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

Love Actually – 1st December

This ensemble comedy from 2003 is widely considered the best British Christmas film. With some of the best British and American actors, many of whom have become household names, this film is full to the brim with talent. It shows different characters in the lead up to Christmas, the newly-wed couple and love-struck best man; the cheated writer who finds a new beau in France; the prime minister and his assistant; the widowed husband and his love-sick step-son; the stand ins with chemistry; the boss and his assistant and his wife; the Brit abroad looking for love in the US; the American who has loved the same man for 2 years but has a troublesome brother and the old pop star and his manager trying to get a new Christmas number one.

An element I really love is that all the characters tie in with each other or bump into each other a some point or another. A few stand out moments are Hugh Grant’s dancing; Natalie’s crazy family and Rowan Atkinson packing a Christmas gift.

I have watched this film every Christmas for the last five years or so, since I discovered it and will definitely be watching it again this year. I give it 5/5.

American vs Turkish Cinemas: A.L Fox recalls her Summer Experiences

Hello readers,

This is another post by A.L. Fox, my talented guest writer. This time she has written about three different cinemas in two different countries she has visited this summer.

Happy Watching

Robyn 🙂

There’s more to the cinema experience than simply absorbing the themes and colours that stimulate the senses from the screen, and hopefully stir our emotions – in a good way.  Many of us still visit the cinema to watch a film even though we can generally view most films from the comfort of our own homes.

So why do we continue to go out to see a film?

Often, it is to be sociable and share an experience with friends or a loved one or sometimes, that we want to be the first to see a new blockbuster release or, on occasion, to be challenged by new worlds and ways of seeing. There are many demands on our leisure time these days, and we have screens wherever we go, whether it’s a phone, a tablet, or a laptop but we still go to the cinema. In this century, around 150 million people still visit the cinema every year in the UK. Of course, this is a considerable drop from the 1.5 billion that went in the heyday of the Second World War. But now there are so many different ways of watching a film.

With so much competition for our eyes, cinemas have become much more than just a screen; they are places where you can eat, play video games – and eat mountains of popcorn. Most are multiplexes offering 3D and a very different experience from the cinemas of old. Now you book online, choose a seat, collect your ticket from a machine and don’t have to speak to anyone. It’s not quite the same everywhere in the world, though.

America is the home of cinema and there will probably be as many different cinemas as there are States but going to the cinema in New York is like stepping back in time. We were in the Big Apple when Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again opened so, naturally, we had to go. Bizarrely, the weather wasn’t as hot as we’d been led to believe; it rained and so that was another factor in our decision. The AMC chain is the biggest US cinema chain but the one on W 34th St felt as though it remained untouched since it opened in the 50s. First, we had to get to the 4th floor; there were the usual food stalls – and popcorn but also, gambling machines. We bought our tickets, and chose a seat; on the screen there were gaps between the seats – and, in the cinema,  the seats were in pairs with a large table – for the food, between them. Sitting down, there was another surprise for there were acres of room between the rows. People were able to walk without asking others to move. Unsurprisingly, people didn’t stop eating throughout the film and American audiences aren’t exactly quiet; they do like to voice their opinions, or add their viewpoint to the action.

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AMC Cinema on W 34th St, New York City, USA

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For the record, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again was enjoyable – the beginning was a little flat but once the cast hit their stride about 30 minutes in, it became more like the first film – and that’s exactly what audiences were expecting. The film delivered but it wasn’t quite a match for the original. Now that sounds like a criticism, but it’s not meant as one. It is simply that the first film was so iconic. A special appearance by Cher was successfully woven into the plot and she provided enough glitz to offset the absence of Meryl Streep, although there were some scenes featuring Streep, so she wasn’t entirely missing.

Most of the other main characters from the first film had major roles in this one with the addition of a young Donna (Lily James) and her Dynamos (Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn) plus younger versions of Sophie’s three dads (Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner).

Now, talking of original – the Regal, the second cinema we visited in New York, on W 42nd St was definitely like stepping into the 50s again. Here, the seats were black leather armchairs that extended to support your feet, almost to the point of becoming a bed. The carpets had the letter of the rows woven into it and the decor hadn’t been touched for decades. Here, we saw Incredibles 2; a film that had been on general release for some weeks so it wasn’t busy. We did get the noise of audience participation once again, and it was loud  – the sound turned up to echo over the comments.

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Regal Cinema W 42nd St, New York City, USA

Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Brad Bird, Sarah Vowell, Eli Fucile, and Huck Milner in Incredibles 2 (2018)

As for the film itself, it was definitely worth watching. It had all the impact and colour of the first film with an updated plot to reflect changes in society. This time, it was Elastigirl or Helen Parr’s time in the spotlight. She went to save the world while Mr Incredible became a stay-at-home dad. As ever, the action was fast-paced and attention-grabbing for both children and adults. The animation was brilliant and shows that Disney Pixar is not just for kids.

Both experiences were good; if you get the chance to visit either of these cinemas then take it; a different experience but a good contrast and it makes you appreciate the relative quiet of British audiences – unless, you’re unfortunate enough to sit next to the person who never stops eating. There are people who believe calories consumed in the dark don’t count as they munch continuously for the length of the film and that can be a big distraction but then, it’s all part of the cinema experience.

And what’s still part of the cinema experience in Turkey is – the intermission. Yes, they have a break in the middle of the film! We were watching Mission Impossible – Fallout 3D – and, at a particularly tense moment in the action, the screen went dark. An electrical fault? No, it was an interval. People went out and returned with more food, it may even have been a break for the smokers but it was only one hour into the film and it did break the flow.

Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett, Ving Rhames, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

The MI films are all fast-paced with plenty of action; there are no slow sections where a break could be achieved without interrupting this flow so it did spoil the experience – for me, at least. We didn’t mind the subtitles – some Hollywood films are dubbed but most are shown in English – but that break did upset the concentration. However, even though this is the sixth film in the franchise, it still captured the hearts and minds of the audience with a good story, death-defying stunts and enough dialogue to explain the plot points. Tom Cruise playing the lead Ethan Hunt was brilliant as always and supported by a sterling cast featuring Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin.

Three films, three different experiences; if you do get the opportunity to visit the cinema in another country then go – it may even make you appreciate what you have at home. As for costs, in the US we paid about £10/£12 for each ticket and in Turkey, we paid a bit less but, in terms of comparable costs relative to the country, tickets are much the same price.