By on February 20th, 2015

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Sleepless in Seattle (1993) Dir. Nora Ephron – Ulster Hall 21st Feb

Who’s in it? Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

What’s it about? Probably the archetypal rom-com, in which two relative strangers are brought together apparently by providence, with a little help from family and friends. In this particular version of events widower Sam (Hanks) is forced into a seemingly inevitable cosmic collision with Annie Reed (Ryan), when his son Jonah, still missing his mother, calls into a radio show saying that all he wants for Christmas is a new wife for his dad and new mother for himself – naturally provoking an outpouring of estrogen fuelled marriage proposals from women all over the country. Hearing little Jonah’s impassioned plea while driving to Washington Annie decides, obviously, that she and Sam are meant to be together, despite the fact she’s already in love and engaged to someone else, and that she is yet to meet her soul mate. Ephron, Hanks and Ryan would collaborate again under similar narrative circumstances in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. Sleepless in Seattle is undoubtedly mushy and sentimental but remains the quintessential chick flick, in the good sense.

Memorable Moments? In on scene David Hyde Pierce, channelling his role as fussy psychiatrist Niles from Frasier, tells Annie, “Annie, when you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious. Subconsciously.”

Look who’s talking: ‘Not one of the cleverer rom-coms of this ilk… but sweet and touching nevertheless and Tom Hanks is always watchable.’ – Empire

Like that? Try this: You’ve Got Mail (1998) reunited Hanks, Ryan and director Ephron for a similarly pitched rom-com in which the pair fall in love online, apparently anonymously, when in fact they already know and detest each other.

Trivia Pursuit: The role of Annie was originally offered to Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeifer, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Jason Lee and Jodie Foster, who all turned it down.


By on February 13th, 2015

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Dir. George Cukor – QFT Belfast 14th Feb

Who’ in it? James Stewart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

What’s it about?My Fair Lady director George Cukor brought together three Hollywood legends for this old school rom-com in which Hepburn’s headstrong socialite has her wedding plans scuppered by the arrival of ex-husband (Grant) and Jimmy Stewart’s charming and handsome young reporter. A situation comedy which, known at the time as a comedy of remarriage – in which a couple separate, flirt with other suitors and end up back with their spouse, the film mirrored the Hollywood Production Code of the day which prohibited the depiction of extra-marital affairs. The film was secured by Hepburn as a vehicle to help her re-launch her self as a serious box office contender, something Louis B Meyer was skeptical of given the star’s recent box office flops, so much so that he enlisted two known A-list quantities in Grant and Stewart to shore up what was at the time a bit of a gamble. Nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two, Best Actor for Stewart as well as Best Adapted Screenplay, it was a gamble that paid off for MGM, being selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1995.

Memorable Moments? The sequence in which Jimmy Stewart arrives at Cary Grant’s house the worse for wear after a night out is one of the scenes credited for winning Jimmy Stewart his Oscar. Stewart gets steadily more and more drunk showing off his astounding technical ability and natural talent.

Look who’s talking: ‘Offering a wonderfully witty script, spotless direction from George Cukor, and typically excellent lead performances, The Philadelphia Story is an unqualified classic.’ -Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Bringing Up Baby (1938), sees Hepburn cast again as the kooky aristocrat (with pet leopard in tow) opposite Cary Grant’s straight laced paleontologist.

Trivia pursuit: Cary Grant donated his fee to the War Relief Fund.


By on February 6th, 2015

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Dir Alfonso Cuaron – QFT 8th Feb

Who’s in it? Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Thompson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman

What’s it about? Arguably the only one of the Harry Potter adaptations to live up to and exceed the expectations of the books, which undoubtedly made the films inevitable and a guaranteed success. Oscar Winning Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron faithfully brings to life the spirit of the beloved boy wizard’s adventures, as he gradually becomes a man and learns to choose what’s right over what’s easy. Harry’s third year at Hogwarts finds him under threat from infamous alleged murderer Sirius Black, the man who apparently betrayed his parent’s trust and handed them over to Lord Voldemort, and now seems to be after Harry to finish the job. Outstanding central performances from Gary Oldman as the charmingly unpredictable Sirius Black and a wonderfully wicked Helena Bonham Carter as unhinged psycho Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange – not to mention the scene stealing CGI addition of the Dementors of Azakaban – add a tangibly more mature dimension to the third installment of the madly successful franchise.

Memorable Moments? Beside a few moments from Emma Thompson’s Hermione Granger, most notably landing a haymaker of a right hook on Malfoy and, elsewhere, remarking “Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?”, the stand out sequence of the film is the genuinely frightening moment the Dementors board the Hogwarts Express, reminiscent of LOTR’s hooded Ringwraiths.

Look Who’s talking: ‘Under the assured direction of Alfonso Cuaron, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban triumphantly strikes a delicate balance between technical wizardry and complex storytelling.’ – Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: The other standout film from the Potter series is the decidedly darker The Half Blood Prince (2009), offering a more introspective and revealing character-centric approach.

Trivia Pursuit: The three young leads were asked to write a first person perspective essay on their characters.


By on February 5th, 2015

Big Hero 6 (2015)

Big Hero 6 (2014) Dir. Don Hall, Chris Williams – Nationwide

Who’s in it? Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney

What’s it about? Inspired by the Marvel Comic strip of the same name, Big Hero 6 is the 54th Disney animated film and the first since the success of last year’s double Oscar winning phenomenon Frozen. With Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for best animated feature for 2104 the film, the first to feature Marvel characters, sees gifted robotics engineer Hiro create a hi-tech team of superheroes to taken on a mysterious masked villain. Spending his spare time fighting the robots he’s built in the back alleys of futuristic, playfully named Fransansokyo, Hiro’s elder brother Tadashi, worried he’s wasting his prodigious talent as well as his time, takes him to his university’s robotics lab where Hiro is inspired to apply for a place himself and uses his talent for tinkering for the greater good. Big Hero 6 is an action adventure movie for the digital generation, it’s focus on the healing power of friendship is bound to resonate whatever your age.

Memorable Moments? In one scene Hiro is introduced to his brother’s ingenious creation Baymax, a friendly marshmallow shaped robot programmed to “heal the sick and injured”, as the pair get acquainted Hiro reconnects with his brother through his new friend, in a sequence that’s as typically funny and touching as you’d expect from a Disney animation.

Look Who’s talking: ‘Agreeably entertaining and brilliantly animated, Big Hero 6 is briskly-paced, action-packed, and often touching.’ -Rotten Tomatoes

Like that? Try this: Iron Giant (1999) is a gorgeous looking critically acclaimed and BAFTA winning animation about a young boy’s relationship with a giant alien robot who crash lands near his home and is wanted by the government for experimentation.

Trivia Pursuit: Hiro is the first mixed race character to have featured in a Disney film following The Princess and the Frog (2009) which featured the first black animated character.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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