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By midlandsmovies, Mar 5 2018 08:35PM

The Greatest Snow Movies


For a huge majority of people, namely adults who’ve tired of freezing to death while building an inadequate snowman, snow is a massive inconvenience. Filmmakers on the other hand love the stuff. Since the earliest days of celluloid, when it was an obvious way to give visual distinction to black-and-white landscape shots, snow has been a far more persistent phenomenon in the movies than meteorological reality.


In no particular order…




Fargo


Goof and gore were the sideshow to a main event of snappy dialogue and Oscar-worthy acting. Frances McDormand is phenomenal as the tenacious, heavily pregnant sheriff who has to investigate three murders when a kidnapping goes very, very wrong. Was the claim that it was a true story fictitious? Oh, you betcha, yah.


Fact - Filming took place in the winter of 1995, when the region was experiencing its second-warmest winter in 100 years. Filming of outdoor scenes had to be moved all over Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, and a lot of the snow was artificial.




Frozen


Yes we’re all sick & tired of the songs, and lots of women worldwide who could make money by putting on a blonde wig, green dress & sing in an American accent, have long since stopped earning money on the side at birthday parties. But for a film where the snow is such an indelible element in the story, it’s hard to beat.


Fact - Much of the U.S. had a colder than average winter in 2013, prompting many jokes about the powers of Elsa and Disney's marketing department.




The Thing


The Thing is a masterpiece of relentless suspense, gore soaked and outright, nihilistic terror, placing 12 men at an Antarctic station while an alien shapeshifter takes them over one by one. The snow only heightens the feeling of paranoia & hopelessness. There's not even a happy ending. In fact there's no conventional ending at all, just two men, alone in the icy dark one, or both, of whom may not be all they appear.


Fact - To give the illusion of icy Antarctic conditions, interior sets on the Los Angeles sound stages were refrigerated down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while it was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside.




The Grey


Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Not only must they battle the deadly elements, they must also combat a pack of rouge wolves. What could've been gung-ho, B-Movie schlock is given serious gravitas by director Joe Carnahan's script, and Neeson's stoic performance.


Fact - According to Liam Neeson, the temperatures were as low as -40 degrees Celsius in Smithers, British Columbia, where the film was shot. The snow storms/scenes were actual prevailing weather conditions, and not a cinematic illusion produced with CGI. The cast wore thermals under their costumes for additional protection.




A Simple Plan


The late, great Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton play polar (get it!) opposite brothers who’s lives unravel when they, decide to cover up the discovery of $4 million in a crashed plane. Sam Raimi reins in usual bag of tricks to deliver a taught, low-key thriller.


Fact - Sam Raimi learned some techniques about shooting in the heavy snow from the Coen brothers, friends of his who had been responsible for Fargo (1996), which Billy Bob Thornton appears in the TV spin-off of.



Groundhog Day


Cantankarous TV weatherman Bill Murray has to endure 2nd February in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, and over, and over again, and over, and over again, and over, and over again in the greatest metaphysical, philosophical, romantic comedy of all time.


Fact - The ice sculptures featured in the movie (called Winged Victory) were carved by Randy Rupert, a.k.a. The Chainsaw Wizard. Randy is actually a Punxsutawney resident, and has a shop downtown. He can be found in the city park every Groundhog Day carving and selling his wooden sculptures




The Shining


Jack Nicholson, has never been more Jack Nicholson-y than in Stanley Kubrick's horror classic. Technically, there is no better film in the genre. Its chills are less direct (until Nicholson's character Torrance finally throws off the shackles of sanity that is), rather something that creeps under the skin to unsettle and disturb. Ambiguous to a fault, the story is open to many interpretations; in fact the excellent documentary Room 237 exploring several of them is almost as good as the film itself.


Fact - The "snowy" maze near the conclusion of the movie consisted of nine hundred tons of salt and crushed Styrofoam.




Die Hard 2


Of cause it’s not as good as the original (what is?), and it’s not as fun as the one that followed, but Die Harder is still a great action movie. At the time, Renny Harlin’s film was the most expensive ever made at $120m, but all the money is right up there on screen.


Fact - The confrontation between John McClane and William Sadler on the airplane's wing took several nights to shoot. Huge fans were used to blow in the fake snow in the background because of lack of real snow.




Cliffhanger


Another Renny Harlin joint sees Sly Stallone’s mountain rescue ace take, on Euro villains trying to escape the Rockies with $100 million. A superb pre-credit sequence kicks off the solid action template: from explosive, vertigo-inducing set-pieces, to a script chock full of obvious one liners, burning a pile of the stolen money Sly mumbles "It costs a fortune to heat this place".


Fact - Sylvester Stallone played Rambo, in the film franchise of the same name. In the novelization of this film, Stallone's character is referred to as "Rambo on ice".




Alive


Long time Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall's second film tells the story of a young rugby team taking desperate measures to survive after being involved in an air crash that leaves them stranded in the Andes for ten weeks. Despite the survivors of the crash resorting to cannibalism to survive, this isn't a gory shlock-fest, but a triumphant tale of heroism in the face of unaccountable odds. It helps that the story is peppered with some incredible action scenes; with the initial air crash ranking as one of the most realistic and terrifying ever filmed.


Fact - The film's main location was the ski town of Panorama in the Canadian Rockies. To get all 150 cast and crew members to the location every morning took a fleet of five helicopters.


Jake Stevenson

By midlandsmovies, Dec 19 2017 08:54AM

Top 5 Christmas Movies


Midlands Movies writer Guy Russell gets in the Christmas spirit by choosing his personal top 5 festive films that bring a warm feeling to his winter heart.


Well, it's that time of year again. The season of festivities, goodwill and a large amount of Christmas films showing in either the cinema or through the television at home. From childhood classics to black comedy capers here are my Top Five Christmas films.




1) Home Alone (1990)


An obvious choice but rightly so. Premiering in 1990, over the past 27 years Home Alone has cemented itself as a holiday classic. Starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McAllister, a 10-year-old boy whose parents have accidentally left him home alone in the madness of making a plane to Paris for the festive season. Burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern respectively) are working the McAllister’s street not knowing Kevin is left behind. What ensues is a hilarious, chaotic fight to claim the house.


With a brilliant score by John Williams, family-friendly direction by Chris Columbus and original screenplay by John Hughes, not only is Home Alone a Christmas favourite but a favourite all year around.


Honourable Mention: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). Whilst repetitive and overlong, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York recreates some of the same magic the first had one has, adding the festive New York atmosphere into the mix as well as the hilarious addition of Tim Curry as a snobby hotel concierge.



2) The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)


One of the greatest and most heavily adapted stories of all time, A Christmas Carol is brought to life in a unique way in The Muppets Christmas Carol. A live-action musical starring an on-form Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge whilst the supporting cast feature Kermit, Mrs Piggy and the rest of The Muppets. As a comedy film with modern songs and puppets it would have surprised many when this film revealed itself to be one of the most faithful re-enactments of Charles Dickens story. Michael Caine brings the film to life as Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve night, they visit the past, present and future in the hope he can see the error of his ways and redeem himself.


The cold, bleak, Victorian London setting is realised fantastically and compliments the film further as a Christmas classic.


Honourable Mention: Scrooge (1951). Another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a lot more straightforward than The Muppets take on the subject matter. Alastair Sim portrays the titular character here brilliantly however when first released the film didn’t take off, only finding an audience many years later.



3) Die Hard (1988)


Recently voted “Britain’s favourite Christmas film” by the British public, this action adventure film from John McTiernan splits fans down the middle as to whether or not it can be classed as a “true” Christmas film.


The odds are stacked against off-duty police officer John McClane as he is trapped in a L.A. skyscraper during a Christmas Eve party while terrorists storm the building led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Released during July 1988, it became a smash hit summer blockbuster. With its sunny Los Angeles setting it’s easy to see why some people disregard Die Hard as a Christmas film however the merry soundtrack and seasonal references are peppered throughout bolstering the argument this is one of the greatest Christmas films of all time.


Honourable Mention: Die Hard 2 (1990) Suffering from the same problem Home Alone 2 had, this sequel was accused of being too repetitive when first released as John McClane fights more terrorists on Christmas Eve, this time at an airport. It has become a firm favourite since then too, myself finding it greatly entertaining. It even has snow this time around!



4) The Family Stone (2005)


One film that doesn’t pop up on these lifts very often is The Family Stone, a comedy-drama film that follows the Stone family as they gather at their parent’s home, amongst them is Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) who introduces his family to his new fiancée Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) during the holidays. However, she receives a hostile reception and invites her own sister to stay causing further complications.


The Family Stone is a Christmas film that doesn’t get much air time come the festive season and it’s a shame. A moderate box-office and critical hit, it’s funny enough and has some real dramatic clout. It has a real slice of life feel to the film as there are awkward dinners, family rifts and arguments over spouses whilst balancing the comedy well.


If you’re after a snowy, Christmas setting with a fun premise then I would definitely recommend The Family Stone.


Honourable mention: Christmas Vacation (1989). Everyone’s favourite screwball family The Griswold’s return as they plan a big family Christmas involving both Clark and Ellen’s parents. Similar to The Family Stone in the sense that the family rarely get on for longer than ten minutes however in traditional John Hughes fashion the film doesn’t pass by without a happy, festive finale.



5) Bad Santa (2003)


Produced by the Coen Brothers and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa was always going to be close to the knuckle and it does not disappoint. Alcoholic safe cracker Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and fellow thief Marcus (Tony Cox) hit a mall every year at Christmas whilst posing as the stores Santa and his little helper, complications arise however when Willie befriends a troubled boy.


One of the crudest but funniest Christmas films of all time, Bad Santa will have some opposition for its less than gleeful outlook on the season however its use of advent calendars and store Santa’s more than make up for it.


If you’re a fan of the comedic talents of John Ritter, Bernie Mac and Billy Bob Thornton then check Bad Santa out! Just avoid the 2016 sequel.


Honourable mention: The Night Before (2015). Booze, Drugs and Debauchery come together to produce a Christmas three friends will never forget. The Night Before stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anthony Mackie as childhood friends who get together every Christmas Eve to support Ethan (Levitt) who lost his family at Christmas. They decide to end their tradition but not without going out with a bang. The Night Before is a welcome addition to the adult Christmas genre providing enough laughs for the viewer to remember why they’re having such a good time.


Guy Russell

https://twitter.com/BudGuyer


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