Summer of Cinema: Black Widow

The Widows and their master, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has a strong relevance to Hollywood after the MeToo Movement and the equality that women in the industry have been working towards since cinema began. Dreykov takes the free will and childhoods of these girls and turns them into killing machines. The big reveal of the film is the identity of Taskmaster. An assassin with the ability to copy any fighting style they see and beat an opponent with their own moves. When Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is revealed as Dreykov’s daughter who Natasha thought she had killed before defecting to join S.H.I.E.L.D, it shows the lengths that Dreykov will go to for power. Changing the character from male to female for the film, gave an added element to the female power as the mysterious villain is often male.

Dear Reader,

I, like many others have been waiting for this film for over a year. Marvel fans have had some amazing TV shows to keep us entertained in 2021, but when the time came for Black Widow, I had to see the first female Avenger get her due. In some ways, it has been much longer than a year waiting for this film. The friend who organised my group outing has been anticipating since Black Widow’s debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Natasha Romanoff has always been a mystery. We have seen a little of her back story in the Red Room, training to be an assassin but how did she really become Black Widow and how did she join S.H.I.E.L.D?

I saw this film at a Vue Extreme screening in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, London so I definitely got the full effect. The screen was massive and the audience was packed for a Friday afternoon. I went with a group of friends and mutual friends and despite not everyone being a Marvel geek, we all enjoyed seeing Black Widow get her moment to shine.

There’s so much to dissect within the film including amazing aerial fight sequences, powerful female characters, an unexpected family drama aspect, humorous squabbling and the long awaited Budapest story.

I will start first with the characters. We have met Natasha Romanoff in several Marvel films as different versions of herself. There was Natalie Rushman in Iron Man 2 and her true name, Natalia Alianova Romanova was revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Despite an appearance in eight other Marvel films, Black Widow has always kept her cards close to her chest in terms of her origin story; we have only been given little bits and pieces.

In Black Widow, we find Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run from the government after the events of Captain America: Civil War. She expertly evades Secretary Ross (William Hurt) and ends up in Norway. She still has her trademark red hair but we know that at some point she will dye it blonde for her appearance in Avengers: Infinity War.

We also learn of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a Black Widow agent on mission in Morocco. After exposure to a chemical, Yelena wakes up from mind control and goes rogue. Natasha finds her in Budapest and after trying to kill each other, the two remember their past as sisters in America.

Natasha and Yelena were raised as sisters for three years with the Red Guardian – Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz) – a former Widow posing as their parents. The first sequence shows their life together and then suddenly having to leave sleepy Ohio for Russia to train in the Red Room.

When Natasha learns that the Red Room still exists and girls are still being trained as assassins, she agrees to help Yelena take it down. They team up with Alexei and Melina once again who help them find the Red Room. There is a big focus on aerial stunts in this film which is something Marvel loves to dabble in with its flying heroes such as Falcon, Iron Man, Vision and War Machine but we have not seen this so much with Natasha. There is the small airplane sequence where Alexei tries to fend off the police from the wing of the plane; the helicopter jailbreak in Russia with Yelena flying it and Natasha swinging from a cable and of course, the fight sequence when everything falls after the Red Room is blown up.

The Widows and their master, Dreykov (Ray Winstone) has strong relevance in Hollywood after the MeToo Movement and the equality that women in the industry have been working towards since cinema began. Dreykov takes the free will and childhoods of these girls and turns them into killing machines. The big reveal of the film is the identity of Taskmaster. An assassin with the ability to copy any fighting style they see and beat an opponent with their own moves. When Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is revealed as Dreykov’s daughter who Natasha thought she had killed before defecting to join S.H.I.E.L.D; it shows the lengths that Dreykov will go to for power. Changing the character from male to female for the film gave an added element to the female power as the mysterious villain is often male.

When Natasha and Yelena sit down for dinner with Alexei and Melina, family dynamics that had been forgotten for 20 years come into play with Melina criticising Natasha’s posture and Alexei telling the women to listen to their ‘mother.’ The humour and banter between the four characters demonstrates the closeness they once shared. They are able to fall back into familiar roles.

An element of the film that fans have been waiting for is the story behind what happened in Budapest with Natasha and Clint Barton. It started as a throwaway line in Avengers (2012) but has become a key part of Natasha’s story. When she finds Yelena in Budapest at a safe house, she recounts meeting Clint and him helping her avoid being recalled to the Red Room. We get details such as hiding in an air duct in the Metro for two days and using the same safe house where Natasha and Yelena meet. This is evidenced by arrow holes in the wall. Natasha mentioned before that Clint was sent to kill her but instead gave her a chance to join a different side. Her accidental killing (or so she thought) of Dreykov’s daughter was her proof that she had separated herself from Dreykov and the Widows.

Overall, this film was entertaining and a welcome return for Marvel at the cinema. It was funnier than I expected whilst still maintaining a serious plot and a worthy adversary to destroy. The aerial stunt at the end was like nothing I had seen in a Marvel outing or elsewhere and was amazing to see on a big screen. If you have been waiting to return to the cinema, definitely make this film your first one back.

I give this film 5/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

The cast for this film is exceedingly good: Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas. This group have 18 nominations and wins at big award shows but even they could not make this film entertaining. The plot was very lacking. Some guy trying to make Greece the leading economy wanted to ‘blow up’ Europe by taking out all the power. He was going to use a massive diamond drill a la Armageddon (1998) to drill into the power line from Europe to North America. Very unbelievable and like something from a 1950s comic strip.

Dear Readers,

Despite the negative reviews for this film, I was entertained by the first iteration and I try to make up my own mind rather than be swayed by the critics. I should have taken the warning as this definitely did not live up to the first. If you’re looking for mindless action with big stars then you might enjoy it but anyone looking for a continuation of the first or any semblance of a plot, should not watch.

The film is meant to be a new adventure, this time with Sonia Kincaid, out of jail and joining the team of Michael Bryce and Darius Kincaid. The trio make their way though Italy, first saving Darius then trying to stop the bad guys. Interpol are also on their backs with their own new team, including a special agent from Boston.

The cast for this film is exceedingly good: Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas. This group have 18 nominations and wins at big award shows but even they could not make this film entertaining. The plot was very lacklustre. Some guy trying to make Greece the leading economy wanted to ‘blow up’ Europe by taking out all the power. He was going to use a massive diamond drill a la Armageddon (1998) to drill into the power line from Europe to North America. Very unbelievable and like something from a 1950s comic strip.

The characters were not developed properly and had strange relationships to one another. Sonia and Darius saw Michael as a son even adopting him at the end as a joke. He is infuriated by them but still helps free Darius when Sonia asks. When Morgan Freeman is revealed as Michael’s father (step), I stopped looking for the logic and rolled with it. Frank Grillo’s character was more of a shell, his only trait being that he hated Europe and wanted to leave. He also had trouble understanding a Scottish accent.

The locations in Italy were one of the only redeeming qualities but even they were spoiled by the excessive shoot-outs between Michael, Darius and Sonia and various adversaries. The sound was an assault on the ears at points and there was so much violence with little remorse which marks Sonia and Darius as psychopaths in some definitions, despite them being on the good team.

Overall, a poorly executed idea that could have made a half way decent film with better writing, less gun violence and a more believable plot.

I give this film 2.5/5.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

My culture fix – Inspired by The Times

My favourite author or book
Simon James Green writes great gay YA novels that I lap up.
Beauty Sleep is a recent favourite along with Red White and Royal Blue.

The book I’m reading

Any Way The Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell. The third in the trilogy and it has recently come out. My edition has a great pink flowered edge. Lovely. I am lapping up the book but it is over 500 pages. Excited for the conclusion of beloved characters.

The book I wish I had written
Solitaire by Alice Oseman. The feelings and emotions of the main character spoke to me in such a way that it could have come from my own brain. I wish I had the talents to produce something as intimate and eviscerating.

The book I couldn’t finish
Dracula. Studied at school but I never made it past chapter 1. Thank goodness for the Internet.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read

To Kill A Mockingbird or Normal People. Both culturally significant and talked about. I did see the show of Normal People.

My favourite film
The Day After Tomorrow
An unusual favourite but shows my love for New York City and natural disaster films. I love the way people band together under extraordinary circumstances. I get a rush when this happens so chase the feeling on film and in life. I felt a thrill every time the fire alarm went off at university in the middle of the night or waiting for a teacher to turn up to a lesson. I am forever seeking this feeling.

My favourite play
I am more of a musical gal but I did enjoy the National Theatre Live production of Fleabag. I saw at the cinema and I can see why Phoebe Waller-Bridge launched her career off this one-woman show.

The box set I’m hooked on
Elité was a recent binge. I have a new thing for foreign language Netflix shows. I am also currently watching Modern Family and The Bold Type.

My favourite TV series
I loved The Wilds on Amazon Prime. I find myself drifting back to The Office along with Lost and Brooklyn 99.

My favourite piece of music
Sour by Olivia Rodrigo has been the only music on my radar lately. In particular brutal and jealousy, jealousy convey deep emotions. Such strong lyrics for someone so young.

The last film that made me cry
Black Widow. The thrill of seeing it in the cinema in London on a massive screen with some dear friends moved me to tears. The culmination of female superheroes and the journey for equality along with the resurrection of Natasha Romanoff. Albeit in a flashback.

The lyric I’d wish I’d written
Who I am if not exploited – brutal
I lost my mind, I spent the night, crying on the floor of my bathroom. You’re so unaffected I really don’t get it. – good 4 u.

Both from Sour and both speak to me.

The instrument I play
Piano and previously violin.

The instrument I wish I’d learnt
Guitar. Always looks so cool and sexy whenever someone can rock a song on the guitar. Think John Lennon or Brian May.

If I could own one painting
Anything by Mondrian or Jack Vettriano for my mum as he is her favourite artist.

The place I feel happiest
With my parents in their apartment. Especially in summer.

The movie I’m looking forward to
Dune with Timothée Chalamet. I would watch him do anything.

I wasted an evening watching…
The Euros final with England and Italy. Only the third football match I had ever seen and I watched it in case we won. Felt like a let down after the football did not come home as was promised.

The film I walked out on
I’ve never left the cinema but I did want to when seeing The House that Jack Built at Cannes 2018. Very disturbing by Lars Von Trier.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure
Queer as Folk US. An old show from 2000 but it got me through feeling under the weather earlier this year and inspired a collection of blog posts. It does have questionable ethics and depictions of the gay community but I love the characters and the plots so much.

Overrated
Love Island.

Underrated
The Wilds on Amazon. How is everyone not talking about this show?

Summer of Cinema: In the Heights

I loved the setting and the massive dance numbers featured in the film. While on the streets of New York, the flash mob like crowds all dancing as one reminded you that this was heightened reality and a musical and not how things really work. That being said, the ideas and fears presented are very real to many people. One of my favourite numbers was 96,000 set at the local swimming pool where the characters all dream of what they would do if they won the lottery after the winning ticket was sold at the bodega.

Dear Readers,

I am back again with my new series, Summer of Cinema and today I am recounting my experience of seeing In the Heights. I went along with a friend and we both enjoyed the film despite its long runtime. Our screen was fairly quiet and we were sitting more forward than I usually choose but it did not detract from this lively, culturally eye-opening and fun musical. If you saw Hamilton, then you will definitely enjoy In the Heights.

The setting for the musical is the area of Washington Heights in Manhattan and almost in the Bronx. The characters in the film are mostly all immigrants from Latin countries and the plot centres around them trying to make it in a world where they have not had advantages that others have had. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in the original musical on Broadway that is the basis for the film.

The cast are a mixture of well-known faces: Anthony Ramos from Hamilton (another Miranda Broadway original); Jimmy Smits (The West Wing); Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn 99) and new comers: Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace and Gregory Diaz IV.

The story is set in Summer and centres around a city wide blackout. The residents all have their own dreams: Usnavi wants to carry on his father’s legacy in Dominican Republic; Vanessa wants to become a fashion designer in Midtown; Daniela wants to make her business work despite moving to the Bronx and Nina wants to leave her college and reconnect with her neighbourhood.

Throughout the film, we see each of these characters and others trying their best to fulfil these dreams. They try to get through the tough times to emerge out of the other side with their heads held high. Many of the songs centre around working hard as an immigrant in New York City and the challenges that come with being an immigrant. Much in the style of Hamilton, the songs are political, personal, full of truths about the world.

This is a story you can’t help but get lost in and swept up with the emotions of the Barrio and even though the struggles of the characters are not similar to my own, I felt that I could relate to their pain and their hope for the future. Especially after 2020, the film feels very timely. The characters make their own dreams come true without waiting around for the right time. They also compromise to make the best out of a situation.

I loved the setting and the massive dance numbers featured in the film. While on the streets of New York, the flash mob like crowds all dancing as one reminded you that this was heightened reality and a musical and not how things really work. That being said, the ideas and fears presented are very real to many people. One of my favourite numbers was 96,000 set at the local swimming pool where the characters all dream of what they would do if they won the lottery after the winning ticket was sold at the bodega.

Overall I enjoyed the vibe of the film and the colours and dance numbers helped me escape to another place for a while but still kept me grounded in the issues facing immigrants in New York. The film was long but the pacing was good and I didn’t find myself worrying about the time once I was enraptured by the film.

I give this film 4.5/5

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Summer of Cinema: Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II

The use of sound in this film elevates it from your usual gore fest filled with horrific creatures and gruesome deaths. One of the characters is deaf and in the sequel she takes over the role of the patriarch and becomes the one to find a safe haven for her family. We get to experience sound the way she does, when the film shifts to her point of view. It was a great technique that helped the viewer relate to a deaf character when this can be tricky to do if you do not know anyone who is deaf in the real world.

Hello Readers,

Welcome to my new series Summer of Cinema. The cinemas have reopened and I together with thousands of others have been going to watch the films that we have been waiting for in the last year. I have made the trip twice this month and I am planning to enjoy the experience many times this summer. I will be continuing my series with a review of every film I see in the cinema this summer, of which I hope there will be many. Time to once again sit back, relax and enjoy the magic of the big screen.

Cruella (2021)

I chose this film for my return to the cinema as I was interested in the concept. A 101 Dalmatians prequel of Cruella in 1970s London and in the fashion world. What’s not to love? The film starts with how Cruella ended up in London as a young child in the 60s and jumps to her life as a common thief with her two friends and their dogs. Cruella who is first known as Estella, gets a simple job at Liberty’s and after an avant-garde unprompted window display, she goes to work for the House of Baroness, a notorious fashion house. Estella then decides to become an even bigger presence in the fashion world than the Baroness and to do this she must unleash her bad side – Cruella.

The film was a bold move for Disney as even though the film is a 12, it is pitched towards a younger audience as well. I think the film bridges the divide between a film for younger audiences and older ones. Many people in the screening were adults. This was a fresh take on a villain’s back story and it created a world that had not been associated with Cruella De Vil in other iterations. Whilst we know Cruella as the dog-napping rich old woman with little joy and a grudge against spotty dogs; Estella in this version is fun, kind-hearted and poor. Later in the film when she takes on her Cruella persona, we see some of the Cruella we have known in other films appear. She is a more toned down version than the original and no dogs are harmed in the film.

One of the best parts of the film for me was the fashion. There were so many wonderful and striking designs made by both the Baroness and Cruella. While the Baroness took measured risks and presented as prim and proper; Cruella smashed the expectations and matched rock’n’roll and feminist angst with a runway show. Seeing Cruella’s ideas to outshine the Baroness get even more outrageous and punk was a fun highlight.

Emma Stone was wonderful in the role and her accents were on point both as Estella and the slightly posher Cruella. She played all facets of Cruella seamlessly. I was initially sceptical of Emma Stone’s casting as Glenn Close gave such an iconic performance as Cruella. My fears definitely were vanquished after seeing the iconic performance that Emma gave. It was like she was born to play the role.

I thought that the other actors were all amazing in their roles, especially Emma Thompson as the villain and the children who played the younger versions of Estella and the gang. My only issue with the whole film was that Estella and her friends were around 11/12 years old then it jumps to 10 years later but the actors playing them in the 1970s look at least 30 and not in their early 20s. Emma Stone could just about pull this off but the other two were pushing it. Once I let this go, I enjoyed the story and let go of realism.

The music for was another iconic part of the film with some great classic 70s tracks that paired with Cruella’s bold fashion pieces created a punk rock London scene that I would love to experience.

Overall I give this film 10/10. Every element was on point and my expectations were lowered as it is a Disney film but I feel like the film was suitable for all audiences especially with the period setting and witty dialogue. If ever there was a prequel or continuation of a well-loved classic to live up to or even surpass the original, it would be Cruella. A warm welcome back to the cinema and a great start to a Summer of Cinema.

A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

In contrast to Cruella, I have been waiting for this film since it was announced that there would be a sequel. I do not normally enjoy ‘horror’ films such as these with monsters and jump scares but A Quiet Place bridges the gap between ingenious filmmaking and scaring for scaring’s sake. At the heart of the films is a family that represents everyone. Their struggle to survive in the post-apocalyptic world, especially after the death of a child and the man of the house touches a nerve with many, especially after the past year.

The use of sound in this film elevates it from your usual gore fest filled with horrific creatures and gruesome deaths. One of the characters is deaf and in the sequel she takes over the role of the patriarch and becomes the one to find a safe haven for her family. We get to experience sound the way she does, when the film shifts to her point of view. It was a great technique that helped the viewer relate to a deaf character when this can be tricky to do if you do not know anyone who is deaf in the real world.

I am especially attached to the characters because of the actors. John Krasinski and his wife, Emily Blunt play husband and wife as well as John directing both films. This is rare in the film world and of course their on-screen chemistry is reflected by their real life bond. They already know how to move around the other and as they have children of their own, acting as parents is second nature to them. The actors who play the kids, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds are two of the best young actors in Hollywood today and both do excellent jobs reprising their roles in the sequel and picking up where the first film ended.

While a direct sequel, this film also has a flashback to the first day of the apocalypse and we get to see a glimpse of who the family were before they became survivalists. We get to see John Krasinski and their other son again amongst other members of their small town. The town is actually a replica of the one we see in the first film. I personally did not notice any difference but then again three years have passed in between the two films.

We also have a new character introduced, Emmett who takes over John’s role as the adult male. While Emmett does help the family out when they are being pursued by monsters, it is Millicent’s character who assumes his role as the protector and forward thinker. She becomes the one in charge of saving the family after she hears a clue on the radio and goes to search for an island that she believes will be a new home for her family. In the other storyline, we see Emily Blunt step up to protect her new baby and her son, Marcus who gets badly injured at the start of the film.

The family flee their burning house to find somewhere new to hide when they come across a disused flour mill, or so they think. After being pursued by a creature who we get to see up close for the first time, Marcus gets caught in an animal trap and they seek shelter. By coincidence, the mill is being occupied by Emmett, a friend from before the meteor struck. He offers them shelter and after Regan (Simmonds) leaves to find the island, he goes to get her back and the two form a father-daughter bond.

Marcus then steps up as the man of the mill and looks after his baby sibling while his mum ventures to the nearest pharmacy for medical supplies. What follows are tense encounters with the monsters all set to a backdrop of a genius soundscape that helps the audience immerse themselves in the characters’ world.

There were a few jump scares and seeing the monsters close up wasn’t pleasant but again this film centred around family and human survival. There were twists and unexpected moments that had me holding my breath, not daring to make the slightest noise. Leave your popcorn at home again for this one.

Overall I give this film 9/10. I think some elements could have been expanded slightly and it was missing something that makes a film 10/10 for me but it was a worthy sequel and the acting was on point. Another great venture for John Krasinski and co.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

François Ozon: How French Cinema moved me

François Ozon has made this film into a visual masterpiece. The plot of the film does not have many big twists or dramatic moments but with his direction, you feel as though this tiny French fishing town is the centre of the universe and all that really matters. The emotions of the characters go from big to small and are only present in front of certain other characters which was a good decision. It let the characters preserve their feelings and let them build up to crescendos which did not always end well for them. The locations used are all picturesque and fit into ideas of life in France at the time. There are strong and bold colours without crazy patterns to distract the eye. The fashion is all time-accurate with lots of double denim and block designs. The music used also contributed to the tone and emotions of the film. His writing, while macabre at times never tipped into depressive or gory but toed the line of acceptable for a death-obsessed teenager to say. His choice to focus on Alexis and let the audience be one step ahead of him was a great way to tell the story.

Dear Readers,

It has been a while since my last post; I had intended to do Top 20 of 2020 TV shows but the post did not spark ideas for me so I have decided to park that post for a while and focus on another topic. I may get back to it for a second post next month. Instead, I am going to talk about two films that I have recently discovered are by the same director and were two of my favourite films of the past few years.

I recently watched Summer of 85, a recent release to streaming services and was so moved by this film. It was sad at points but the film did not leave me emotionally drained at the end. I have seen very few films that deliver such a dramatic and devastating event but within the final act are able to build the viewer back up and let them walk away with a sense of gratitude. I will also be talking about Ozon’s 2018 film, By the Grace of God. It is a long one but I loved every minute and I remember saying at the end that I needed more of the film despite it being two and a half hours. I sometimes struggle to stay focused on a long film, especially ones with subtitles but this film captured maintained my attention the whole way through.

Summer of 85 – Original Title – Été 85

This film centres around Alexis and his relationships in the summer of 1985 in Normandy, France. He has moved to the idyllic seaside town only two years before so has not made any meaningful friendships. He borrows an acquaintance’s boat and after capsizing is rescued by David, a town native. From there, a whirlwind friendship, relationship and anything else in-between occurs. They make death pacts, reveal their deepest secrets and spend every minute together. A British au pair, Kate complicates matters and Alexis’ summer of love becomes a summer of death. The story is told in a flashback fashion where the narrator has written about the events and is recounting them. This is interspersed with the present and what Alexis’ life is like while writing the story. This is an interesting narrative technique that played well with the story. I will not say much more about the plot as a major detail is given away at the beginning and this played into my view of the film.

The two actors who play Alexis and David have brilliant chemistry and every scene with just the two of them is like watching friends or relatives you know. They have such vivid emotions and whether they are angry, sad, happy or otherwise; as a viewer you can connect with their characters. Félix Lefebvre who is Alexis plays a magnificent part for a young actor. He is the link between the past and present and we see the world through his eyes. Whenever he is on screen, you experience events through his emotions and feel what he wants you to feel. Benjamin Voisin who plays David has an energy about him that instantly makes you want to be around him. He certainly has this effect of many characters in the film. Through Alexis, we see his beauty and eventually his darkness. Philippine Velge is a great supporting actor as Kate with a near perfect British accent. She can also speak French with a British accent which makes me think she was raised in Britain. Her role becomes pivotal to the plot and even though she is not French, she becomes part of the community for Alexis.

François Ozon has made this film into a visual masterpiece. The plot of the film does not have many big twists or dramatic moments but with his direction, you feel as though this tiny French fishing town is the centre of the universe and all that really matters. The emotions of the characters go from big to small and are only present in front of certain other characters which was a good decision. It lets the characters preserve their feelings and allows the build up to crescendos which did not always end well for them. The locations used are all picturesque and fit into ideas of life in France at the time. There are strong and bold colours without crazy patterns to distract the eye. The fashion is all time-accurate with lots of double denim and block designs. The music used also contributed to the tone and emotions of the film. His writing, while macabre at times never tipped into depressive or gory but toed the line of acceptable for a death-obsessed teenager to say. His choice to focus on Alexis and let the audience be one step ahead of him was a great way to tell the story.

I loved this film, even though there were sad moments. By learning of the big event at the start, I felt prepared as a viewer. The final act after this event was useful to repair the sad emotions I experienced, so walking away from the film, I felt hopeful and not depressed. This is a technique I have not seen used very often. Many films with a devastating ending, usually leave the viewer with those emotions but Summer of 85 left me with a better outlook. This is a film I would love to live in and experience for myself as the 1980s is a well documented era but most films I have seen set in this time period are based in America or England and not Europe. The subtitles did not distract from the quality of the film and if anything, it helped me to focus more on every word said rather than looking at my phone at the same time.

I give this film 10/10.

By the Grace of God – Original Title – Grâce à Dieu

By The Grace of God tells a tale that had unfortunately become more and more prevalent in the last decade but it does so in such a way that enables the viewer to feel optimistic about the victims going forward. It depicts how the victims of a Catholic priest find each other in their 40s after being sexually abused as young boys. They form a website to spread awareness and raise funds to prosecute the priest. It is based on a true story but rather than a harrowing tale, it represents fighting back and how to overcome your abuser. The film is told from the point of view of a victim who is now a businessman with children. He has lived with this childhood trauma but finally decides to do something about it. Many of the men in the film have managed to suppress or deal with what happened to them and form attachments with friends and partners but for a few men it has not been as simple. Just talking about what they went through leads to the men questioning their own relationships and lives.

The cast themselves were amazing in their portrayals and embodied the stories of the real men that went through the trauma as children. The man who played the priest did a great job at making the viewer comfortable in his presence despite his horrific crimes. It shows how the boys aged around 8 to 10 years old were happy to be in his presence. Many of them said nothing to their parents at the time, either too ashamed or not fully understanding what had happened.

When watching, I did not realise that François Ozon was the director but I was hooked to the film. It is not really a film to be enjoyed but one to learn from. The way the website and the community of the men and their families comes together was told in a way that eased the viewer into this story and helped them build up an attachment to the group and what they want to achieve. Not that anyone would side with the priest but at first, he denies the allegations and you will the men to find more evidence and support them on their quest for justice. Nothing explicit is ever shown but enough is insinuated with flashbacks to make you understand what was happening. The mind is very suggestible and even a hint of maliciousness can help you fill in the blanks. Religion played an important role in the film and many of the men struggled with how they saw religion after their experiences. Some had walked away from the church and some still went with their families, blocking out the connotations.

At the time of viewing, I was very moved by the film. Although, I think to properly describe my feelings, I would have to re-watch it. I will say that it was a very powerful and necessary story that left me wondering why it took so long to convict this criminal. Again, the subtitles did not detract from the story. I saw this film at the back of a cinema and I was able to hang on every word. Some films are so strong that language is not a barrier when conveying its message.

I give this film 10/10 but I would want to re-watch to confirm this rating.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

My Top 20 Films of 2020

A recent viewing for me over the Groupwatch Feature on Disney Plus. The animated version was a childhood favourite of mine so I was sad that I did not get a chance to watch it at the cinema last September. Its release on Disney Plus was a delight for me and despite some controversy surrounding its locations, I think this is an important film for Asian representation in Western culture and especially for women. Mulan volunteers to fight in the Chinese Imperial Army some one thousand years ago. In the live action version, Mulan lives in a poor village and takes her father’s place due to his ill health whereas in the original version, Mulan is a princess and takes his place to prove herself. I loved Yifei Liu’s performance as Mulan; I remember they spent a long time trying to find the right actress and I think the casting was perfect. She was able to portray vulnerability and femininity at the beginning and then brute strength and leadership as a soldier. The fight sequences were impressive and used clever techniques as well as offensive action. Scenes with the snow avalanche and the final showdown were particularly impressive as well as the general production design. It did not feel like a typical cuddly kids film and I think it was a good move to get rid of the songs, no matter how great they were. I really loved this film but it was missing that extra something that makes me give a film full marks.

Hello readers,

A friend suggested this concept to me after talking about one of their favourite films of the year and I thought it would be great way to say goodbye to a horrific year for the world. Despite cinemas being closed for most of 2020, film found a way via streaming services. I was surprised at how many new films Netflix was putting out but it certainly kept me entertained. I’m listing my top 20 in no particular order apart from my IMDb rating. Going through all the films I saw released in 2020, I realise that my total viewing is only slightly longer than this list but each film on the list did bring me some joy this year and that’s what really counts in my eyes.

Onward – 10/10

This was the last film I saw at a chain cinema before lockdown and I am glad it was this one. It was a great story with an interesting new universe, a great cast and a feel-good story. I loved the dynamic between the brothers played by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland. They are elves living in a modern fairy tale land which is a blend of technology and mythical creatures. The characters go on a road trip/quest to try and fix a spell and see their late father one last time. This Pixar animation is a lovely tale for adults and children and I am glad I saw it in the cinema. It is now available on Disney Plus.

Godmothered – 9/10

I was pleasantly surprised by this Disney film that I saw over Christmas on Disney Plus. It represents the maturing of the Disney company as I have seen other content in the last couple of years with more feminist and LGBT story lines than previously included. This tale focuses on a fairy godmother who goes to Earth to help a little girl and save her godmother academy. The little girl is now an adult with children of her own and a job at a local news station. Eleanor, the godmother is not well versed in the modern world which leads to some hilarious incidents. There was a lot for adults but this is definitely a film for children. It is also set at Christmas but this is more in the background. The ending was not the usual marry a prince which I liked and shows that romantic love is not the be all and end all. A great cast with Jillian Bell, Isla Fisher and June Squibb.

Dating Amber – 9/10

I enjoyed this film set in the 1990s in Ireland with a great twist. It features Eddie and Amber who are both gay but pretend to date each other to get their fellow students off their backs. They embark on a deep emotional friendship and are able to be themselves for the very first time while exploring their sexualities. This was a very sweet story about finding yourself while also discussing some darker themes and it is worth its 15 rating with some older discussions. Starring upcoming actors Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew along with Sharon Horgan and Simone Kirby. A great Irish film with comedy and heart.

Palm Springs – 9/10

This American comedy is the only film I saw in the cinema last year since lockdown started. It was in a cinema in Turkey but I have not wanted to attend in the UK so far but hopefully cinema will be back soon. This film played on the Groundhog Day trope with someone getting stuck in an endless time loop only in this film there are three people in the time loop. It made it a fun twist. The film is set at a wedding in Palm Springs and it begins with Sarah entering the time loop that Niles is already in. The two of them make the most of the endless days and gradually become closer and look for ways to leave the loop. It was a fun comedy that took my mind off 2020 for a while. Some great comedy stars star, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti with other known faces: Peter Gallagher, Tyler Hoechlin, Camila Mendes, J.K. Simmons and June Squibb.

The Lovebirds – 9/10

This film moved onto Netflix after cinema shut down and I was glad it did as I got the chance to see it. It was a great buddy comedy with a couple who are going through problems. They end up on the run after a misunderstanding and encounter many interesting characters while trying to clear their name and fixing their relationship. It is a blend of comedy, drama, adventure and a little horror. With comedy gold Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani and set in New Orleans, a great film if you’re looking for something new and distracting.

The Old Guard – 9/10

This was a great film and one of my favourites released this year. It was a great story and I think the fact it is based on a comic book really made it a step above past action films. I am a fan of the director, Gina Prince-Bythewood and how she made this film into a fan favourite and cult phenomenon. The idea is something that has been played with before but rarely outside of the superhero genre. The team are made up of immortals who have been fighting evil for hundreds or thousands of years. They spend their infinite time helping secretly around the world to solve problems and take down criminals. When a new immortal is found for the first time in a hundred years, she joins the group and tries to protect the immortals from the threat of exposure from a man trying to harness their immortality for themselves. I loved the characters and their backstories and the relationship they all have with each other. The romance between Nicky and Joe is a highlight along with Andy’s character. The cast of Charlize Theron, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli make this film, a great one and I am looking forward to any potential sequels and I will definitely be re-watching soon.

The Half of It – 9/10

This indie Netflix original uses a well known trope with a more diverse outlook. Paul has a crush on Aster and pays Ellie to write love letters for him. While a friendship blossoms between the two from completely different social circles, something else develops between Aster and Ellie. The story is set in a small fictional town, Squahamish most notable for its conservative church and railway line. This gives an idea of the views of the townspeople when it comes to outsiders or those who do not comply with their religious beliefs. I was pleased to see that the romance is not the main focus of the story but the sweet friendship that develops between Ellie and Paul. This is not to say that the love story between Ellie and Aster was not explored. A lot of the shots were done to show the cinematography of the piece and to enhance the plot. I watched this film via Netflix Party with a friend and we both enjoyed. It was interesting to see a teen film with a slower pace and a less studio vibe.

My Spy – 9/10

I was happy that this film appeared on streaming services after the pandemic ensured it only had a limited run. A family action comedy that provided some well needed escapism in the first lockdown. We see tough team up with cute when JJ, a CIA operative is assigned to track the family of a former agent. Sophie, the former agent’s young daughter manages to suss out JJ’s mission and they team up to get the job done. I enjoyed seeing Dave Bautista is a role where he plays a human rather than as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy and while he is the funny one of the group in the Marvel films, he gets to show a different side in My Spy. Sophie is played by Chloe Coleman, a rising child star who has no trouble carrying the film as the co-lead. It’s always fun to see a hardened stoic man softened by a smart kid. There are some laughs but also a lot of action. An all round enjoyable film.

All The Bright Places – 9/10

There was a lot of anticipation for this film as it is based on a bestselling novel by Jennifer Niven. While it has a depressing premise, I enjoyed the film. I feel like it has similar tones to The Half of It with a focus on the cinematography. I think it was important for the film that the author was a writer on the film and helped maintain the feel of the story. It stars Hollywood heavyweights Elle Fanning and Justice Smith who have both starred in their share of big films. Other stars include Luke Wilson, Alexandra Shipp and Keegan-Michael Key. This film shows the complex love story between Violet and Theodore and how they battle their past demons. Set in Indiana but shot in Cleveland, the unique locations add to the motifs and details of the film. It is a sad one but I think this is an important depiction of mental health and I hope it prompts more conversations amongst young people.

Mulan – 8/10

A recent viewing for me over the Groupwatch Feature on Disney Plus. The animated version was a childhood favourite of mine so I was sad that I did not get a chance to watch it at the cinema last September. Its release on Disney Plus was a delight for me and despite some controversy surrounding its locations, I think this is an important film for Asian representation in Western culture and especially for women. Mulan volunteers to fight in the Chinese Imperial Army some one thousand years ago. In the live action version, Mulan lives in a poor village and takes her father’s place due to his ill health whereas in the original version, Mulan is a princess and takes his place to prove herself. I loved Yifei Liu’s performance as Mulan; I remember they spent a long time trying to find the right actress and I think the casting was perfect. She was able to portray vulnerability and femininity at the beginning and then brute strength and leadership as a soldier. The fight sequences were impressive and used clever techniques as well as offensive action. Scenes with the snow avalanche and the final showdown were particularly impressive as well as the general production design. It did not feel like a typical cuddly kids film and I think it was a good move to get rid of the songs, no matter how great they were. I really loved this film but it was missing that extra something that makes me give a film full marks.

The Prom – 8/10

I’ve always loved a musical and this one was no different. The film is based on a Broadway musical and a true story about how a school in Indiana prevents a female student from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. When some washed up Broadway stars hear of the story, they rally to the cause and fly to Indiana to help Emma just live her life. This film debuted on Netflix with some A list actors: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, James Corden and Keegan-Michael Key. I thought this musical had a fun vibe and while a little cheesy it had a great message of acceptance and love. The songs were a great fit and are more universal than some musical songs. The design of the Prom at the end was a lovely celebration for all sexualities and I’m glad that the story was told.

Enola Holmes – 8/10

This spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes tale offers a female led perspective and introduces a younger cast supported by well-known actors. Set in Victorian England, Enola is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. She is raised in the country by her mother away from proper society. When her mother leaves with no explanation, Enola heads to London to find her encountering a wayward Viscount and a mystery along the way. A lawsuit over the addition of more human characteristics to Sherlock’s personality was issued by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle but this has now been settled. I thought this film was a fun take on the Sherlock story and gave younger and female viewers a point of view in the story. I enjoyed the film and the story. It was a delightful story with enough intrigue to keep you interested and beautiful production design. A talented cast featuring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Burn Gorman, Frances De La Tour and Fiona Shaw.

Work It – 8/10

Dance films are always an upbeat fun watch for me and this film was no different. What sets this film apart from every other dance film is that the main character is not a professional dancer. Quinn’s best friend is in the high school dance troupe and when she lies in a college interview, saying that she is a dancer, she needs to make that happen. She is not allowed into the troupe so forms her own with a group of outsiders and becomes the rival team at a competition. This is a film about learning to accept your flaws and living your best life anyway. The different styles of dance shown create a diverse story rather than just hip hop or ballet as in some films. There is also a brewing romance between Quinn and the choreographer she convinces to help them. I enjoyed the fun-loving nature of the film and it stars some great young actors: Sabrina Carpenter, Jordan Fisher, Liza Koshy and Keiynan Lonsdale. If you are a fan of teen films or dance films, then this is one for you.

Desperados – 8/10

A slightly out-there plot that could only happen in the modern world, Desperados also reunites actors Lamorne Morris and Nasim Pedrad who played husband and wife on television show, New Girl. Wesley meets Jared and at first her relationship is great but then he ghosts her and she sends a ranting and insulting email. He is in Mexico and was in a car accident so while he is recovering, Wesley flies to Mexico to delete the email before he sees it. What ensues is a girls trip with her two best friends and a ridiculous adventure. Each of the three women have things to confront about themselves and this trip offers the chance to do it. Wesley then bumps into a blind date she had before Jared and develops a friendship with him. This film was cheesy but had some real content and was a plotline I hadn’t seen before. It stars some great comedy actors: Anna Camp and Robbie Amell as well the aforementioned actors. I watched the film over the summer and seeing Mexico was something to take my mind off the pandemic for a while.

The F**k-It List – 8/10

This film is about finding your own path in life and not just going along with what others expect of you. Brent Blackmore spends his whole life studying to please his high-achieving parents. When he joins in with his senior prank and it goes wrong, Brent posts a ‘F**k-It List’ listing things he wish he did in high school. Slowly his college offers dwindle and he is banned from graduation. He goes viral and opportunities start opening up. This is a fun teen comedy with some real heart and a good message about being yourself. Set in sunny California, this film is for everyone that felt they missed out on something in life and needs persuading to pursue it. Featuring an up and coming cast of Eli Brown, Madison Iseman, Andrew Bachelor and Karan Brar.

Extraction – 8/10

A fast-paced action film set in Bangladesh in a world of weapons and arms dealings. The son of an international drug lord is kidnapped from his school in India and mercenary Tyler Rake is dropped into the city of Dhaka to rescue him and extract him back to India. The action never stops and a bond forms between Tyler and Ovi, the boy. I enjoyed the different setting and the city made a great location for this type of film. Chris Hemsworth is great in this type of role and it’s a good film to show his range after his high profile role in the Marvel universe. Despite the high stakes and difficulty of the mission, Tyler never gives up. In the background, his colleagues work to get information about the kidnappers and their motives.

Birds of Prey – 8/10

Another film I saw when cinemas were open and life was normal. I am not normally a fan of DC Universe films, I have only seen a few, namely Wonder Woman and Shazam but I went to see this film with a friend and I thought Margot Robbie could carry the film as Harley Quinn. Sometimes giving a secondary character a solo film doesn’t work but Harley really had her own tale to tell. The film starts with Joker having dumped Harley and she takes it hard. She spends the time getting back to what she does best: fighting bad guys. She meets a young girl on the run from an evil sexist crime lord who has also done Harley harm. She teams up with other female heroes to form the Birds of Prey and take him out. Her outfits were really fun and different. Her character is not how women are usually presented in superhero films such as Black Widow who was originally a sexy assistant or Captain Marvel who is a strong and sarcastic pilot. Harley is neither of these things but forges her own path. Even though she is a comic book character, her story of recovering from a toxic relationship and learning how to be her own person without that relationship is relatable to many women. A fun film about the strength of women and how they can be tough and violent yet vulnerable and broken.

The Boys in the Band – 7/10

This film has a long history as it is based on a play that debuted in the 1960s in New York City. It was controversial at the time as the main characters are all gay men and being homosexual was still illegal in America or certainly looked down upon in many states. The film itself features actors who are out as gay in the roles which the playwright insisted upon. The original cast featured gay actors too at a time when it was dangerous to be out as gay in America. The film is about the men all gathering for someone’s birthday party in a New York apartment and they all come away as different men than they were before. Secrets are spilled and dares are made and surprise guests appear. It does play out like a play with a few scenes not set in the apartment. Ryan Murphy is on as a producer and there are some talented people involved such as Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells. Its an interesting piece and says a lot about how it felt to be gay in that time and place.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – 7/10

A very cheesy and almost parody of the Eurovision Song Contest, the film celebrates the energy and vibe of the contest as a strange, trashy event where anything goes even Australia being in Europe. This film features Lars and Sigrit who by freak accident get the chance to represent Iceland at the contest. They have been trying to get their musical duo going for a while and get the chance of a lifetime. They head to Scotland for the contest and face rivals, potential lovers and extravagant costumes. This film was not made to be taken seriously and I thought it was good for what it was: a fun musical film to honour a ridiculous tradition but it did not inspire me. Starring some big names: Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as the duo Fire Saga along with Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens and Demi Lovato. Of course, Graham Norton stars himself as he has been the UK commentator for a number of years.

Parasite – 7/10

This film was a cultural phenomenon when it came out especially as it made history and won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I thought the film was good but not 10 out of 10 good. The story had many twists and turns and could only happen in that sort of society with such a class divide in the same city. It spoke volumes about how people treat each other, not just in South Korea but worldwide. The film is about a poor family living on next to nothing, the teenage son gets the chance to work for a rich family and he gets positions for each of his family members. Things take a turn when they realise that they have stumbled into a chilling situation. The director Bong Joon-ho has made films like Snowpiercer and Okja as well as many South Korean ones. I was not familiar with the actors in the film but they did a great job at creating the story of the film. I thought some of the plotlines were a little far-fetched and I was a little confused about the genre and message of the film as the ending was so bleak. I know that this film meant a lot to many people so I wanted to include it even though there were other films I enjoyed more this year.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Honey Boy – My Thoughts

I think it shows how rich and powerful the script and the belief in the director to have a female director narrate this story. It is from a male perspective about male relationships; father and son; roommates at rehab; an all-male AA meeting; the Big Brother programme but I think Alma Har’el added some great narrative and design choices to an already strong script. Her directive decisions elevated the film to include great visuals along with the story. I applaud the producers and studio for promoting a female director especially someone who had never done a narrative film before Honey Boy. I think this example goes to show that women are just as capable as men when it comes to being behind the camera.

Hello readers,

I recently watched the film Honey Boy (2019) written by Shia LaBeouf about his early life as a child actor and his time in rehab. I have been interested in this film since I saw the trailer and I have been waiting for it to come on to streaming services. A few days ago, I noticed that it was now on Amazon Prime so I watched it. This film really stuck with me and taught me about how to structure a film and how trauma can affect you even if you have had a relatively trauma free life. I am glad that Shia LaBeouf made this film as it was very powerful and I think it was a great film to come from childhood trauma.

Synopsis

Honey Boy is based on Shia LaBeouf’s life but with times and characters renamed. It focuses on Otis, an actor and how as an adult he relives his childhood in rehab and learns about his mental health. Otis was a child actor and chaperoned by his father but his father is an alcoholic and takes out his anger with emotional and sometimes physical abuse. The film is shot with flashbacks to Otis’ childhood and then his recovery in a rehabilitation facility.

Director

I think it shows how rich and powerful the script and the belief in the director is to have a female director narrate this story. It is from a male perspective about male relationships; father and son; roommates at rehab; an all-male AA meeting; the Big Brother programme but I think Alma Har’el added some great narrative and design choices to an already strong script. Her directive decisions elevated the film to include great visuals along with the story. I applaud the producers and studio for promoting a female director especially someone who had never done a narrative film before Honey Boy. I think this example goes to show that women are just as capable as men when it comes to being behind the camera.

Cast

The cast’s performances especially of Noah Jupe as 12 year old Otis and Shia LaBeouf as Otis’ father were what made me think about this film for hours after watching. Personally, it was some of the most emotional and heart-wrenching acting I have seen. Their relationship and the use of the word PTSD when referring to Otis’ childhood really made me question how our mental health works and how trauma manifests itself. As a child, Otis appears relatively balanced apart from smoking and some crying but he doesn’t carry the weight that 22 year old Otis does. He is played by Lucas Hedges who took the character of Otis but through his voice and body language presented us with Shia LaBeouf from that time period and really connected both versions. The public and the media all know about Shia LaBeouf’s drinking, rehab and prison time but his childhood was a mystery. More liberties were taken with Otis’ character at this time as Shia himself hadn’t become the person he turns into but Noah Jupe gave us an emotionally traumatised child actor who we could associate with LaBeouf.

Noah Jupe is really up and coming as an actor and I think this is his strongest performance of his career so far. The roles I have seen him in such as Jack Will in Wonder; Peter Miles in Les Mans ’66 and Marcus in A Quiet Place are all side characters and serve to aid the main character(s) but this is his first real lead role as he is the titular ‘Honey Boy’. He had a great depth to his emotions and even though the story and his experiences are far removed from my own but I really empathised with his situation and it made me think about how I relate to my own experiences in life. I was surprised to learn that he is British as most of his performances include him speaking in a very convincing American accent. I think Noah Jupe is definitely one to watch because as he is this good at 15, just think how good he is going to be in five, ten years.

Shia LaBeouf’s performance obviously came from a deep and painful place and confronting his dad’s words and actions by embodying this character of James based on his father. I haven’t seen a character quite like James, every word and action towards Otis was either criticising or pressurising him. There were no real kind words said as every positive was as the result of mean words said or as a way to emotionally manipulate him. A clever narrative device was James telling his story in AA and this gave him a softer personality but Otis later reveals that his AA story is an amalgamation of other AA stories and I think this sums up the character. Another line that you can hear in the trailer above that really hit to the heart of James was ‘If I didn’t pay you, you wouldn’t be here’.

Back story

I knew that Shia LaBeouf wrote this story when he was in rehab which he is shown doing in Honey Boy and was going to be playing his own father but I had no idea of the trauma and scenarios that he went through. Many people thought unfavourably of Shia LaBeouf after his stint in prison and rehab and I feel this film gives reasons to his actions and I certainly didn’t know that Shia LaBeouf suffered from PTSD and from watching Even Stevens as a child, I never would have suspected what was going on behind the scenes. If you are interested in the history of the film and more of the backstory, watch the interview below where Shia LaBeouf talks about Honey Boy on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Thoughts

I really enjoyed Honey Boy and I think it is such a special film that has really taught me about film-making and how to structure a film. I thought the story was so well shown and I liked all the little call backs that linked the two timelines. The scene with the harness at the beginning that the versions of Otis go through is a great way to create unity between both versions of Otis. There are also similarities between things that Otis learns at 12 years old then regurgitates at 22. Even though the actors Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe do not look very similar, these small callbacks and similarities help to convince the audience that they are the same person. There were some very artistic shots with the lighting and angles that conveyed the emotions of the characters and added a documentary feel. This was Alma Har’el including her own documentary background.

Overall this film is a great watch and I would highly recommend to anyone especially those who work in or aspire to work in film and anyone that wants to learn about how trauma can affect you throughout your life. This film gets a 10/10 from me.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Films I have been watching this Spooky Season

After the fun of the last film and the fact that I did not feel the need to hide behind a cushion, I proceeded to the sequel. This is where things begin to get a bit meta. It is a few years later and a film has been made about the events of the first film based on Gale Weathers’ (Cox) book. A couple get murdered at the sneak preview of ‘Stab’ and a copycat is on the loose.

Hello Readers,

It is autumn and most importantly Halloween is right around the corner. In the past, I have celebrated this tradition with trick or treating; going clubbing and dressing up for cocktails and mini golf but as the pandemic is still very much at large, I have had to tone it down to an indoor celebration as I’m sure many people have. I was never really into scary films or even those with a monster theme but this year, I have been watching as many films as I can before the big day.

Scream (1996)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette and briefly Drew Barrymore, this horror flick could not have a more 1990s cast but rather than being a regular slasher, this film comes with several twists. It is not set at Halloween but I think that the numerous gruesome murders and the serial killer wearing a ghost costume qualify it as one to watch this Halloween. No wonder they made 4 sequels with Scream 5 scheduled for 2022. There’s not much to say without spoiling the film but be prepared for blood and murder.

Scream 2 (1997)

After the fun of the last film and the fact that I did not feel the need to hide behind a cushion, I proceeded to the sequel. This is where things begin to get a bit meta. It is a few years later and a film has been made about the events of the first film based on Gale Weathers’ (Cox) book. A couple get murdered at the sneak preview of ‘Stab’ and a copycat is on the loose. The surviving characters from the first film and some new victims try and put an end to what they unintentionally started. The location may have changed as Sidney Prescott (Campbell) along with Randy and their new friends are now in college but some things don’t change such as Sidney having a killer(?) boyfriend; Courteney Cox sporting some extreme highlights (this time she goes for cherry red) and the killer wearing a ‘Ghost Face’ costume.

The Addams Family (1991)

This film has been a cult franchise since its original outing as a television show in the 1960s and a reboot was risky but the 1990s films have become an icon all by themselves. The cast all reinvent their roles as members of America’s creepiest family. There’s Morticia and Gomez, the parents who have a very passionate relationship and dress almost as vampires and manage their rundown mansion as a palace to the violent and gory. The children, Pugsley and Wednesday are constantly trying to maim or kill each other but somehow never quite manage it. The household is complete with Morticia’s mother; Lurch the Frankenstein’s monster-esque butler and Thing, the severed hand. The family is reunited with Uncle Fester who has been missing for 25 years. Only Wednesday works out the truth that her uncle is an imposter sent to steal the Addams’ family fortune. Will the adults realise that Fester is not who he says he is? or is he who they have been looking for?

I must admit that this film did not live up to the hype for me. I am aware that it is aimed towards a younger audience but I didn’t believe in the plot and found it all a little too strange. The fact that they are not supernatural in anyway makes it seem tricky to believe that they would act in these ways and how did they become so rich when no one appears to have ever had a job? The strong points for me were the characters and the production set. Christina Ricci as Wednesday was a particular highlight. I am glad I saw it as it sets up the back story for the second film but not one I would watch again.

Addams Family Values (1993)

Sequels are always a risk and very rarely pay off as was discussed during a film class in Scream 2 but I thought that this film was better than the first. Now that we have established the world that these characters inhabit and their family relationships, the film can create more of a plot. I think the decision to place the children in the real world at summer camp was a good one as it shows that their behaviour is not what is considered normal and establishes them as outsiders. This also allows Wednesday to meet a love interest, Joel Glicker. He does not have the same supernatural tendencies as the Addams’ but is also ostracized by the other campers for not joining in with their happy-clappy cheesy fun. Meanwhile, Uncle Fester has found the love of his life in new baby Pubert’s nanny and they begin a whirlwind romance but not everything is as it seems.

I enjoyed this film for the iconic scenes such as Wednesday ruining the camp play by showing everyone the true meaning of Thanksgiving and how wrong that immigrants were to treat the Native Americans as they did. There were some very progressive views for a 1990s children’s film but this once again put the Addams family in the right and everyone else in the wrong. They are far from perfect but work as the protagonists of the film. Joan Cusack as the evil nanny and Fester’s betrothed was a stand out this time. A third film was made but featured none of the original Family due to Gomez’ (Raul Julia) untimely death.

Practical Magic (1998)

Witch sisters are the feature of this film as we see how a love curse affects the Owens Sisters through the ages. This film is lead by two strong actresses, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I saw this film with a friend for movie night and one thing we noticed that the film has is a lot of time jumps. Towards the beginning, Sally (Bullock) meets a man and suddenly they are married with kids. I think one of the challenges of a film is how to tell a life story in two hours but this film needed a few montages and ellipses between passages of time. Despite this narrative error, I thought the film was entertaining and even had the epilogue scene set at Halloween.

There were a few dark scenes with murders, exorcisms and untimely deaths but the story and acting was enough to keep me engaged with the characters journeys. This film is set in the modern world with some delightful scenes featuring both generations of Owens Sisters, Sally and Gillian (Kidman) were raised by their aunts played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing, dancing around the kitchen consuming vast amounts of tequila in the vague form of midnight margaritas. When tall, dark and handsome, Detective Hallet comes poking around on Maria Island, weird things keep happening. There are a few things I have neglected to mention but are better to be seen rather than explained here. I would consider watching this film again although not with young children.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

Netflix’s Halloween offering this year is one from Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company. It features Sandler’s usual collaborators of Kevin James and Steve Buscemi as well as Sandler himself as Hubie Dubois. On top of that is a large ensemble cast and this time the whole film is about Halloween set in Salem, Massachusetts: the Halloween capital. If you enjoy Sandler’s brand of slapstick and messy humour, then this film will be right up your street. I thought it was entertaining enough but I didn’t really understand Sandler’s character, Hubie. He put on a strange little voice and still lives with his mother as an innocent do-gooder that does not work for someone of this age bracket.

The rest of the cast did a good job with appearances from Julie Bowen, June Squibb, Noah Schnapp and Paris Berelc but the poor bullied town weirdo character does not work well for an actor pushing 50. This film was just a bit too cheesy for me with not enough explanations and some forced emotional moments. The plot of the most popular girl in school being down on her luck and secretly being in love with the geek is very overdone and did not play well here. The fact that no one has left Salem at all in 30 years and Hubie’s werewolf neighbour were a few things I thought were a step too far. If Hubie had been a normal character but just a bit down on his luck instead of having garbage thrown at him by kids everywhere he goes then this film could have worked better. I think Kevin James’ ridiculous beard and mullet represents how over the top the film was. Pairing it back would have made it a fun Halloween film but instead it is just Sandler making another film with his Hollywood friends.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)

The Hotel Transylvania films are made for kids but I think there’s a fun nature about them that appeals to other ages too. I watched the first and second films back to back last summer so I have been eagerly awaiting for the third to pop up on Netflix. The film is set in the summer but the central characters of vampires, Frankenstein’s monsters, Mr Invisible, mummies, werewolves and other monsters give the film a supernatural theme. Mavis decides that her father, Count Dracula needs a holiday from running his hotel for monsters and where better to take a break than on a cruise just for monsters. There’s some evil forces at work as Ericka, the ship’s captain is not just after Dracula for his charm and good looks. All the monsters and their partners are along for the ride including Mavis’ human husband Johnny, their son, Dennis; the werewolves and their mountain of kids and many others. As this is a cartoon, many liberties can be taken but I don’t think it pushed the limits of the universe already established in the first two films. I enjoyed the spectacular scenes aboard the cruise and the ending at the lost city of Atlantis which is a vague metaphor for the casinos of Atlantic City.

Another Adam Sandler ride but with just their voices, the cast did not turn the film into a friends and family saga. This time Andy Samberg joined another frequent collaborator of Adam Sandler, mostly before he started on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon, Joe Jonas and Chrissy Teigen are a few of the famous voices. I thought the film was playful and entertaining enough for the adults as well as the kids. There was a happy ending as always with room left for Hotel Transylvania 4 due in 2021.

Zodiac (2007)

I did not purposefully watch this film for its murderous content but I tacked it onto the end of the list as it does feature elements of a Halloween film. A serial killer and a mystery with some fairly intense death scenes. This one was on my list for a while because of the director, David Fincher and the cast of Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal. Coincidentally, all three actors go on to star in the Marvel Universe although Gyllenhaal’s character appears much later as villain, Mysterio.

This film contains a favourite trope of mine seen in many other films such as Little Women (2018); The Help (2011) and Atonement (2007), although this last one plays with it a little. All these films are based on books that are written by the author at the end of the film. Atonement is different as there are some false endings given but they all mostly follow the trope. Of course, only Zodiac is an actual true story and the author was a real person whereas the others have invented authors.

Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) spends many years trying to hunt down the Zodiac killer after the newspaper he works at as the cartoonist is targeted with letters. His search destroys his relationships and leads him to write the book, Zodiac. Fellow employee at the San Francisco Chronicle and journalist, Paul Avery (Downey) becomes a target of Zodiac and helps Graysmith with the search. We also have Inspector Toschi (Ruffalo) the main detective on the case who lends a hand to Graysmith near the end. This is a David Fincher film so I found the plot and timeline a little hard to follow as there are a lot of murders and dates to get through but the acting kept me gripped and considering this was a comeback film for Downey, he played it very well. It was very long so set aside a good evening to watch but it was interesting. It appeared to stick very closely to the book which I always admire but I could have had a little more focus on the three characters own lives. Graysmith goes on one date and suddenly is married and his kids call her mom. There was also only brief mentions of a second child before his mysterious appearance. We see some of Toschi’s life with his wife but not enough to grasp what he was like. Of course this is all from Graysmith’s point of view but a little artistic license could have been used. I would consider watching it again to understand the plot but I am not rushing to do so.

Still to watch: Addams Family (2019); Dark Shadows (2012)

Happy Watching,

Robyn

My Desert Island Films

Review – I do not quite remember my first viewing of this film but it would have been soon after it came out. It is something of a family favourite in my household with viewings almost yearly and many listens of ABBA in between. I always sing along and I think the story carries a real truth about family not being all about your biological offspring but your chosen family. There are some great dance numbers and being set in Greece gives the film a wonderful edge that it would not have if set in the UK or US. I also love the sequel to the film and saw in the cinema while on holiday as I couldn’t wait. I have also recently watched it when the original was not available. The first Mamma Mia! will always be my favourite and holds a special place on this list.

This is a list that as a film student I have debated for many years and a couple of months ago, I finally came up with my five desert island films. This is inspired by Desert Island Discs, a popular radio show where guests have to list the eight songs that they would bring to a desert island. Each film on this list holds great memories from different moments in my life.

  1. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Synopsis – A climate scientist tries to warn his colleagues and the US government about an impending new ice age. His son is on a school trip to New York City and after a massive flood traps Sam and his fellow survivors in the Public Library. Jack and fellow explorers set off from Washington DC to find him while in other parts of the world, civilisation prepares for devastation.

Cast – The cast has a lot of potential in this film and they go on in the 16 years after this film was released to make some really great content. One of the biggest stars to come from the film is Jake Gyllenhaal who has been nominated for several Hollywood and British Acting awards and has also stretched his limits as an actor from horrors to romantic comedies to superhero films. He is an actor that I would struggle to put into one category as he is always doing something new whether that be theatre, comedy specials, indie films and he is about to foray into television. The other actors I feel that are worth talking about from this film are Dennis Quaid and Emmy Rossum. Dennis Quaid is always a good leading actor who often plays a man who looks tough or emotionally unavailable but starts to show an inner vulnerability. I have not seen as much of his work as I have of Gyllenhaal’s but I did enjoy his recent Netflix show and a scattering of other films that he has done. He was quite a prolific actor before my time so I have not gone back and seen many of his works. Emmy Rossum is also interesting for her roles as director and producer and as an artist. She played such a complex character for such a long time on one television show but finally left to pursue new passions. I admire her loyalty but also determination about when to leave at the right time.

Review – I first saw this film when it played on the television is the USA where I was on holiday. I was about 9 years old at the time and became entranced with this film. Whenever it played on TV from then on, in the following years I could never resist the pull. I know this is not a very sophisticated film with some pseudoscience and unlikely events but I think it is the human spirit and the way the characters try to survive and help each other that appeals to me. The mission that Quaid’s character undertakes walking from Washington DC to New York to save his son has such a powerful message about the love a parent contains for their child. His colleagues accompany him just as they would to the Antarctic without second thought. My favourite sub-genre of film is disaster films because of this movie. Seeing New York be flooded in such a way truly shows the power of the earth and while the events of the film are fictional, it does send a warning about climate change that many people are not heeding at this moment.

2. What Happens in Vegas (2008)

Synopsis – Two strangers go for a wild weekend in Vegas with their best friends. After getting married while drunk and then winning big on the jackpot, they must stay married for 6 months to keep the money. With court ordered marriage counselling, work, living together, exes and family to negotiate, will Jack and Joy make it the full six months?

Cast – The couple in the film are played by Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. Both amazing actors in their own rights. Kutcher coming from television and doing a range of romantic comedies, and dramas whereas Diaz from a more film background with experience in voice acting, comedy and rom-coms. The chemistry between the two in the film is one of the main draws for me. At the beginning, I believe that they really despise each other but there is still an energy between the two. They are both great at physical comedy which is used a fair amount in the film. The best friends played by Lake Bell and Rob Cordry also have a fierce hate-hate relationship that makes for a fun sub-plot. I have seen both in a number of different films and while Bell leans more towards drama and sophisticated comedy, Cordry is very much in the stoner comedy world. The therapist played by Queen Latifah is a great role for her as she has the command to play her role well while still using comedy.

Review – I love this film. I discovered it by buying the DVD from a shop while abroad and as the cover was not in English I went by the actors. This is easily my favourite romantic comedy of all time. I have seen it probably over 10 times which is a lot for me as apart from the films on this list and a couple of others I hardly re-watch anything more than once or twice. It is a film that is great to watch if you’re happy or sad or feeling poorly or bored or anything. I always find new things and there are so many great actors. Jason Sudeikis also has a significant role as well as Zach Galifianakis, Treat Williams and Krysten Ritter. The title gives a little idea to the events but does not give us clues to the main chunk of the film. The scene at the end where Jack proves that he knows Joy by finding her in her happy place always makes me feel that love really does exist.

3. Mamma Mia! (2008)

Synopsis – The film is based on the hit musical and the songs of pop group ABBA. Growing up on a remote Greek island with her mother, Donna, Sophie has never known her father but when her and boyfriend, Sky decide to get hitched, Sophie sends out invitations to three potential fathers she has read about in Donna’s diary. Hilarity and drama ensues when all three turn up and Donna along with her friends and bandmates, Tanya and Rosie navigate seeing her three old flames all at once. The plot is shaped by ABBA’s iconic music with all the actors doing their own singing.

Cast – This film has a strong ensemble cast with all the actors being Hollywood greats or at least well known. Sophie played by Amanda Seyfried may only be 20 but has a great presence in the film and can certainly hold her own against her mother. Prior to this point, Seyfried did mainly television with an exception as a mean girl. Dominic Cooper has a film and theatre background and has since done a mix of things including television and film. The brilliant Meryl Streep as Donna is one of the best casting decisions and as she sung all her songs live proves that she is not just a serious dramatic actress. She was offered more musical roles after this film. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are great side kicks for Donna each bringing their own personalities as dry and sarcastic wit along with honest and comedic assurance. The three fathers also blend well together despite playing different nationalities. Changing Bill’s nationality from Australian to Swedish for the film works great and Stellan Skarsgård plays a great sailor/lone wolf. I was surprised at Bill’s identity when I saw the musical in 2017. Pierce Brosnan is often thought of as the worst singer in the film but I think he holds his own and injects a lot of emotion particularly with his duets with Meryl. He previously played James Bond so this role is definitely a turn around and started a romantic comedy phase for him. Colin Firth as Harry also shows a different side from his early television and film days and I love the trope that all his characters get wet while wearing a white shirt as a nod to his Austen days. He also is the only gay character in the film and while it is not a main story point it is still there and never discriminated against.

Review – I do not quite remember my first viewing of this film but it would have been soon after it came out. It is something of a family favourite in my household with viewings almost yearly and many listens of ABBA in between. I always sing along and I think the story carries a real truth about family not being all about your biological offspring but your chosen family. There are some great dance numbers and being set in Greece gives the film a wonderful edge that it would not have if set in the UK or US. I also love the sequel to the film and saw in the cinema while on holiday as I couldn’t wait. I have also recently watched it when the original was not available. The first Mamma Mia! will always be my favourite and holds a special place on this list.

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban (2004)

Synopsis – It is third year at Hogwarts for Harry, Ron and Hermione. They are teenagers now and the danger levels are rising. A prisoner has escaped from Azkaban, Harry is seeing deadly omens and Hagrid is now a teacher. This film is the first to take a darker turn but uses new elements such as time travel to bring a new flavour to the series.

Cast – The cast remains almost the same as the previous films with a few additions and one replacement. Sadly Richard Harris passed away after filming the second film so the character of Dumbledore is played from now on by Michael Gambon. He does a great job and I think of him as the better Dumbledore. He has more style and agility than Harris who was more of a grandfather figure. New additions also include Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry’s father’s friend and David Thewlis as Professor Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and another of Harry’s father’s friends. The fourth member of the Marauders is also made known later on as Peter Pettigrew or Wormtail played by Timothy Spall. The Marauders all do a great job in their roles especially in a scene between the three of them at the Shrieking Shack and appear in the later films. The Golden Trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione take on new challenges this year and Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson do a great job bringing these characters from children to teenagers. The teachers, Professor Snape, McGonagall and Hagrid all have significant roles to play as we get to see new sides to all of them with Snape’s protectiveness over the trio; McGonagall’s honesty and pity for Harry and his family and Hagrid vulnerability and softer side over Buckbeak. Matthew Lewis as Neville and Tom Felton as Malfoy shine as always. These films have such big casts that it is hard to talk about all of them but I have focused on who has a bigger role this time around.

Review – This film has always been my favourite of the Harry Potter series but as a film itself it has many great elements that all come together well. I feel that the costumes are showing the character’s progression into teenhood as well as the sets and special effects. Having so many characters in the final showdown could have been tricky to navigate but everyone has their role and no scene feels clunky. New magic is also introduced with the Marauders Map, new creatures, Divination classes, the Patronus Charm and Dementors. I used to watch this film many times over with a friend when were in our Harry Potter Phase around 9 years old but I do not remember my first viewing. I love all of the films but this is the one I return to the most.

5. Rocketman (2019)

Synopsis – The story of Elton John from his early years as a piano student to fame, fortune and rehab. The plot is told through Elton’s music along with performances at the Troubadour, Dodger Stadium and around the world. Even though he falls into a dark world of sex, drugs and rock and roll he makes it out.

Cast – The stand out of the film is of course Taron Egerton as Elton John. I never really thought about their similarities as before the film I was not a big Elton John fan so had little idea of his appearance in the 70s/80s. Egerton does a great job at showing the highs and the lows of the character as well as Elton’s quest in life to be loved as himself despite his mother and manager/lover telling him otherwise. The singing is great and I personally prefer Egerton’s versions to the originals. Prior to the film, Egerton played a spy, an Olympian, a soldier and an outlaw with little singing experience apart from as an animated gorilla. Richard Madden as John Reed, Elton’s manager and lover does a great job at making Elton believe that he truly loves him and wants him to be a success but then his true nature comes out as Elton becomes rich and an addict. John’s villainy gave Elton something to rebel against and helped him pull himself out of the gutter. Bryce Dallas Howard is not someone I thought would be in a musical as a firm English mother but she played the role well and was a very emotional singer. Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s song writing partner and best friend was also a good supporter to Egerton but I feel his role was to help Elton in times of crisis rather than anything else. Kit Connor as young Elton was also very good and his songs were great too. He has really rose to fame in the last few years and is popping up everywhere.

Review – I have always been a fan of musicals as this list shows but I think what grabbed me about this film was the music more than anything. I listened to the soundtrack on repeat for about a year after it came out and I did see this film in the cinema which is the first of the five on the list. It is also the only film made in the 2010s but sometimes with films its about a certain feeling or connection that comes instantly rather than over time. I have actually only seen the film two or three times but have listened to the full soundtrack hundreds of times which gives you the bare bones of the story anyway. I also love the bond between Taron and Elton. They both were in the second Kingsman film and Taron sang an Elton John song in Sing as a gorilla so the two were destined to work together again. This film showed at the Cannes Film Festival which is unusual for a studio biopic but thoroughly deserved. Since the film, Taron and Elton have performed together many times and Taron has stayed over at Elton and David’s house. This connection really enhanced the film for me and I’m sure it gave a lift to Egerton’s performance. Elton and his husband, David also served as producers on the film which helped with the reality of the story. Many biopics are made without the person’s involvement or after their death so Elton’s involvement helped the film immensely.

Happy Watching,

Robyn