By Ronan Wright on November 2nd, 2015
Akin to a ‘disturbance in the Force’ is how Obi Wan Kenobi might have described the online reaction to the release of the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on October 20th, reminiscent of the spectacular exploding Death Star sequence which closed the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope (1977), with over 20 million YouTube hits in as many hours confirming that the franchise is apparently more popular now than ever.
In a cinema not so far away on December 18th the iconic sci-fi saga comes full circle with perhaps the most eagerly anticipated follow up in a generation since the inevitably underwhelming The Phantom Menace (1999) and its two sequels, which disappointed as much as the original trilogy delighted.
Given the pedigree and recent CV of the man responsible/accountable for reawakening the Force, director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield), Star Wars fans (myself included) may confidently anticipate this latest entry in the iconic sci-fi series with more excited expectation than nervous apprehension.
Abrams successfully masterminded the tricky re-engineering of the Star Trek brand for the mainstream market with Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), making the concept, characters and cult iconography of the original TV show and films accessible and relevant for a new generation.
If you haven’t seen the new trailer for The Force Awakens it’s well worth a look. Like Star Trek before it J.J. Abrams seems to have created a new standard for a beloved franchise which may well have given an ageing icon a welcome and perhaps much needed refresh.
If, like me, you’ve seen the original films and their pitiful prequels but are by no means a purist and would welcome a decent upgrade, this trailer may provide new hope. If you’ve never seen the original films, aren’t a sci-fi fan and have little to no interest in Star Wars but are willing to give it a go anyway, you might just be glad you did come December.
By Ronan Wright on November 2nd, 2015
Poltergeist (2015) Dir. Gil Kenan
Who’s in it? Sam Rockwell, Rosemaire DeWitt, Jared Harris, Kennedi Clements
What’s it about? A modern remake of Texas Chainsaw Masacre director Tobe Hooper’s iconic 80s horror classic, produced by Evil Dead and Spiderman director Sam Raimi, Poltergeist follows the unfortunate events of a young family after they move into their new home and close to a series of electricity pylons and things start to go bump in the night. This version is more of a reboot of a fictional horror and flies on the face of the current trend of fact based supernatural horrors like The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and The Conjuring (2013). When the family discover to their horror that little Madison has been taken they must enlist the help of paranormal investigators to get her back. Although unlikely to stray too far from accepted genre norms like creepy clowns and inexplicable levitation, Poltergeist is undoubtedly one for those who appreciate a good horror movie and its cinematic legacy.
Memorable Moments? A reworking of Hooper’s film, this version of the supernatural thriller also involves the kidnapping of the family’s youngest daughter by evil spirits of unknown origin or intent and features the memorable TV sequence in which the young girl is trapped by the unwelcome guests in a parallel dimension, reminiscent of the original’s creepy “They’re here” moment.
Look who’s talking: ‘This has more in common with slick, audience-goosing modern spookers like ‘Insidious’ than with Hooper & Spielberg’s imaginative original.’ – Time Out
Like that? Try this: Set in small town America in 1971 The Conjuring (2013) tells the terrifying true story of the Perron family who, after moving into their new home in Harrison Rhode Island, discover a dark supernatural presence already residing there and in their desperation turn to real life supernatural sleuths, Husband and Wife Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Trivia Pursuit: Tom Cruise was originally considered for the role of family man Eric Bowen.
By Ronan Wright on November 2nd, 2015
Rio (2011) Dir. Carlos Saldahna
Who’s in it? Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Lesley Mann, Jamie Foxx
What’s it about? Rio tells the story of domesticated Macaw Blu (Eisenberg) who, having never learned to fly, is content in the safe familiarity of his small town life in Moose Lake Minnesota. Believing he is the only one of his kind left in the world, when Blu and his owner and best friend Linda (Mann) discover there is a female Macaw just like him in Brazil, they make the long journey to Rio de Janeiro to find Blu’s exotic other half Jewel (Hathaway). Shortly after arriving in Rio Blu is promptly kidnapped by hapless animal smugglers but manages to escape with the help of some street wise city birds and Jewel’s well honed animal instincts. With the help of his new found friends it’s now up to Blu to learn to fly and avoid recapture to get back to Linda. From the makers of Ice Age, Rio is colourful adventure comedy which mixes exotic locations, snappy dialogue and some top voice talent in a Homeward Bound style animal road movie with a South American flavour.
Memorable Moments? High above Rio’s Copacabana beach on the slopes of Sugarloaf mountain with the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer providing a breathtaking backdrop, nervous first time flyer Blu must conquer his nerves and get in touch with his wild side as he takes the plunge and learns to let go.
Look who’s talking: ‘This straightforward movie reaches great heights thanks to its colorful visual palette, catchy music, and funny vocal performances.’ Rotten Tomatoes
Like that? Try this: With gorgeous visuals and memorable characters, Bolt (2008) features the vocal stylings of John Travolta as the Hollywood show dog who must make his way back to his owner after he is mistakenly shipped across the country.
Trivia Pursuit: Rio is loosely based on real life Macaw Elvis.
By Ronan Wright on May 15th, 2015
Samba (2015) Dir. Eric Toledano & Olivier Nakache – QFT Belfast
Who’s in it? Charlotte Gainsbourg, Omar Sy
What’s it about? Working as a dishwasher in a fancy French hotel, Senegalese migrant Samba (Sy) is put into the path of inexperienced immigration officer Alice (Gainsbourg) after an administrative error leaves his immigration status in doubt. Tangled in beaucratic red-tape Samba ends up in a detention centre and is ordered to leave France on his release. Working with Alice the pair do what they can to ensure Samba is allowed to stay in France. As the unlikely couple get closer and the personal mixes with the professional, they discover a complementarity via similarity and learn from each others differences. Largely produced off the back of the unprecedented success of their previous collaboration, 2012’s hilarious and heartfelt The Intouchables, directors Toledano and Nakache reignite their onscreen chemistry with irresistibly charming newcomer Omar Sy, in a film that uses the topical and always contentious issue of immigration to explore the notion of identity and status amid a new, seemingly more sensitive era in an ever-evolving France.
Memorable Moments? At one point a fellow immigrant worker of Samba’s, while the pair are halfway up the outside of an office building on a suspended window cleaning platform, decides it would be a good idea to re-enact the famous Coca-Cola advert for all the young ladies in the office.
Look who’s talking: ‘It hasn’t its predecessor’s razzle-dazzle, but Samba is the surer-footed endeavour: for once in popular cinema, the problems of the First World come in second behind those of the Third.’ – The Telegraph
Like that? Try this: A life affirming true story, The Intouchables (2012) is a delightfully irreverent comedy about unlikely friendship transcending social ties and sees no-nonsense, street smart ex-con Driss land a job as a carer for paraplegic millionaire Albert.
Trivia Pursuit: Omar Sy has since appeared as Bishop in Hollywood blockbuster X-MEN: Days of Future Past.
By Ronan Wright on May 8th, 2015
The Age of Adeline (2015) Dir. Lee Toland Kreiger – 8th May Nationwide
Who’s in it? Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Kathy Baker
What’s it about? After a miraculous incident involving a bolt of lightening on a dark night when she was 29 years old, the immaculately preserved Adaline Bowman (Lively) has endured the last eight decades without ageing in the slightest, a solitary and lonely existence carefully avoiding contact with anyone who might uncover or reveal her mysterious secret. Adaline’s life is changed forever when she meets the charming Ellis (Huisman) in a chance encounter as she falls in love with life again. When Ellis brings Adaline home to meet his parents (Ford and Baker) his father seems to recognise her as a ghost from his past, threatening to reveal Adaline’s unbelievable secret and unravel her unique story. Adaline is forced to make a decision between an apparent eternity alone or to complicate her life irrevocably as only love can. With shades of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, which similarly touched on the theme of immortality, The Age of Adaline is a fantasy romance which addresses humanity’s peculiar relationship with the eternal and our struggle to understand the inexplicable.
Memorbale Moments? The scene in which Adaline appears to have her destiny determined for her in an apparent cosmic coincidence is magically evocative of our sense of wonder at the world around us which the film attempts to arouse.
Look who’s talking: ‘The Age of Adaline is a ludicrous romantic fantasy, but solid craftsmanship and good acting make it an enjoyable one too.’ – ScreenRant
Like that? Try this: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, about a man who inexplicably ages in reverse after being born as an old man, is the obvious comparison with Adaline though probably less accessible or romantically inclined.
Trivia Pursuit: Natalie Portman was originally offered the role but turned it down.
By Ronan Wright on May 5th, 2015
High Society (1956) Dir. Charles Walters – Ulster Hall 3rd May
Who’s in it? Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra
What’s it about? One of Hollywood’s most successful and enduring musicals, High Society is based on Philip Barry’s play The Philadelphia Story and features music by Cole Porter. The film follows the story of popular Jazz musician C.K. Dexter Haven (Crosby) who is still in love with his estranged wife (Kelly) and is determined to win her back as she prepares to marry another man. When Sinatra’s reporter arrives to cover the impending nuptials and meets Haven’s ex-wife Tracey he promptly falls in live with her as well, leaving her with a headache as to which of her prospective suitors to go for. Given that the plot unfolds in the setting of the Newport social scene and the famous Jazz festival in particular, the film features a cameo from Jazz legend Louis Armstrong who lends his considerable prestige to an already star studded musical line up. Though more lighthearted in tone than its satiric source material, High Society is heavy laden with a whole host of classic hits perfectly performed by some stellar talent, making it a must for music fans.
Memorbale Moments?The film features duets from Sinatra and Cosby on Cole Porter classic ‘Well, did you evah?’, a Crosby-Armstrong combination on ‘Now you has Jazz’, not to mention a Kelly-Crosby collaboration on romantic ballad ‘True Love’.
Look who’s talking: ‘A terrific musical, although it doesn’t do well to compare it to its source material. But when the boys sing, it swings!’ – Empire
Like that? Try this: Featuring some of cinema’s best loved song and dance numbers and the single most recognisable sequence in cinema history, Sinigin’ in the Rain (1952) is a bona-fide classic of escapist entertainment and an unbridled joy to behold.
Trivia Pursuit: High Society was the last film of Grace Kelly’s career before she married Prince Rainier of Monaco.
By Ronan Wright on May 5th, 2015
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) Dir. Thomas Vinterberg – QFT Belfast from 1st May
Who’s in it? Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge
What’s it about? This old school adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel by the director of critically acclaimed human drama The Hunt (2012) is the fourth big screen version of the literary classic and the first since the 1967 film starring Julie Christie. Set in Victorian England the film follows the fortunes of independent and headstrong farm owner Bathsheba Everdeen as she finds herself the focus of the romantic intentions of three very different men – after she inherits land and becomes a woman of some property – bulking sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), whom she had formerly refused to marry, reckless army officer Frank Troy (Sturridge) and prosperous and respected gentleman William Boldwood (Sheen). The film explores Bathsheba’s differing relationships with the three men and examines her feelings towards and her motivations for being involved with each of them as she attempts to decide which of them she truly loves. Far from the Madding Crowd addresses timeless questions concerning the nature of romantic entanglements amid social convention as well as landing a blow for modern feminist sensibilities in a traditionally male-centric Victorian setting.
Memorable Moments? In one scene farm owner Bathsheba gets down and dirty in a pool of mud to the surprise and delight of the local farm hands as she stubbornly helps hulky sheep farmer Gabriel after he goads her for apparently not wanting to get her hands dirty.
Look who’s talking: ‘Extremely well done and well acted, it’s an attractive, appealing, involving adaptation, just not as iconic as the ’60s film.’ – Empire
Like that? Try this: Jane Eyre (2011) proved to be an emotionally refined, revisionist period drama as well as a refreshing departure from the corsets-in-the-country genre.
Trivia Pursuit:Fake sheep had originally been used in one scene only to be replaced by the real thing.
By Ronan Wright on April 24th, 2015
Spirited Away (2001) Dir. Hayao Miyazaki – Black Box Belfast 25th April
Who’s in it? Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan
What’s it about? While moving to a new home with her parents, ten year old Chihiro stumbles accross the supernatural realm and is forced to work at a bathhouse for the spirits to free her parents after they’re turned into pigs by a pitiless witch named Yubaba. Chihiro finds out what she’s made of the hard way as she works her way up from the boiler room in the basement to Yubaba’s house at the very top where she must persuade the witch to give her a job so she can prove her worth and earn her parent’s freedom. Winning the trust and respect of her new friends along the way, Chihiro discovers what it means to put others first as she learns to take responsibility for her own destiny. An inspired and inspiring work of animation, Spirited Away took the daring and unparalleled imagination of visionary Anime director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbour Totoro) and made the Studio Ghibli brand accessible to a new audience with this coming of age tale like no other.
Memorable Moments? When Chihiro first meets Yubaba she stubbornly persists in asking for a job despite the prospect of being turned into a pig like her parents, the young girl’s boldness surprises the witch who steals her name and puts her to work.
Look who’s talking: ‘Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.’ – Rotten Tomatoes
Like that? Try this: With an infectious sense of wonder, My Neighbour Totoro (1988) indulges in simple childhood adventure as two young girls discover the spirit world in the forest near their home as their sick mother recuperates in hospital.
Trivia Pursuit The film was the first Anime to be nominated for/win an Oscar.
By Ronan Wright on April 17th, 2015
Ice Age (2002) Dir. Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldahna – Black Box Belfast, 18th April
Who’s in it? Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Ray Romano
What’s it about? Set in the prehistoric era, the film follows grouchy but good-natured woolly mammoth Manny, silly but sweet sloth Sid and their unlikely traveling companion Diego, a sarky saber-toothed tiger, as they make their way South to avoid the oncoming big freeze as the Ice Age edges ever closer. When a human baby is separated from his family the trio temporarily adopt the little tike and try to reunite him with his ‘herd’ while trying to avoid the hungry pack of sabers on their tail. Ever so slightly overshadowed by Pixar’s instant classic Monsters Inc. and Dreamworks’ satiric Shrek, both released a year earlier and obviously a key influence, Ice Age holds its own with some memorable characters brought to life by some top voice talent as well as some lovely exchanges between its three unlikely heroes, not to mention a memorable cameo from gutsy saber-toothed squirrel Scrat. If it does fall short of the Pixar standard it remains the perfect distraction for the wee ones.
Memorable Moments? Resourceful rodent Scrat and his high spirited subplot with the shiny acorn he’s trying to store for the winter is the enduring sequence of the Ice Age series and proved popular enough to warrant its own spin off short Gone Nutty (2002).
Look who’s talking: ‘Ice Age never matches the brilliance of Toy Story or the heartfelt heft of Shrek, but it’s an antic and sweet-spirited pleasure.’ – Entertainment Weekly
Like that? Try this: The Land Before Time (1988), the original kids dinosaur adventure, inspiring the likes of Ice Age and Walking with Dinosaurs, captivated pre-CGI imaginations with its heartwarming story and characters as well as offering some sumptuous hand-drawn visuals, the quintessential prehistoric road trip movie.
Trivia Pursuit: The film was originally envisaged as a straight up character drama.
By Ronan Wright on April 10th, 2015
Mise Eire (1960) Dir. George Morrison – QFT Belfast 12 April
Who’s in it? Liam Budhlaeir, Padraig O’Raghallaigh (Voice)
What’s it about? Featuring as part of the BFI’s Conversations about Cinema: Impact of Conflict initiative, which offers ‘a timely reflection on the repercussions of conflict and the ways this has been presented through film’, George Morrison’s 1960 feature length documentary reflects on events in Ireland leading up to, during and following the 1916 Easter Rising in which Irish republican’s attempted to end British Rule in Ireland by establishing a independent Irish Republic while the British army was heavily engaged in World War I. The first Irish language feature film and the first Irish film to use an orchestral soundtrack, Mise Eire has been hailed as a masterpiece of Irish cinema, using original newsreel footage from the time to chronicle a pivotal point in the Irish Civil War, providing an historical perspective on a formative yet divisive chapter in Irish history. Due to the contentious nature of its subject matter, given the instability across Northern Ireland at the time, the film was initially banned in Belfast on its original release.
Memorable Moments?In one scene Volunteers and members of the ‘Citizens Army’ are seen marching along country roads in their best attire, the cheery score jarring somewhat with the tangible tension building as the revolutionary leaders mobilize the troops.
Look who’s talking: ‘George Morrison’s landmark Irish film is Ireland’s most significant historical documentary film and first wholly Irish language feature’ – Filmireland.net
Like that? Try this: The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), is Ken Loach’s acclaimed look at the Irish Civil War. Full of Indy grit the film is perhaps less accessible than Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996), on the same subject, though it arguably pulls fewer punches.
Trivia Pursuit: The film’s title, meaning ‘I am Ireland’, is taken from a 1912 Irish language poem by poet and revolutionary leader Padraig Pearse.