This British/American Classic is not a Christmas film to be missed. I consider it in my top 5 of all time Christmas films and I make sure to re-watch every year. Nancy Meyers is great writer/director who has done some other great films including The Parent Trap (1998), It’s Complicated, The Intern and Something’s Gotta Give. Her ability to navigate between the two story lines in the US and UK is to be commended. I personally always think of this film as British because the Americans call a holiday, a vacation but it is a hybrid.
The film follows the lives of Iris and Amanda. At the beginning of the film, Iris finds out her ex-boyfriend that she is still in love with is engaged and he neglected to tell her first despite leading her on and getting her to edit his book for free. We see at a low point in her cottage in Surrey until she gets a message from Amanda. She lives in Los Angeles and is very successful as a film trailer editor. The beginning of her story starts with her finding out her boyfriend whom she lives with has cheated on her. She kicks him out but cannot cry about the event. She decided to get away for the holidays and finds Iris’ house on a house swap website. They decide to switch houses in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
In Surrey, Amanda meets Graham, Iris’ brother and the two start a whirlwind relationship. She tries to move on from Ethan, her ex and becomes vulnerable for the first time since she was a teenager. In L.A., Iris meets Arthur, a retired screenwriter who worked with some of Hollywood’s greats. She also befriends Miles, a film score composer who works with Ethan. The two bond with Arthur and his friends while Miles awaits his girlfriend, Maggie’s return.
I really enjoy this film, I think it is well-written and well acted and the scenery is wintery in England and gives you some winter sun in America. I wouldn’t say it was overly Christmassy but it is definitely a festive film. This is a film for older viewers, ages 12 and up so not one to watch with the kids but it does tug on your heart strings and is full of surprises that any good script should have. Overall 5/5.
This was initially going to just be a review of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood but I decided to include a couple of others I saw in the cinema. A Rainy Day in New York was one I went to for the actors and even though the performances were good, Woody Allen’s direction and writing did not work. Animals, directed by Sophie Hyde, was a screening I attended on my shift at the small cinema I volunteer at. Bizarrely, no one turned up. Below, I’m going to examine why these films have not done so well. Plus what I think of the latest Tarantino.
This was initially going to just be a review of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood but I decided to include a couple of others I saw in the cinema this month. A Rainy Day in New York was one I went to for the actors and even though the performances were good, Woody Allen’s direction and writing did not work. Animals, directed by Sophie Hyde, was a screening I attended on my shift at the small cinema where I volunteer. Bizarrely, no-one turned up. Below, I’m going to examine why these films have not done so well. Plus what I think of the latest Tarantino.
A Rainy Day in New York
As a fan of Timothée Chalamet and his Oscar nominated performance in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (Now on Netflix) I wanted to see this film for his performance. I saw it in a cinema in Turkey on holiday this summer. It has yet to be released in the UK or US. The film has faced lots of controversy due to allegations against writer and director Woody Allen. I’m not here to debate his actions but let me just say that I do not agree with them and by watching the film I am in no way defending Woody Allen. Many of the cast have also tried to distance themselves from the film and have donated their salaries to the charity ‘Time’s Up’ which fights for fair treatment of men and women in many industries but specifically the Hollywood business.
Now on to the film. The basic premise involves college couple Gatsby (Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) going to New York City for an interview Ashleigh has landed with a director. Gatsby wants to turn the weekend into showing her his favourite spots as a New York Native and meeting his family. They quickly get separated as Ashleigh gets involved in the dramas of the director (Liev Schreiber), his screenwriter (Jude Law)and hotshot actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna). Gatsby connects with his ex-girlfriend’s younger sister, Chan (Selena Gomez) and ends up taking her to the activities.
The synopsis doesn’t sound so bad but the writing and many plot points turned this film into a sexist, unbelievable film. For starters, all the characters speak to each other as though they are doing a PhD in linguistics. The language is filled with metaphors and references that the target audience, 16-24, would not understand. I certainly did not understand it neither did the person I went with. As for the sexism, Ashleigh goes to do a one hour interview with a director and ends up having emotional and physical affairs with three different older men in one day. She is a smart young woman and seeing all these older men taking advantage of her is so remnant of the #MeToo movement that Allen is involved in its almost funny. Most people would not just abandon their boyfriends to go off with older men despite how clever or sexy they are. Ashleigh was also playing the part of the dumb blond. She could never remember which hotel she was staying in. She may never have been to New York except for once in her childhood but anyone can remember one name.
Ashleigh’s naivety and Gatsby’s pursuit of Chan despite once dating her sister and being in a relationship are some of the points of the film that really did not work for me. Also, the coincidences of people just happening to run into each other was too unbelievable. Once or twice for the rom com effect maybe but New York is not as small as it appeared to be in this film. The ending where Chan and Gatsby just know to meet in the same place was cute but too far-fetched. Another scene where Gatsby’s mother confesses to being an escort before she met his father didn’t add anything to the plot. This is practically the only scene we see them interact.
One other issue I had was that despite having smartphones, the film could have been set in the 80s/90s. The characters never went on social media which is an every day necessity of Generation Z or took any photos. They only used their phones for the occasional text or call. I think if you’re going to write a film in modern day New York you have to use the technology and environment of the present day. You could tell that it was written by someone who is not familiar with what the younger generation actually do or talk about.
Overall the actors did the best with what they had but it just felt like any other Woody Allen film from days gone by. I half expected Diane Keaton to pop up in a baggy suit. 2/5.
Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood
I finally got around to seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film. It was definitely not what I expected but after reflecting for a few weeks was typical of Tarantino’s personal style, elevated by the talented cast. I am not a huge fan of Tarantino having seen about half of his filmography which is not hard as he has only made nine films. My favourite is Inglorious Basterds but Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is definitely up there. I really enjoyed the setting and aesthetic of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The film revolves around several characters, many stars from the time. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an action star is becoming edged out of the business and feels like his glory days are over. His friend and stunt man, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is struggling with his own life being over and how he’s going to survive in his trailer.
Rick lives next door to Hollywood director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). They are rarely seen together as Roman is always away filming. Sharon is often seen with her ex, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). Rick is trying to get more roles as the leading man but ends up doing many guest TV episodes as the one off villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) suggests he find more leading man roles otherwise the public will start to see him as the villain.
Meanwhile, Cliff has his own plot going on as he meets Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) from a nearby cult run by ‘Charlie’ who is actually Charles Manson. I was aware that the story evolved around Sharon Tate and Charles Manson and thought it would show the famous murder but it had a more spectacular, fictonal ending. Anyway, Cliff visits the ranch where the cult live to check on an old friend, George Spahn (Bruce Dern).
Other highlights include Sharon going to the cinema to see her new film and not being recognised; Rick being told by his young co-star ‘that was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen’; a fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt shirtless on a roof. The ending was in true Tarantino style, violent and over the top. It involved members of the cult breaking into Rick’s house and ends with mauling, stabbing and one of the intruders being torched by Rick’s flame gun. Although the violence was over the top for the film, it was true to Tarantino’s style.
Overall I really enjoyed the film and the Hollywood setting really made it for me. The calibre of acting was amazing and it was great to see Leo and Brad vibing off each other. The script was great and all the shop fronts, cars, costumes and props really helped you believe it was 1969. 4/5.
I had not heard much about this film other than seeing in it on the programme but I think it was a shame that no one turned up to see it. It had a quality that really drew you to the characters and I certainly became invested in their story. It centres on two women, Laura and Tyler, roommates and best friends living in Ireland. They party most nights but when Laura finds a connection with musician Jim, she tries to pull away from her life with Tyler.
The raw honesty in this film, based on a book by Emma Jane Unsworth, was one of the best parts about it. Female friendships are often shown as rock solid and always loving and supportive but the rockiness and co-dependency of Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler’s (Alia Shawkat) friendship was really refreshing to see. We can see the world through both of their eyes. Laura is fed up of being told how great she is by Tyler despite not doing any work. She claims to be a writer but has only done 10 pages in the last decade. Tyler constantly tells her how talented she is but when it comes to actually writing Laura draws a blank and goes back to drinking and partying with Tyler.
Tyler meanwhile doesn’t seem to have many ambitions other than having a brilliant night every night. Her outfits are outrageous and cool. Clothes we all wish we could pull off before throwing on jeans and a nice top. She is very insecure about Laura’s whirlwind relationship with Jim and their engagement seems to be the catalyst to set off the divide between them. Tyler turns 30 but doesn’t feel like she should clean up her act until Laura moves out.
Laura seeing her wild little sister have a baby and settled into family life drives her to want to marry Jim but the pair don’t actually have that much in common. The hopelessness and pressure to write something good was greatly shown by Laura. She had a fear of never being brilliant so didn’t really try.
I think that no one turned up as it had not been greatly advertised and most of the cast and crew aren’t widely known. Marketing is so important in today’s era when there is so much choice.
Overall I enjoyed the film and was an honest portrait of women with no male gaze thanks to the female director, Sophie Hyde. An enjoyable watch that will make you feel better about your own failures. 3/5.
This concludes my three films for this post. No 5/5s for this week but not every film you see is going to be amazing. They all had their own qualities though.
Other films I have enjoyed recently are Dead in a Week… Or Your Money Back; The Back-Up Plan and Tall Girl. Now that I am back at university, I hope to start going to the cinema more often.