[PASSNOTES] ‘THE DOUBLE’ IS STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL AND BEAUTIFULLY STRANGE

By on April 11th, 2014

The Double (2013)

The Double (2013) Dir. Richard Ayoade – QFT Belfast

Who’s in it? Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’Dowd

What’s it about?The film follows two very different versions of the same character, Simon James and James Simon. Loner Simon is Haunted by a self-assured doppelganger who gradually takes over his life. Both roles are played with subtly by Eisenberg as a guy who is simultaneously loathed and loved, ignored and admired, timid and confident, nervous and charismatic, lonely and popular. Based on Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, flushed with listless colour, the Submarine director relies on Eisenberg’s mesmeric dual performance to convey the film’s thematic chirascuro of light and shadow which gives its varying tones substance and style. Reminiscent of American Psycho’s skewed introversion, Fight Club’s identity crisis and The Machinist’s nightmarish lucidity, The Double is curious, funny, bold and compelling. Like a Wes Anderson remake of a David Lynch movie, the result is strangely beautiful and beautifully strange.

Memorable Moments? The strength of the film’s quirky duality rests on Eisenberg’s performance which is superb and shows The Social Network actor’s impressive range. In one scene Simon and his doppelganger share a table at a cafe, one self-effacing and inconsequential the other domineering to a fault. With both personalities he maintains a unity which suggests the source material’s preoccupation with man’s interior struggle.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘It is a stylised and idiosyncratic affair, combining deadpan humour with a real sense of existential terror.’ – Independent

Like that? Try this:Fight Club (1999) is a nihilistic thriller which, like The Double, explores how we see ourselves compared with how others see us, in the context of our common values and prevailing social norms. Controversial on its release the film initially performed poorly but later gained a cult following on DVD by word of mouth.

Trivia Pursuit: Roman Polanski was attached to direct a 1996 version starring John Travolta before production fell through.

[PASSNOTES] ‘DIAL M FOR MURDER’ THRILLING CRIME CLASSIC FROM THE MASTER OF SUSPENSE

By on April 4th, 2014

Dial M For Murder (1954)

Dial M For Murder (1954) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock – Movie House Dublin Road April 5th

Who’s in it? Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummming

What’s it about? Pioneering at the time, Hitchcock’s colourful adaptation of Frederick Knott’s play was one of the first films shot in first gen 3D. When a rich tennis pro (Milland) suspects his high society wife (Kelly) of having an affair, he blackmails a retired soldier to kill her and make it look like a bungled burglary. Convinced he’s arranged the perfect murder things don’t go according to plan when his wife fights back and kills her assailant. Using only two sets to recreate the stage play’s proximity to the audience, the Vertigo director wrings every ounce of suspense and drama out of the source material. Hitchcock famously quipped concerning the nascent technology that 3D was a “nine day wonder and I came in on the ninth day”. The film’s vivid stereoscopic technicolour palette is given a new lease of life by Warner Bros’ digital restoration which arguably presents the film as it was originally intended.

Memorable Moments? Reluctant to bow to studio pressure for a more gimmicky approach, Hitch used the new tech to enhance the action at key points in the narrative, using the stereoscopic photography to emphasize plot-pivotal props, like a pair of scissors swiping out of the screen past your nose.

Look Who’s talking:‘The depth of focus, framing of characters and objects and use of the claustrophobic sets add extra pleasure to what was already a thoroughly enjoyable “perfect crime” nail-biter.’ – Daily Express

Like that? Try this: Loosely based on Hitchcock’s film, A Perfect Murder (1998) is a modern reworking of Knott’s play starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen, with a pleasing turn from David Suchet as a Poirot-esque detective.

Trivia Pursuit: Cary Grant wanted Milland’s part but the studio felt the audience wouldn’t buy him as the type to have his wife killed.

[PASSNOTES] ‘GOODBYE MR CHIPS’ DEPICTS THE INNOCENCE OF CHILDHOOD AND THE CHILDHOOD OF INNOCENCE

By on March 28th, 2014

Goodbye Mr Chips (1939)

Goodbye Mr Chips (1939) Dir. Sam Wood – Strandtown Primary School 29th March

Who’s in it? Robert Donat, Greer Garson

What’s it about? Adapted from James Hilton’s 1934 novel, Goodbye Mr Chips is a charming and poignant depiction of the innocence of childhood and the childhood of innocence. A beloved public schoolteacher (an Oscar winning Donat) moulds the young minds in his care into promising young men, only to see his former pupils conscripted into the army at outbreak of World War I. This thematically ambitious biopic follows the key stages in the life of our eponymous hero, spanning two centuries from 1870 to 1933, as he meets his wife (Garson), falls in love, learns to live and lives to teach.

Memorable Moments? The sequence in which Donat’s socially awkward but sincere schoolteacher sees the love of his life off on the train as she says “Goodbye Mr. Chips”, is a neat metaphor for the film’s accessible nostalgia and hopeful romanticism. He stumbles after her stuttering a belated proposal as the train screeches out of the station: “You kissed me!”, he says, and, Hanging out the window, she says, “Oh I know it was awful of me”, to which he replies, “Look here, you’ll have to marry me now you know!”.

Look Who’s talking: ‘The original inspirational-teacher story, and a beloved valentine to classical education, tradition, and the English public boarding schools of a bygone era.’ – Decent Films Guide

Like that? Try this: Shadowlands (1993), starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, is a biopic of the bachelor years of Belfast born author and Oxford professor C.S Lewis. A superbly paced and perfectly performed character study on the mystery of suffering and the moments, however fleeting, which make it worthwhile – “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal”.

Trivia Pusuit The film was up against Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz for Best Picture at the 1939 Oscars.

[PASSNOTES] ‘THE ROCKET’ A CULTURALLY INTRIGUING AND DISCOMFORTING WATCH

By on March 21st, 2014

The Rocket (2013)

The Rocket (2013) Dir. Kim Mourdant – QFT Belfast 21 Mar

Who’s in it? Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Suthep Po-Ngam

What’s it about? Australian produced independent drama The Rocket, set and shot on location in an impoverished but vibrant post-war Laos, tells the incredible story of a young boy forced to emigrate with his family when their village is displaced by the construction of an enormous government funded Dam. In a dramatic and life-changing journey in search of a new home, Ahlo must come to terms with the prospect of starting from scratch in the face of indiscriminate misfortune and personal tragedy, which somehow manage to co-exist with the hope and happiness he finds in an unexpected friendship. A culturally intriguing and discomforting watch, The Rocket is a unique look at the ups and downs of life and the choices we make in response.

Memorable Moments? Ahlo scrounging in a cave (once the site of a wartime mass grave) for bat droppings to use in the rocket he builds for entry in the annual rocket festival, from which the film takes its name, is a poignant preamble to the climactic finale. Most memorable, though, is a sequence involving an attempt by the family to carry a canoe over a mountain as they begin their journey. The personal cost of the effort to the boy and his father, instantaneous and irreversible, is manufactured with breathtaking economy and provides the impetus for his premature coming of age.

Look who’s talking: ‘A feel-good success crafted with care, Kim Mordaunt’s story of two young kids in Laos is a heartfelt audience pleaser while remaining sensitive toward its subjects.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Fact based drama Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) follows the miraculous journey of two young aboriginal girls who find their way home by following 1,500 miles of fencing through the Australian outback.

Trivia Pursuit: The film was Australia’s Best Foreign Language entry for this year’s Oscars but wasn’t nominated.

[PASSNOTES] ‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’ A SELF-REFERENTIAL, STILL RELEVANT LOOK AT TAINTED GLORY AND FRAGILE HOPE IN HOLLYWOOD

By on March 15th, 2014

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Sunset Boulevard (1950) Dir. Billy Wilder – The Ulster Hall 16th Mar

Who’s in it? William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Norma Desmond, Eric Von Stroheim

What’s it about? This classic film noir features one of Hollywood’s greatest opening sequences and a whole host of big name cameos, including legendary directors and silent era icons Cecil B. DeMille and Buster Keaton as themselves, in a story about a fading silent film star (Swanson) fantasising about a return to the silver screen and the failed screenwriter (Holden) lured into the ageing star’s intoxicating and precarious world of tainted glory and fragile hope. Winning three of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for, Sunset Boulevard is a bone fide classic of American cinema and was justifiably ranked 12th on the AFI’s list of 100 Best American Films of the 20th Century. The film was also one of the first to be preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry given its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.

Memorable Moments? The film is perhaps best known for its closing line: “There’s nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

Look who’s talking: ‘Remains the best drama ever made about the movies because it sees through the illusions, even if Norma doesn’t.’ – Roger Ebert

Like that? Try this: Another self-referential Hollywood classic, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donnen’s 1920s set musical masterpiece Singin’ in the Rain, about the arrival of the ‘Talkies’ at the end of cinema’s silent era, features some of the greatest song and dance numbers of all time and the single most recognisable sequence in cinema history and is quintessential escapist entertainment.

Trivia Pursuit: The film’s title is officially registered as Sunset Blvd because the opening shot, in lieu of a title sequence, features a street sign of the famous Hollywood street with the abbreviated spelling.

[PASSNOTES] ‘UNDER THE SKIN’ IS LO-FI SCI-FI WITH A PHILOSOPHICAL BENT

By on March 14th, 2014

Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin (2013) Dir. Jonathan Glazer – QFT Belfast 14 Mar

Who’s in it? Scarlett Johansson, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Paul Brannigan

What’s it about? Pitched as a lo-fi sci-fi with a philosophical bent and a bizarre, abstract aesthetic, the Sexy Beast director offers a dark and apparently bemusing take on Michel Faber’s novel of the same name about an alien sent to earth to devour unsuspecting hitchhikers. Here, a deadly blob of interstellar goo disguised as Scarlett Johansson. Designed, as the title implies, to penetrate outward appearances, Glazer’s adaptation sees Johansson’s unlikely predator scouring suburban Glasgow, subverting traditional gender roles to a trippy soundtrack and luring her male victims to a nasty end. First screened at the Telluride Film festival in 2013, Under the Skin had a fairly mixed reaction; some deeming it the missing link between ponderous drama and sci-fi thriller, others a sullen and sleazy road movie with a blunt existential edge, overwhelming the senses while underwhelming everything else.

Memorable Moments? The piercing and deliberately distracting score is notable for its discordant intensity, interspersed as it is with: weird shots of black goo, distorted faces screaming, random images of fire in a wood, and other disconcerting diversions which evidently relate to Johansson’s alien and her journey in becoming human. It’s hard to say what Under the Skin intended to say or what it’s meant to be memorable for. But it is memorable.

Look who’s talking: ‘It’s hard to instantly come down on either side of the fence for this film. It’s so defiantly clinical and furtive that, even though it’s clearly a work of great substance and mystery, it lacks a basic sense of tenderness.’ – Little White Lies

Like that? Try this: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Stanley Kubrick’s influential magnum opus, is just about the only film Glazer’s peculiar post-modern parable is reminiscent of.

Trivia Pursuit: The men lured into the van weren’t actors and found out afterwards they were only in the film via hidden camera!

[PASSNOTES] ‘ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE’ IS TWILIGHT FOR GROWN UPS

By on March 7th, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) Dir. Jim Jarmusch – QFT Belfast from 7th Mar

Who’s in it? Tom Huddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska

What’s it about? Essentially Twilight for grown ups, Only Lovers Left Alive offers an edgy Valentines alternative to your standard Richard Curtis rom-com. The Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai director brings his patented blend of meloncholia and strange beauty to this Palme D’or nominated vampire romance, boasting two powerful central performances, a strong support cast and a poignancy that persistently pervades its moody ambience. Bonnie and Clyde meets Interview with a Vampire. Reclusive immortal Adam (Huddleston), used to playing muse to uninspired musicians, becomes increasingly weary with immortality, lamenting the state of humanity as he and wife Eve (Swinton) – who prefers hospital blood to sucking necks – look on from the shadows as they reflect on the meaning of endless love.

Memorable Moments? Swinton’s superior ice cold vamp Eve helping herself to bags of blood-bank blood in a Tangiers hospital with John Hurt’s 16th Century playwright offers a different approach to contemporary the vampire drama. Less teenage angst and sparkly skin, more contemplative introspection.

Look who’s talking: ‘Hiddleston and Swinton excel as the very refined bloodsuckers, conveying a sense of world-weariness and disillusionment about the behaviour of the “zombie” humans without ever becoming remotely wearisome themselves.’ – Independent

Like that? Try this: Recently given a Hollywood makeover with Chloe Grace Moretz, Let the Right one (2008), the Swedish original, is a chilling and visually arresting modern manipulation of the vampire genre, disregarding its familiar formula. Bullied schoolboy Oskar is befriended by loner Eli, a girl seemingly his own age, who offers him companionship and the confidence to stand up for himself in exhange for feeding her insatiable thirst for human blood. If Stanley Kubrick had made My Girl…

Trivia Pursuit Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave) was originally cast in the role of Adam, only to be replaced by Tom Huddleston at the last minute.

[PASSNOTES] ‘THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS’ SEES WES ANDERSON AT HIS KOOKY BEST

By on February 28th, 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Dir. Wes Anderson – QFT Belfast 3rd Mar

Who’s in it? Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Danny Glover

What’s it about? Co-written by Owen Wilson, who plays drug addicted novelist and friend of the family Eli Cash, The Royal Tenenbaums sees the Fantastic Mr Fox, The Life Acquatic and The Grand Budapest Hotel director at his kooky best in a quirky off beat cult hit featuring one of the most talented and varied cast of actors ever assembled. In what was to become a trademark casting call this is the film that put Wes Anderson on the map and helped keep him there; featuring appearances from, among others, Ben Stiller as a finance guru and safety obsessed widower – following the death of his wife in a plane crash, Luke Wilson as a recently retired Tennis pro having a nervous breakdown, Bill Murray as noted neurologist Raleigh St. Clair and Gwyneth Paltrow as an emotionally unstable playwright. Undoubtedly a Marmite movie but unique, funny and charming all the same.

Memorable Moments? In a movie of memorable moments it’s hard to pick just one but Gene Hackman, as the eccentric and unscrupulous patriarch Royal, hanging off the back of a bin lorry with his two grandsons (both wearing bright red Adidas tracksuits and him in a suit), as Simon and Garfunkel’s Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard plays in the background, is precious and sums up the warmth of the film in spite of its pronounced peculiarities.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘A comedy of unrequited love, melancholy and disappointment. One to savour.’ – Time Out

Like that? Try this: Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved book, Oscar nominated The Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) features the vocal talents of George Clooney and Meryl Streep as Mr and Mrs Fox and is a feast for the eyes and the heart.

Trivia Pursuit: Danny Glover, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson turned down parts in Oceans Eleven to appear in the film.

[PASSNOTES] ‘THE INVISIBLE WOMAN’. DICKENS IN LOVE

By on February 21st, 2014

The Invisible Woman (2013)

The Invisible Woman (2013) Dir. Ralph Fiennes – QFT Belfast Feb 21st to Mar 3rd

Who’s in it? Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristen Scott-Thomas

What’s it about? Based on Claire Tomalin’s 1992 book, The Invisible Woman of the title refers to the married Charles Dickens’ hitherto secretive love affair with young actress Nelly Ternan. Once the object of the famous author’s affections but now a happily married mother and schoolteacher, we see Nelly struggle with the memory (via flashback) of their intimate but illegitimate relationship. While assuming the lead as the passionate and uncompromising Dickens, Ralph Fiennes also takes up the reins once more as director. After cutting his teeth on a critically acclaimed turn in the chair with 2011′s Coriolanus (a post-modern adaptation of the Shakespeare play for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut) Fiennes’ Dickensian period piece looks at the love life of one of literature’s most beloved playwrights, promising powerful performances from stellar support and some sumptuous cinematography. Whether this does with Dickens what Shakespeare in Love did with the Bard remains to be seen but there could be more here than just heaving bosoms and stifled desires.

Memorable Moments? The solitary figure of the woman on a desolate stretch of beach is a striking image from a memorable sequence evoking what Dickens called the “profound secret and mystery” of the other. An accompanying violin score suggests the interior turmoil Dickens and Ternan reportedly shared until the author’s death in 1870.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘This is an engrossing drama, with excellent performances and tremendous design by Maria Djurkovic.’ – The Guardian

Like that? Try this: Similar in style and design though moodier still is Jane Eyre (2011), starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, bringing the etheral quality of Charlotte Bronte’s timeless classic sharply into focus. A masterclass in thematic tone and dramatic restraint.

Trivia Pursuit: The film is up against Oscars 2014 favourite 12 Years A Slave for Best Costume design.

[PASSNOTES] WAR HORSE (2011) – CHEESY AND MELODRAMTIC BUT SINCERE AND UPLIFTING

By on February 14th, 2014

War Horse (2011)

War Horse (2011) Dir. Steven Spielberg – Island Arts Centre Lisburn 17th Feb

Who’s in it? Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis

What’s it about? Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is a modern epic which follows the inspirational and unlikely journey of a Horse named Joey as he whinnies his way miraculously through the emotional ravages of World War I, touching the hearts of just about everyone on the way. The most hardened of critics included! Beginning in a small country town in England, we follow our equine hero from his first clumsy canter across the idyllic Devon countryside in the company of his best friend and trainer Albert, to the bloody trenches of France where he engenders a spirit of hope among the hopeless. War Horse is everything an uplifting film about the unlikely survival of an infantry horse in the First World War should be; cheesy and melodramatic but sincere and uplifting.

Memorable Moments? With a nod to a real-life WWI story about German and Allied soldiers apparently calling a ceasefire for a game of footy in No Man’s Land, Spielberg poignantly captures the gooey essence of Michael Morpurgo’s novel in a scene which sees the heroic horse get tangled in the barb wire between the two trenches. With nowhere left to run soldiers from either side raise the white flag and work together to free him.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Not entirely satisfying – Somehow, though, the sum of the parts are more than the whole. It is a film of a kind we don’t see any more, that it would be good to see more of.’ – Decent Films Guide

Like that? Try this: Best known for the rousing 70s TV theme, Black Beauty (1994) also stars David Thewlis and is based on Anna Sewell’s classic about the importance of friendship, loyalty and respect for animals.

Trivia Pursuit: Before War Horse Jeremy Irvine’s only prior acting experience was as a tree with no lines in amateur theatre.

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