[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.

[PASSNOTES] GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)

By on January 13th, 2015

Guys and Dolls (1955)

Guys and Dolls (1955) Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz – QFT Belfast 10th Jan

Who’s in it? Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine

What’s it about? Based on the hit 1950 Broadway show of the same name, Guys and Dolls is Godfather meets musical theatre, with spontaneous musical numbers instead of bloody violence as unlicensed gambling brings down the heat of local law enforcement amid unlikely coupling. Marlon Brando’s hardened gambler/”sinner” and Jean Simmons’ saintly Salvation Army volunteer meet cute at the local mission when he, under false pretenses, appears to turn over a new leaf and then falls for Sargeant Sarah against the odds. Meanwhile Sinatra’s smooth talking crap shooting ring leader Nathan Detroit teams up with Branfo’s Sky Masterson in a desperate attempt to keep “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York” floating. Boasting a snappy script, standout performances from its four leads and some toe-tapping tunes, not to mention the Godfather himself in musical mode, this is one musical offer you can’t refuse!

Memorable Moments? Brando crooning Woman in Love to Jean Simmons after they return home from a date is one of the musical highlights in a film full of them. The stand out number is undoubtedly the title track featuring Sinatra and two of his cronies, “When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky, you can bet that he’s doing for some doll”, “When you spot a John waiting out in the rain, chances are he’s insane as only a John can be for a Jane.”

Look who’s talking: ‘The showtunes are weapons-grade: especially Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat, which never fails to get any audience on its feet. A must.’ – The Guardian

Like that try? Try this:Bugsy Malone (1976) is a musical, 20s set crime caper starring a young Jodie Foster and featuring an all child cast.

Trivia Pursuit: Gene Kelly was producer Sam Goldwyn’s first choice as Sky Masterson.

[PASSNOTES] PADDINGTON (2014)

By on December 26th, 2014

Paddington (2014)

Paddington (2014) Dir. Paul King – In cinemas now

Who’s in it? Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent, Nicole Kidman, Ben Whishaw (voice)

What’s it about? Based on the character by Michael Bond, director Paul King and a whole host of A List stars bring the beloved little bear with a big heart and a penchant for marmalade to the big screen for the iconic character’s first foray into CGI/Live action. And it seems the character’s migration from the small screen to the big has hit home with casual audiences, hardcore fans and critics alike with Paddington securing an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, despite missing out on the coveted family friendly ‘U’ rating due to some scenes apparently being too intense for toddlers. One critic called it a ‘warm, witty and wondrously inventive great big bear-hug of a movie’, and it looks a perfect distraction for restless youngsters over the Christmas season. When intrepid explorer Montgomery Clyde stumbles upon a family of intelligent bears in the deep jungle of darkest Peru, after discovering their fondness for marmalade, he invites them to London for a visit should they ever desire a change of scenery. When Paddington’s aunt Lucy moves into a retirement home for elderly bears she encourages her nephew to go to London in search of adventure and marmalade, obviously.

Memorable Moments? One scene sees Downton Abbey’s own Hugh Bonneville as Mr Brown attempting to say Paddington’s name in bear language. Tentatively clearing his throat he growls hesitently, to which Paddington replies, “Mr Brown! That is very rude”.

Look who’s talking: ‘Paddington brings a beloved children’s character into the 21st century without sacrificing his essential charm, delivering a family-friendly adventure as irresistibly cuddly as its star.’

Like that? Try this: Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) breathed new life into Herge’s much loved animated sleuth.

Trivia Pursuit: Nicole Kidman took a taxidermy class to prepare for her role.

[PASSNOTES] BLACK SEA (2014)

By on December 23rd, 2014

Black Sea (2014)

The Black Sea (2014) Dir. Kevin McDonald – Out Dec 5th

Who’s in it? Jude Law, Jodie Whittaker, Ben Mendelsohn

What’s it about? Oscar winning Last King of Scotland director Kevin McDonald helms this tense submarine thriller about a U-Boat crew who find an abandoned sub at the bottom of the Black Sea full of gold. The down on their luck crew, lead by Capt Robinson (Law), keen to reward his men’s loyalty with a once in a lifetime score, do a shady deal with a dodgy financial backer and go in search of the forsaken vessel which has reportedly sunk, loaded with ill gotten gold. Promised an equal share in a fortune the race is on to get to the sub before the Russians get there first. As greed and paranoia take hold of the crew what began as an exciting treasure hunt becomes a desperate fight for survival in the dark depths of the Black Sea. With committed performances from its strong cast Black Sea is an unusual take on the action/adventure genre by a director adept at character study and dark tension. What begins as a pretty standard treasure hunt descends into a nightmarish insight into desperation and desire.

Memorable Moments? In one scene a frightened young submariner tells Jude Law’s grizzled and increasingly desperate captain that he just wants to go home to his wife and child, reminding us of just what’s at stake on this mission.

Look who’s talking: ‘Though it perhaps inevitably lives in the shadow of some subgenre masterpieces, Black Sea is a superbly shot men-on-a-mission thriller with chest-tightening tension and a striking contemporary resonance.’ – Empire Magazine

Like that? Try this: The Hunt for Red October (1990) stars Alec Baldwin as Tom Clancy’s CIA tech analyst Jack Ryan and Sean Connery as a Russian Sub Marine commander with World War III apparently in mind.

Trivia Pursuit: Despite his accent, Jude Law is not actually Scottish.

[PASSNOTES] DIE HARD (1988)

By on December 19th, 2014

Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard (1988) Dir. John McTiernan – QFT Belfast, 20th Dec

Who’s in it? Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

What’s it about? Arguably as much a staple of the annual Christmas canon as it is the epitome of the 80s hero movie, Die Hard has fast become a tradition of alternative festive viewing, the bedrock of the post-turkey TV schedule along with Elf, Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, earning cult followings beyond the remit of their genres. Willis’ hard boiled New York detective Lt. John McClane finds himself in the wrong place at the right time at his wife’s office Christmas do in L.A. when a group of European terrorists, headed by Alan Rickman’s delightfully villainous Hans Gruger, crash the party. From his initial tentative nausea relieving toe curls on the carpet of the executive washroom, to his single-handed crusade of baddie bashing (‘Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho!’), the film is a bona-fide Christmas cracker and a modern classic.

Memorable Moments? Replete with legendary one-liners like “Welcome to the party pal!”, as McClane alerts the attention of the LAPD by dropping a dead terrorist on a squad car, following their initial suspicion that he was a prank caller. One scene sees McClane crawling through a ventilation shaft murmuring derisively “Come out to the coast, we’ll have a few laughs” and another has him literally stepping into the bad guys shoes, “Nine million terrorists in the world and I kill one with feet smaller than my sister”.

Look who’s talking? ‘Its many imitators (and sequels) have never come close to matching the taut thrills of the definitive holiday action classic.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), starring Chevy Chase as the ever optimistic and charmingly calamitous Clarke W Griswold, is another essential Christmas DVD and hilarious, food-coma comedy.

Trivia Pursuit: The Nakatomi Plaza building is the real-life headquarters of 20th Century Fox.

[PASSNOTES] BLADE RUNNER (1982)

By on December 16th, 2014

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982) Dir. Ridley Scott – QFT Belfast, 14th Dec

Who’s in it? Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos

What’s it about? Gladiator and Alien director Ridley Scott broke the mould with his neo-noir dysotpian-future sci-fi, one of the icons of the genre, not to mention wider 80s cinema culture. It’s philosophical bent together with high concept visuals and design make it a film like no other, at times ponderous and morose but original, ambitious and groundbreaking. Adapted from Phillip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on the theme of what makes us human, about a group of rogue humanoids – engineered for manual labour on off-world colonies and banned from blending in on earth to avoid being confused with real people. Led by Rutger Hauer, the miscreant cyborgs hide out in the dilapidated outskirts of a grimy, futuristic L.A. evading Harrison Ford’s specialist police branch of ‘Blade Runners’, whose job it is to identify suspect ‘replicants’ and ‘retire’ them. With a darkly synthesized soundtrack from Vangelis and a visual palette reportedly influenced by Edward Hopper’s atmospheric Nighthawks painting, the film largely takes it cue from Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking silent era opus Metropolis.

Memorable Moments? The opening shot of a futuristic L.A. cityscape is the film’s enduring image, a sprawling mass of neon light, flaming shadow and Vangelis, recently replicated in 2011’s critically acclaimed Drive, with an L.A. nightscape title sequence to Cliff Martinez’ slick electronica score.

Look who’s talking: ‘A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: In Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997), a planet-sized mass of concentrated evil is headed for Earth. As government types panic, Bruce Willis’ retired soldier and taxi-driver goes the whole nine yards to save the earth from dying hard as it faces Armageddon.

Trivia Pursuit: The ‘Director’s Cut’ of the film wasn’t actually edited by Ridley Scott as he was busy with another project.

[PASSNOTES] LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

By on December 5th, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Dir. David Lean QFT Belfast 7th Dec

Who’s in it? Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness

What’s it about?Considered a “miracle of a film” by Spielberg and another of David Lean’s hallmark period dramas, Lawrence of Arabia follows pivotal events in the life of British army officer turned revolutionary T.E Lawrence and is the epic to end all epics. Boasting a series of jaw dropping pre-CG set-pieces and stunts as well as one of the greatest opening sequences in cinema history, this is a film that really has to be seen to be believed, on the big screen if at all possible. Featuring an Oscar winning score by Maurice Jarre and nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards, winning seven including Best Director, Sound Editing, Film Editing, and Best Picture, the film tracks T.E Lawrence’s personal involvement in the tribal conflicts on the Arabian peninsula during World War I.

Memorable Moments?The film’s stand out sequence is undoubtedly the iconic opening in which Lawrence, after stumbling accross a well in the desert is disturbed by Omar Sharif’s Ali, emerging like a mirage from the shimmering desert on a camel.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Cements director David Lean’s status in the filmmaking pantheon with nearly four hours of grand scope, brilliant performances, and beautiful cinematography.’ Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Doctor Zhivago (1965), David Lean’s multi-Oscar winning adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize winning novel, is another epic from the director’s acclaimed filmography. Classy melodrama at its most elegant and affecting, the plot bears witness to the personal impact of Bolshevik Communism leading up to, during and after the Russian Revolution as Sharif’s married doctor has an affair with politician’s wife Tara (Christie) as the pair come to terms with a new world order.

Trivia Pursuit: Peter O’Toole claimed not to have seen a finished version of the film until almost two decades after its initial release.

[PASSNOTES] 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

By on November 28th, 2014

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Dir. Stanley Kubrick – QFT Belfast Nov 30th

Who’s in it? Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain

What’s it about? Spanning the breadth of human history, from a desert cave to the furthest reaches of uncharted space, Kubrick’s Marmite philosophical sci-fi opus vividly ponders man’s evolution from ape to astronaut, and our place in a now accessible universe, as two astronauts go to Jupiter and beyond prompted by the excavation of a unidentified alien artefact on the moon. With close encounters of a few kinds, 2001’s run time, though considerable, earns your attention and arguably deserves it. The film’s heady themes, inter-weaved from three independent plot threads, point to a correlation between Mankind’s defining achievements and a mysterious other worldly force which appears to have been present at each stage of human evolution. From self-awareness at the dawn of man during the stone age, to the eve of Artificial Intelligence in the space age, this mysterious presence – taking the shape of an imposing monolith – suggests a link between human destiny and divine revelation. 2001 is cinema’s influential flagship space oddity, re-classifying sci-fi as fact-fuelled fictive guess work as opposed to melodramatic interstellar nonsense.

Memorable Moments? The eloquent depiction of the evolution of humanity, via seemless jump-cut, from the casual lobbing of a bone into the air, to a shot of a similarly shaped spaceship floating in space, is one of cinema’s landmark sequences.

Look Who’s talking: ‘One of the most influential of all sci-fi films – and one of the most controversial – a delicate, poetic meditation on the ingenuity and folly of mankind.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Interstellar (2014), Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, unsurprisingly operates in the shadow of Kubrick’s monolith and just about manages not to implode under the weight of its own thematic gravity.

Trivia Pursuit: Total footage shot was 200 times the final length of the film. Approx 29,600 mins or 20 plus days of surplus shots.

[PASSNOTES] LIFE ITSELF (2014)

By on November 18th, 2014

Life Itself (2014)

Life Itself (2014) Dir. Steve James – QFT Belfast 24th Nov

Who’s in it? Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel

What’s it about Landmark Sports documentary Hoop Dreams director Steve James turns his keen eye for human detail to the life, work and legacy of one of cinema’s most renowned and respected film critics, Roger Ebert; his passion for film and telling the truth as he saw it, his long and illustrious career and his dignity in suffering which revealed an “inner core made of steel”. The film is based on Ebert’s best selling 2011 memoir of the same name and taps into the spirit of his life in movies, which Ebert himself referred to as staying ‘Awake in the Dark’ for a living. Using footage and interviews of Ebert in his final few months as he succumbed to throat cancer – which took his speech but not his unique voice – as well as touching testimony from his family and noted filmmakers and admirers including Martin Scorcese, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, James’ film constructs an evocative profile of a critic and writer who was a film fan first and whose influence reached beyond the industry to which he contributed for over 40 years.

Memorable Moments? In one scene Ebert’s wife asks him, as he lies in a hospital bed, laptop on chest, unable to speak due to his illness, “do you want to keep working or rest for a while”, Ebert replies with his typical wit, “Ask Steve, he’s the director!”.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Rich in detail and warmly affectionate, Life Itself offers a joyful yet poignant tribute to a critical cinematic legacy.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Side by Side (2012) reviews the history of film within the cinematic process and the advent of digital, with all star Industry talking heads.

Trivia Pursuit: In 2010 Ebert wrote, ‘What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter.’

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