th, 2014

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Dir. Richard Lester

Who’s in it? John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr

What’s it about? Providing the inspiration for the Monkees TV show, the Superman II director’s pop cultural music doc following a day in the life of the Fab Four was released at the height of Beatlemania and unlike, say, The Spice Movie, was both a hit at the box office and acclaimed by critics as one of the most influential music documentaries ever made. Listed by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Great Films of all time, critic Leslie Halliwell called A Hard Day’s Night “a comic fantasia with music…” and its 99% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is evidence that the film has stood the test of time to become a true Rock n’ Roll classic.

Memorable Moments? Aside from the obvious soundtrack highlights like She Loves You played live in front of a squealing audience, A Hard Day’s Night features a charming blend of Beatlemania and swinging 60s nostalgia which manages to be entertaining as well as important from the musical history angle. In one scene a girl asks Ringo if he’s a Mod or a Rocker, to which he replies, “I’m a Mocker”, and another sees the cheeky drummer put his coat on the ground for a girl to walk across just before she falls down a large hole. Light-hearted slapstick with a soundtrack of Beatles hits makes this a must for music fans.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘For fans this is a chance to enjoy The Beatles’ legendary music and charisma with unprecedented clarity.’ – Film 4

Like that? Try this: Help! (1965) was Richard Lester’s second film starring the Beatles and follow up to the critical success of A Hard Day’s Night the previous year, with this sequel, of sorts, following the band on the run from a cult.

Trivia Pursuit: The film had a budget of only $500,000 and was produced in just six weeks.

[PASSNOTES] ‘THE GOLDEN DREAM’ IS FULL OF “HUMAN WARMTH, COMPASSION AND TRUTH” SAYS KEN LOACH

By on June 27th, 2014

The Golden Dream (2013)

The Golden Dream (2013) Dir. Diego Quemada-Diez – 27th Jun-3rd Jul

Who’s in it? Brandon Lopez, Rodolfo Domínguez, Karen Martínez

What’s it about? The Golden Dream (La Jaula de Oro) is Ken Loach prodigy Quemada-Diez’s first full blown solo project after plying his trade for years as the respected and conscientious British director’s camera assistant. The film uncovers the “human warmth, compassion and truth” hidden in the most unlikely of situations, namely modern day Mexico, if you happen to be an illegal migrant looking for a better life in the US. The plot follows three Guatamalan teenagers as they busk their way across the border, hitching a lift on the roof of an obliging train along the way while attempting to stay the right side of traffickers and drug lords, in search of greener grass. Awarded the Best Talent Prize last year at Cannes, Quemada-Diez is undoubtedly a graduate of the Loach school of down to earth realism and the film embraces his mentor’s gritty aesthetic but remains very much his own creation, sure to surprise and delight.

Memorable Moments?The youngster’s brief sojourn atop a moving train is just a taster of the simple joys Diez relates in a coming of age/immigration tale for the 21st century that has never felt so relevant.

Look Who’s Talking: “A beautiful film, full of human warmth, compassion and truth. The struggle of the innocent is caught with precision. And it is clear that the real enemy is beyond their reach or comprehension, but nonetheless very present in the film. Terrific!” – Ken Loach

Like that? Try this: Sin Nombre/Nameless (2009) follows the fortunes of Honduran migrants fleeing poverty and violence in Mexico to the United States, written and directed by Cary Fukunaga, the man behind sumptuous 2010 Jane Eyre remake, and featuring award winning cinematography.

Trivia Pursuit: The Best Talent Prize, which The Golden Dream won at Cannes in 2013, was reportedly created especially for the film.

[PASSNOTES] OZU’S ‘AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON’ REMAINS A POIGNANT PARABLE FOR THE MODERN AGE

By on June 20th, 2014

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An Autumn Afternoon (1962) Dir. Yashijiro Ozu – 21st June

Who’s in it? Chishū Ryū, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada

What’s it about? The final and perhaps most touching film from the renowned Japanese auteur is a lovingly observed and delicately delivered family drama set in Japan which sensitively brings to bear the full force of cultural/relational experience you would expect from the Tokyo Story director. An Autumn Afternoon tells the story of ageing widower Shuhei (Ryu), struggling to stave the inevitable ache of loneliness since the death of his wife, and the travails of his three children, with which he busies himself. As his daughter’s proposed marriage approaches, Shuhei encourages her to follow his more traditional impulse re suitability, attempting to maintain a semblance of control over her life in his diminishing role, but also to feel needed and to be useful. Shot in colour, the film considers the commonalities of family life with uncommon wisdom and tenderness.

Memorable Moments? One scene, in which the prospective fiance of Shushei’s daughter Michiko is talking about her over dinner with a friend – “But I haven’t touched her yet”. “Liar!”. “Well, we have held hands” – captures the dignified propriety of a film very much of its time, and yet with a timeless universality.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘A relatable slice of life and, for Ozu fans, a final glimpse into a director’s evolving thoughts on life and culture in his last film.’

Like that? Try this: Tokyo Story (1953), Ozu’s poignant parable on the fragility of family ties and old fashioned values for the modern age, where work eclipses family and long established prioties shift. The film sees a retired couple visit their grandchildren in the city only to discover their children have no time for them. Its relevance, especially for today is striking, suggesting this Tokyo story could be anybody’s anywhere.

Trivia Pursuit: The literal translation of the film’s Japanese title is, apparently, ‘The Taste of Mackerel Pike’.

[PASSNOTES] ‘JIMMY’S HALL’ OFFERS A LOACH-LIKE SOCIAL COMMENTARY ON CIVIL WAR ERA IRELAND

By on June 9th, 2014

Jimmy's Hall

Jimmy’s Hall (2014) Dir. Ken Loach – QFT Belfast 4th-13th June

Who’s in it? Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Andrew Scott

What’s it about? Politically minded Palme d’Or winning British director Ken Loach (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Kes) offers another rousing social commentary on rural Ireland in the 1920s. It’s the emotionally charged, fact based story of a Leitrim man’s revolutionary impulse and the ripples he made in his local community. The film follows the fortunes of local dancer Jimmy Gralton (Ward) and his efforts to run a cross community dance hall to help people “understand each other as best we can”, enabling them to bring out the best in each other and have a laugh doing it. Loach casts the Catholic Church as the typical villains of the piece (the parish priest portrayed decrying those at the hall as “atheists”) as the local authorities look to keep a lid on the stirrings of rebellion during a turbulent period of recent Irish history.

Memorable Moments? In one scene Jimmy steals a carefree moonlit waltz in the hall with his activist girlfriend (Kirby), continuing the theme of a new generation asserting its independence. Although the political context is uncompromising, Loach seems to handle the spirited narrative with a lightness of touch that avoids the heaviness of his earlier work on similar ground.

Look Who’s talking: ‘All told, it’s perhaps best seen as a celebration of a man who stands up for his beliefs – almost like a testament to Loach himself.’ – Total Film

Like that? Try this: The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), Loach’s critically acclaimed look at the Irish Civil War, full of Indy grit and less palatable than Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996), though it may pull fewer punches politically.

Trivia Pursuit: The hall of the title refers to the Leitrim barn Gralton used as a centre to bring people together under the same roof.

[PASSNOTES] ‘LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL’ FIZZES WITH A SPIRIT OF HOPE AMID HORROR

By on June 9th, 2014

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful (1997) Dir. Roberto Benigni

Who’s in it? Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi

What’s it about? Winner of three Oscars including Best Actor for director Benigni (who also stars) and Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Grand Prix at Cannes, Life is Beautiful is a charming, funny and moving account of one man’s optimistic attitude to life and his courage in passing his Joie de vivre to his son, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy. The film follows the story of happy go lucky book shop owner Guido as he and his son find themselves in a concentration camp together and must use their imagination to survive. A powerful and life affirming tale of perseverance, even joy, in adversity, the film is at times sorrowful and sobering but never depressing, fizzing with the irrepressible spirit of its larger than life message of hope amid horror.

Memorable Moments? In the camp Guido pretends to his son that the whole thing is a game they’re playing with the Nazis and encourages him not to be frightened but to play along. One scene sees Guido marching comically in front of machine gun wielding soldiers as his son looks on and smiles in a sequence that’s as laughable as it is heart-breaking.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘In the real death camps there would be no role for Guido. But Life Is Beautiful is not about Nazis and Fascists, but about the human spirit.’ – Roger Ebert

Like that? Try this: Similarly dealing with the Holocaust in a surprising way, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) manages to be a family film a grown up way, revisiting the theme of loss of innocence through an unexpected childhood friendship.

Trivia Pursuit: The plot is partly inspired by Benigni’s own Jewish-Italian up-bringing during which his own father was interned by the Nazis in a concentration camp for three years before his birth.

[PASSNOTES] ‘THE WIND RISES’, MIYAZAKI’S FINAL MASTERPIECE, IS A FITTING SWAN SONG FOR THE ANIMATION GIANT

By on June 9th, 2014

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises (2013) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Who’s in it? Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima

What’s it about? When Jiro’s ambition to be a pilot is threatened by his poor health, he instead realises his passion for planes as one of the world’s foremost aeronautical engineers. Japan’s Disney, Hayao Miyazaki (Whisper of the Heart, Spirited Away), has made a career of redefining the possibilities and defying the limitations of the hand drawn animation genre, a medium whose stunning versatility Studio Ghibli, the production company he founded, has come to epitomise. This latest, and reportedly last of Miyazaki’s visionary masterpieces, looks set to become the ageing director’s swan song. A beautiful and thought provoking journey into the good intentions that hope longs to see fulfilled and the dreams the heart struggles to let go.

Memorable Moments? The subtlety and power with which Miyazaki evokes the memory of the past, still very much a part of the present and a prelude to a precarious future, is testament once more to the vitality and versatility of the truths of humanity captured and immortalised in Ghibli’s rich archive of period, person-centred and tangibly real films.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘This profound and beautiful film deftly combines Ghibli’s mesmerising style with an achingly beautiful love story, and asks hard questions about humanity, creation and invention.’ – QFT Belfast

Like that? Try this: Overflowing with an infectious sense of wonder My Neighbour Totoro (1988), one of Miyazaki’s first and most beloved films, indulges in the simple adventures of childhood as two young girls discover the spirit world in the forest around their father’s sleepy country cottage, as they await their sick mother’s return from hospital. Featuring the voice talents of the pre-teen Fanning sisters (Dakota and Elle), Totoro is a treat for the child in every adult and the adult in every child.

Trivia Pursuit: Miyazaki apparently dislikes being called the “Walt Disney of Japan”.

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