[PASSNOTES] ‘E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL’ IS AN ARTFUL, ENTERTAINING AND NOSTALGIC SPIELBERG GEM

By on August 29th, 2014

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)

E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (1982) Dir. Steven Spielberg – Roe Valley Arts Centre, 29th Aug

Who’s in it? Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore

What’s it about? When troubled loner Elliott (Thomas) finds a wrinkly little alien in his backyard he decides to hide him from the authorities until he can figure out a way to send him home. Reportedly inspired by the imaginary friend a young Spielberg created for himself after his parents divorced in 1960, the film has since become a parable for the dysfunction in the modern American family and subsequently transcends any limited genre comparisons, with moving performances from its young cast. E.T overtook Star Wars to become the highest grossing film of all time until it was surpassed in 1993 by Jurassic Park, another in a long line of artful, entertaining and critically acclaimed Spielberg blockbusters. The film was voted ‘The Greatest Science Fiction Film Ever Made’ by Rotten Tomatoes who call it an ‘exciting sci-fi adventure and a remarkable portrait of childhood’.

Memorable Moments? When Elliott leaves E.T. at home for the day while he’s at school, the alien acquaints himself with popular staples of American culture like vegging out and watching movies, most memorably involving Elliott burping and getting progressively tipsy as E.T drinks beer from the fridge, later acting out a famous scene from The Quiet Man in class while E.T. watches it at home on video.

Look Who’s Talking: ‘On inherent merit, the movie would not warrant such a highly publicized re-release, but this is one of those films that transcends what’s on the screen.’ – Reel Reviews

Like that? Try this: The Goonies (1985) is Superman director Richard Donner’s quintessentially 80s coming of age tale and, like E.T, is funny, heartfelt and heavy on nostalgia for those of a certain age.

Trivia Pursuit: E.T.’s species apparently featured in the background as alien extras in longtime Spielberg collaborator George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace (1999).

[PASSNOTES] ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND’ (1951) DISNEY’S ICONIC HEAD-MELTER

By on August 29th, 2014

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Alice in Wonderland (1951) Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske – Europa Hotel, 30th Aug

Who’s in it? Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn (Voice)

What’s it about? Disney’s heady, avant garde 1951 animated classic is not the only trippy, family oriented adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s timeless 1865 novel – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with a few pinches of its sequel Through the Looking Glass included for good measure – but it’s the only one worth remembering. Tim Burton’s dodgy 2010 Return to Oz style follow up, a typically overblown 3D-happy Burton-esque vision, persistently pervades the recent memory of the classic story but distracts from the artistic purity of the original. Carroll’s story about managing the expectations and challenges of growing up, while cherishing the spirit of childhood at the heart of every well adjusted adult, imaginatively recounts the adventures of a young girl named Alice as she follows a white rabbit down a hollow tree stump and gets more than she bargained for.

Memorable Moments? The film is a dizzying compilation of memorably magical and head-melting sequences and characters, combining for an array of artistry and storytelling seldom seen then. From chasing the white rabbit down that hole, forever falling, then eat me, drink me; the pipe smoking caterpillar; the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party; The Twins; the Cheshire cat and the evil queen of Hearts, to name but a few!

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Fifty years on the movie is clearly due a reappraisal. It’s colourful, fun and as surreal as Disney is ever likely to get, this isn’t as good as the books, but works as a cute introduction to them.’ – Empire

Like that? Try this: Alice’s influence is unavoidably apparent in contemporary film, from the Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 iconic sci-fi The Matrix, to Victor Fleming’s beloved Judy Garland vehicle The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Trivia Pursuit: Kathryn Beaumont, who voices Alice in the film, later voiced the character of Wendy in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953).

[PASSNOTES] ‘KES’ (1969) IS KEN LOACH’S TRADEMARK FILM

By on August 22nd, 2014

Kes (1969)

Kes (1969) Dir. Ken Loach – QFT Belfast 24th August

Who’s in it? David Bradley, Brian Glover, Freddie Fletcher

What’s it about? Ranked seventh in the British Film Institute’s Top Ten British Films, starring an unknown cast of part time actors, Kes is British director Ken Loach’s hallmark film about a troubled boy from a working class Barnsley family, bullied at home and at school and with no clear prospects beyond stealing and unemployment. When Billy (Bradley) finds a young Kestrel on a local farm he adopts and trains him, developing an interest in Falconry and a strong bond with the bird, giving him hope beyond the apparent grim inevitability of working down the coal pits. Based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barnsley born novelist Barry Hines, Kes is a part auto-biographical account of Hines’ own childhood in Barnsley and how he was encouraged by a disappointed neighbour to quit work at the Coal Board and to further his education at University, training to become a P.E. teacher. Although a commercial and critical hit in Britain, Kes failed to take flight in the U.S, apparently due to American audience’s inability to understand the character’s thick Yorkshire accents.

Memorbale Moments? In one scene Billy’s enthusiastic P.E teacher, who fancies himself as a bit of a Bobby Charlton, plays football with the class, commentating on himself in the process and providing a rare bit of levity in a film pretty low on laughs.

Look Who’s talking: ‘A film that captures Loach’s ability to find the extraordinary drama in ordinary lives.’ – Daily Express

Like that? Try this: Set in the 80s during the coal miner’s strike, Billy Elliott (2000), starring Jamie Bell and Julie Walters, sees a miner’s son swap boxing for ballet. The film won three BAFTAs and spawned a hugely successful stage musical.

Trivia Pursuit: Kes is said to be Three Colours trilogy director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s favourite film.

[PASSNOTES] THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)

By on August 15th, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie (2014) Dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller – Roe Valley Arts Centre, 15th Aug

Who’s in it? Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman (Voice)

What’s it about? Completely ordinary and apparently untalented Lego man Emmett (Pratt), who always does what he’s supposed to do and never steps out of line, finds himself in the wrong place at the right time when he is mistaken, via farcical accident and complete misunderstanding, to be “The Special One”, and dragged against his will on a hapless mission to save the world and stick it to the Man, in this case Will Ferrell’s President Business, who doubles as an evil villain. The Lego Movie is essentially a Matrix parody in Lego, with Lucy/Wyldstyle in the Trinity role, Vitruvius in the Morpheus role and Emmett in the Neo role, with the emphasis on “knowing yourself” and that yourself is all you need to be. By turns random, surreal and hilarious.

Memorable Moments? Will Arnett’s Batman randomly appearing in different scenes and growling “I’m Batman!”, Christian Bale style, is unexpected and funny, while Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop is another highlight. When Batman (Arnett) rescues the gang from a train wreck in his Bat Jet, he says to Wyldsytle, “Hey babe, let’s hold hands”. When Emmett says, “Er Guys, I think we’re about to crash into the sun”, Batman retorts, “Yeah, but it’s gonna look really cool!”.

Look who’s talking: ‘The brightly-imagined Lego Movie is a wickedly smart and funny free-for-all, and sassy enough to shoot well-aimed darts at corporate branding. – Rolling Stone

Like that? Try this: Toy Story (1995), was the first animated feature, like The Lego Movie which it inspired, to spare a thought for the adults, spawning a new era of pre-school entertainment.

Trivia Pursuit: One of pirate character Metal Beard’s Five Laws of the Sea is ‘Never release a Kracken’. Another is ‘Never wear a dress on Tuesday’.

[PASSNOTES] ‘WALKING WITH DINOSUARS’ (2013)

By on August 8th, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs (2013)

Walking with Dinosaurs (2013) Dir. Mike Nightingale, Barry Cook – Roe Valley Arts Centre, 8th August

Who’s in it? John Collee, John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar, Skyler Stone (Voice)

What’s it about? 70 Million Years in the making – to paraphrase the tagline for another famous dinosaur movie (Jurassic Park) – Walking with Dinosaurs follows the fortunes of Dino underdog (underdino?) Patchi, as he beats the odds to become the unlikely hero of his herd. BBC Earth, who produced the film’s modest but successful 1999 TV precursor, teamed up with Evergreen Films for this ambitious if overly Disneyfied big screen adaptation. As seen on TV all the Dinosaurs are CG creations, this time given names and toddler friendly dialogue, and incorporated into live action backdrops in eye popping 3D, to give the sense of what it might have been like back in the Late Cretaceous Period. Perfect for those keen to feed the imaginations of little monsters, though the CBeebies approach may bore accompanying adults or older kids.

Memorable Moments? Fans of the factual TV version will get to relive the thrill of seeing new and familiar species up close in live action environs. When little Patchi is first hatched a cheeky bird suggests the name Alex, “It means ridiculously handsome bird”. In another scene, grown up Patchi must guide the herd off a dangerous sheet of melting ice. Leading the way he enthusiastically head butts a tree in their path, “Take that random tree!”

Look Who’s Talking: ‘Pop-up infomercials introducing each new character remind us that there’s an educational remit lurking somewhere in the background, but the primary thrust is light, breezy and a little bit bitey.’ – Observer

Like that? Try this: The Land Before Time (1988), the original kids dinosaur adventure, inspired films like Ice Age and Walking with Dinosaurs, captivating pre-CGI hearts with its characters and story.

Trivia Pursuit: The live action backdrops were shot in New Zealand and Alaska.

[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.

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