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.


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.


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.


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.


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.’


By on November 14th, 2014

The Battle of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927) – Dir. Walter Summers QFT 16th Nov

Who’s in it? Roger Maxwell, Craighall Sherry

What’s it about? To commemorate the Centenary of World War I the British Film Institute’s National Archive re-releases this restoration of one British Silent era cinema’s most enduring accomplishments, a fascinating and moving reconstruction of two pivotal naval battles from 1914, the battle of Coronel and the Battle of the Falkland Islands, vividly and faithfully recreated 13 years after the event when the human cost of the conflict was still keenly felt in Britain and beyond. With a new score commissioned for commemorative release by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, this film is a vitally important record of one the defining events of the Great War and essential viewing for anyone interested in war history as well as a timely opportunity to continue to remember the fallen.

Memorable Moments? An especially stirring sequence depicts one of the great ships returning fire during a battle at sea. While the huge guns explode into action, black smoke billows across the deck as the battle cruiser plows through the crashing waves. I defy anyone to spot the archive footage from the recreated scenes. The re-enactment was so convincing, in fact, that apparently even the Germans gave it a thumbs up!

Look Who’s Talking: ‘In Summers’s hands, these twinned battles become not a revenge story, but a hymn to Navy values under pressure. As an opening title card sets out, this is the tale of “a victory, and a defeat as glorious as a victory”. – The Guardian

Like that? Try this: Saving Private Ryan (1998) is another realistic war film to have its action sequences validated by the soldiers who lived through them.

Trivia Pursuit: The film’s director was a World War One hero and the Royal Navy lent him ships and real sailors to help recreate the battle scenes as realistically as possible.

[PASSNOTES] ‘M’ (1931)

By on November 14th, 2014

M (1931)

M (1931) Dir. Fritz Lang – QFT Belfast 8th Nov

Who’s in it? Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inga Landgut

What’s it about? Dubbed the Master of Darkness by the British Film Institute, German Expressionist and silent era auteur Fritz Lang’s first sound film was, in the Metropolis director’s own opinion, his greatest work. Starring a young and appropriately ghoulish Peter Lorre (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), M is an iconic and subtly sinister thriller about the scandal of evil. The plot follows a series of seemingly connected disappearances and increasing public hysteria as even the local underworld pitches in to catch Lorre’s fiendish child killer Beckert. As effective in its understated approach as the over indulgence of many modern equivalents, Lang uses simple images – a child’s balloon floating into overhanging telephone wires; a mother waiting expectantly at a set dinner table for a child who never returns – to evoke the most primal of fears and suggest what doesn’t bear thinking about.

Memorable Moments? The startling image of Lorre’s seemingly possessed wide-eyed stare suggests the killer himself is horrified by his crimes as they’re reflected in suspicious looks from frightened faces. The shadowy black and white aesthetic and the relative silence of the sparse soundtrack amps up the tension as Beckert desperately tries to evade the mob that’s after him.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘A landmark psychological thriller with arresting images, deep thoughts on modern society, and Peter Lorre in his finest performance.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: The Third Man (1949), based on Graham Greene’s atmospheric crime thriller, undoubtedly borrowed from the German Expressionist impulses pervasive in the work of Fritz Lang and Robert Weine.

Trivia Pursuit:M is reportedly based on the real-life crimes of the so called ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf’ Peter Kruten in the 1920s, though the director denied this. Lang also supposedly received threats in the mail when it was made known his next film would be about a child murderer.


By on October 31st, 2014

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) Dir. Mamoru Hosoda – QFT Belfast, 1st Nov

Who’s in it? Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Sachie Hara

What’s it about? Loosely based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui, about a young girl from Tokyo who travels through time after finding a mysterious object at school. Makoto’s aunt, an art restorer at the Tokyo National Museum of history, reveals that she has somehow acquired the ability to “time-leap” and she begins to use her new gift to sort out everyday problems like being late for class, passing her exams and generally avoiding awkward situations. When Makoto realises that what she chooses to do with her gift has unexpected repercussions for her family and friends, and that she only has a limited number of leaps left, she tries to use her remaining leaps to do good in the lives of those closest to her.

Memorable Moments?The story doesn’t shy away from awkward realities and tough truths, especially in one scene with two of Makoto’s friends and a tragic incident involving a train and a faulty bike.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘An imaginative and thoughtfully engaging anime film with a highly effective visual design. This coming-of-age comedy drama has mad inventiveness to spare.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: About Time (2013), the final film from Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral director Richard Curtis, stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and the always interesting Bill Nighy. When awkward charmer Tim (Gleeson) turns 21 he inherits the ability to travel back in time, within his own timeline, to make his life the way he wants it to be. As Tim uses his gift to tinker with destiny, he quickly discovers that even for time travellers actions have consequences; sometimes good, sometimes bad, occasionally irreversible.

Trivia Pursuit: The film is a loose sequel to a 1983 live action film of the same name.


By on October 27th, 2014

The Fountainhead (1949)

The Fountainhead (1949) Dir. King Vidor – QFT Belfast 25th Oct

Who’s in it? Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey

What’s it about? High ideals and love on the rocks (quite literally, as our hero works in a quarry) are the order of the day in a film shamelessly “towering to new dramatic heights” in Vidor’s melodramatic adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel about principled artist Howard Roark, who refuses to compromise his integrity designing antiquated architecture, preferring instead to break his back in obscurity than conform to the norm. Convinced a modern architectural vision for a modern world is the only way forward, Roark (Cooper) struggles against stuffy establishment dissenters who he feels are stuck in the mud of traditionalism as he attempts to carve out a brave new vision for a forward thinking new world order. Rand also wrote the screenplay and cited Roark as her interpretation of the ongoing struggle for intellectual liberty in contemporary society and a metaphor for the standoff between the individual and the state.

Memorable Moments? The film is melodrama writ large and every frame screams the kind of antics usually reserved for Hollyoaks. One scene in which femme fatale Dominique (Neal) slaps Roark across the face with what appears to be a whip, epitomises the film’s commitment to caricature.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘King Vidor took Ayn Rand’s didactic and pretentious novel (inspired by the life Frank Lloyd Wright) and turned it into a highly enjoyable, juicy Freudian melodrama.’ – Emmanuel Levy

Like that? Try this: All that Heaven Allows (1955), directed by Douglas Sirk, sees Jane Wyman’s upper class widow fall for Rock Hudson’s younger blue collar worker and the scandal that ensues among the country club collect. The film was identified by the US National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Trivia Pursuit:Rand agreed to write the screenplay on the condition that not a word of the original dialogue of her novel be altered.


By on October 17th, 2014

North by Northwest (1959)

North by Northwest (1959) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock – Strand Arts Centre 19th Oct

Who’s in it? Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

What’s it about? Intended by screenwriter Ernest Lehman as the ‘Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures’ and arguably succeeding, with one of his most accessible and crowd pleasing works, North by Northwest is the Psycho director at his thrilling and enthralling best. With stand out performances from its two leads, the film is steeped in period sass and old school Hollywood production values, not to mention a delightfully villainous turn from James Mason. In a classic case of mistaken identity, Ad man Roger Thornhill (Grant) is taken for a wanted man, the mysterious George Kaplan, and subsequently framed for the murder of the only person who can clear his name. On the run from the police and from an unknown organisation who believe he’s smuggling a microfilm of government secrets, Thornhill must evade capture for long enough to figure out who to trust. Bookended by graphic designer Saul Bass’ memorable credit sequence and one of cinema’s most iconic finales, this is one Hitch number that is best on the big screen.

Memorbale Moments? From the birds eye view of Thornhill fleeing a murder at the United Nations building, as Bernard Herrmann’s score amps up the suspense; to the scene in which Grant and Saint are virtually scalped by a pursuing by-plane cross-country; and of course the iconic climax atop Mount Rushmore, the film sees Hitch at his most cinematic.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Gripping, suspenseful, and visually iconic, this late-period Hitchcock classic laid the groundwork for countless action thrillers to follow.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: The 39 Steps (1935) is Hitchcock’s version of the John Buchan spy novel, with Roger Donat as Richard Hannay, and is the Master of suspense honing his technique.

Trvia Pursuit: While filming Grant apparently charged fans 15 cents for an autograph.

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