[PASSNOTES] THE BATTLES OF CORONEL AND FALKLAND ISLANDS (1927)

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.

[PASSNOTES] THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME (2006)

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.

[PASSNOTES] THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949)

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.

[PASSNOTES] NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

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.

[PASSNOTES] IDA (2013)

By on October 10th, 2014

Ida (2013)

Ida (2013) Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski – QFT Belfast 10th-16th Oct

Who’s in it? Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

What’s it about? Critically acclaimed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is an emotionally complex, visually striking and historically resonant film. Set in 1960s Poland, it reflects upon the significance of a common identity as it attempts to process the painful reality of Poland’s involvement in the Holocaust. The film was apparently intended by the director as a national soul searching exercise, in light of the treatment of Polish Jews by their non-Jewish compatriots in Poland during the Second World War. As doe-eyed novitiate Anna (Trzebuchowska) prepares to become a nun, her superior insists she contact her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Kulesza) in Warsaw, before taking her vows. With the only common ground a shared ancestry, innocent 18 year old Anna’s worldly wise Aunt drops the bombshell that she is actually a Jew called Ida and that her parents were murdered by the Nazis. As two polar opposites meet on the horizon of a painful past and an indeterminate future, Pawlikowski’s monochromatic cinematography reminds us of the light and shadows of every story, and suggests that things are rarely black and white. Ida acknowledges the living legacy of historical hurts, with an emphasis on healing through forgiving, if not forgetting.

Memorable Moments? The emotional money shot of the piece is undoubtedly the moment 18 year old Catholic trainee Nun Anna finds out the truth about her unexpected origins from her straight talking Jewish/Communist activist Aunt, and must reassess her vocation in light of this surprising revelation.

Look Who’s Talking:‘Empathetically written, splendidly acted, and beautifully photographed, Ida finds director Pawel Pawlikowski revisiting his roots to powerful effect.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: The Decalogue (1988), produced as ten self contained episodes, is iconic Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s contemporary allegory of each of the Ten Commandments.

Trivia Pursuit: First time actress Agata Trzebuchowska was discovered in a cafe.

[PASSNOTES] TOY STORY 3 (2010)

By on September 29th, 2014

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010) Dir. Lee Unkrich – Odyssey Cinemas, Sat 4th oct

Who’ in it? Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton (voices)

What’s it about? When Andy’s toys hear he’s leaving home for college, their future is suddenly uncertain and, naturally, it’s a perfect time to panic. Unsure of their fate, the toys are initially content to be of service to a new generation of kids at the Sunnyside Daycare Centre, but all is not as it seems at Sunnyside. Left to the not so tender mercies of sociopathic yet huggable purple bear named Lotso and a group of toddlers with an appetite for anything with moving parts, the toy’s new home becomes a playtime purgatory and they’re left wishing they’d been kept ‘out of reach of children’. It’s left to Woody to round up a new gang (including Michael Keaton’s hilarious and on the nose Ken doll) to launch a great escape from a fate worse than car boot sale. By measures sweet but not sentimental, with the customary moral heft but avoiding, like the first two films, the tendency to patronise, the toys are back in town with their best story yet.

Memorable Moments? After nefarious villain Lotso has Buzz restored to his factory settings as an unwilling henchman to keep his friends in check, in attempting to bring back the real Buzz the other toys unwittingly unleash smooth talking, snake-hipped, Salsa dancing, subtitled, Spanish Buzz.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Deftly blending comedy, adventure, and honest emotion, Toy Story 3 is a rare second sequel that really works.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Toy Story (1995), one of only a handful of films to garner the hallowed 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is as fresh and fun today as it was when released, almost twenty years ago now.

Trivia Pursuit: The film was the first sequel to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar without it’s predecessors being nominated first.

[PASSNOTES] ‘A MOST WANTED MAN’ (2014)

By on September 26th, 2014

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

A Most Wanted Man (2014) Dir. Anton Corbijn – QFT Belfast 26th Sep – 9th Oct

Who’s in it? Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Bruhl

What’s it about?Based on the best selling high brow spy novel by genre master John Le Carre – the mind behind critically acclaimed Oscar contender Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – A Most Wanted Man is a similarly pitched and intensely delivered political thriller about the terror of fear and the fear of terror, as the US and its allies fumble in the dark with lingering extremist threats from within and without. The film plays on the paranoia prevalent in the West post 9/11 and feels uncomfortably current given the growing threat of Islamic extremism. When a Chechen Muslim turns up in Hamburg as an illegal immigrant, brutally tortured yet determined to claim his dubiously acquired inheritance, both the US and German governments are determined to muscle in as they attempt to anticipate the unknown intentions of an uninvited guest caught in the sights of the War on Terror. As the identity of this Muslim on a mission remains frustratingly obscure, the race is on to decide whether he’s a victim of government sanctioned injustice or an extremist.

Memorable Moments? The film features a typically incendiary performance from the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His gruff, chain smoking secret service agent, in one scene, abducts a Lawyer (McAdams) he feels may be on the side of suspected terrorists, “It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, a barracuda to catch a shark”.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Smart, subtle, and steadily absorbing, A Most Wanted Man proves once again that John le Carre books make for sharp, thoughtful thrillers.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), another intricate Le Carre espionage thriller, if a bit light on thrills, overly dry and occasionally dull, but a masterclass in slow burning suspense.

Trivia Pursuit: This was Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last finished film since his death earlier this year.

[PASSNOTES] ‘STRANGER THAN PARADISE’ (1984)

By on September 19th, 2014

Stranger than Paradise (1984)

Stranger than Paradise (1984) Dir. Jim Jarmusch – QFT Belfast 20th Sep

Who’s in it? John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson

What’s it about? Evocative lo-fi indy cult drama Stranger than Paradise will be familiar to fans of more recent ponderous ‘awkward years’ flicks Never Let Me Go (2010) and Submarine (2010) which focused on the intense relations between troubled youngsters, the influence for which could arguably be attributed to Jarmusch’s 80s forerunner. Willie (Lurie) is forced out of his self-centric comfort zone when his Eastern European cousin Eva (Balint) shows up and decides she’s staying within him for 10 days. Initially put out, Willie introduces Eva to a sample of Western living in the form of a TV dinner, “You got your meat, you got your potatoes, you got your vegetables, you got your dessert and you don’t have to wash the dishes — this is how we eat in America!”. A perfect example of a plot very much at the service of a free-form directorial philosophy, moody black and white the backdrop for wallpaper dialogue, adapting the intuitive Cinema Veritie style reminiscent of Godard’s New Wave classic Breathless (1960).

Memorable Moments? The three aimless teens wondering around Ohio in winter – staring blankly at the surface of a frozen lake and then heading down to the seedy sidewalks of Miami where the lads doss about and Eva attempts to decide her next move – is the sort of carry on it’s easy to criticise but with which we can all relate.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Stranger Than Paradise already displays much of Jarmusch’s signature style: a keen sense of place, poker-faced comedy, an empathy with outsiders and, of course, his impeccable choice of music.’ – QFT Belfast

Like that? Try this: Breathless (1960), is the jewel in the crown of the 60s French New Wave revolution, which subbed style for substance and narrative renaissance for plot propulsion.

Trivia Pursuit: Each of the film’s scenes is composed entirely of a single, unedited shot.

[PASSNOTES] THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY (2014)

By on September 12th, 2014

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014) Dir. Lasse Hallstrom – QFT Belfast 13th Sept

Who’s in it? Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal

What’s it about? The Hundred Foot Journey is another French flavoured foody dram-com from Chocolat director Lasse Hallstrom, in which culinary traditionalist and overbearing matriarch Mme Mallory (Mirren) is eventually melted by the unorthodox charm of her new Indian neighbours, eventually taking budding young chef Hasan (Dayal) under her wing. As the two conflicting cultures clash, and bring out the sugar and spice in each other, both immigrants and locals discover their common interests and end up becoming nicer neighbours as they feed their mutual passion for food. The hundred foot of the title refers to the distance between the two opposing restaurants on a cosy street in the small French village where the new arrivals set up shop, and the efforts they both must make to arrive at a fresh perspective.

Memorable Moments? Given its take on the universality of food as a foolproof recipe for understanding, and a means for living the typically French virtue of fraternity, the cooking scenes are appropriately tasty and colourfully convey the striking personalities of both French and Indian cuisine and the cultures that inspire them.

Look who’s talking ‘If The Hundred-Foot Journey ultimately proves no spicier than chicken tikka masala for the soul, that’s Chef Lasse for you. At his comforting best – and this is close to it – nobody does it milder.’ – Daily Telegraph

Like that? Try this: Chocolat (2000) is a warm, light hearted rom-com contrasting the sensuous with the censorious, new age indulgence with old school restraint, with delicious performances from Juliette Binoche as the free spirited choclatier who ruffles feathers in a rural village, and Johnny Depp as the charming gypsy who tames her, as well as tasty turns from Judy Dench and Alfred Molina.

Trivia Pursuit Juhi Chawla, who plays Mama in the film, was digitally aged in post production.

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