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

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

Little Women

After hearing the announcement of the cast featuring Saoirse Ronan, Timotheé Chalamet, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep I became very excited. The director Greta Gerwig is one of the only female directors to be nominated for an Oscar for Lady Bird. That was a film I also absolutely loved and it also starred Saoirse and Timotheé. As Laurie and Jo, the pair were just stunning. Every little movement and look heightened the possibility of a love story between the two.

This film really means a lot to me for a number of reasons so this review was always going to be a love letter to Little Women but after seeing the film yesterday, I was truly moved and surprised by the version I saw. This will contain spoilers as it has been out for a while so turn back now if you want to watch in the future although the story has been around for 150 years.

Years ago I tried to read the book of Little Women but gave up due to the complex language. However, after seeing the BBC adaptation at Christmas, a couple of years ago starring Maya Hawke, Kathryn Newton and Michael Gambon, I fell in love with the story. The strength in all of the sisters living in the times they did but managing to be such strong characters was something I really cherished. The fact that it was published in the 1860s in a time when women were not particularly valued as authors really shows the power of the little women.

After hearing the announcement of the cast featuring Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep I became very excited. The director Greta Gerwig is one of only a few female directors to be nominated for an Oscar for Lady Bird. That was a film I also absolutely loved and it also starred Saoirse and Timothée. As Laurie and Jo, the pair were just stunning. Every little movement and look heightened the possibility of a love story between the two.

The story of Little Women follows four sisters: Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth March in 1850s America. The Civil War is raging during their childhood with their father away fighting. They live in a modest house in Concord, Massachusetts with their mother, Marmee (Dern) and their maid, Hannah (Jayne Houdyshell). They are restricted by society at the time of how a woman should present herself and do with her life i.e. get married and have children. They often lament at being poor compared to their friends and others but are soon put in their place after helping out a local family with 5 young children living in one room.

Each sister has their own story, Jo is boyish and doesn’t want to marry. She loves writing and is constantly writing plays for her sisters to act in. Jo is also the main character of the story as it is mainly told from her perspective. Jo’s dream is to live in New York and become a novelist.

The next sister is Amy. She is younger than Jo and Meg and is annoyed at being treated as a baby all the time. For example, she is not allowed to go with Meg and Jo to a dance. She has aspirations of becoming an artist as she loves to paint. She is also cultured and is in ways the smartest sister. She is picked to go to Paris with Aunt March as she knows French and is a good companion.

The sister with perhaps more humble aspirations is Meg (Watson). We hear from Jo of her dreams to be an actress and Jo even suggests running away together but Meg corrects her that she wants to be a wife and live a quiet, happy life. Meg is the oldest sister and often goes to balls or dances which is required to hopefully meet an eligible rich man to marry.

The youngest and most fragile of the sisters is Beth (Eliza Scanlen). She is not interested in finding anyone and her biggest dream is for all of them to be together. She has skills at the piano and Mr Laurence (Chris Cooper) is taken to Beth and even gives her his grand piano. Beth is the kindest and least selfish sister. She even gets scarlet fever visiting the poor family when her sisters keep forgetting.

Laurie played by Timothée Chalamet is a character that interacts with every sister in a way. He lives next door to the March Family with his grandfather. From meeting Jo and Meg at a dance he is enamoured with Jo. She is bold and fierce and cares deeply. They become best friends but Jo never sees him that way. He becomes more relaxed and even angry when he meets Amy in Paris after being rejected by Jo. His nature is a caring one but has a temper that can match Amy’s. Not having any women in his life draws him to the March family and their business. There are many scenes where the sisters are all talking at once but understanding each other. Timothée and Saoirse have great chemistry from playing love interests in Lady Bird so it is not hard to imagine them together as Jo and Laurie which is needed as the audience need to believe in the potential of Jo and Laurie ending up together.

Marmee is a a character that encompasses all the sisters. Greta Gerwig said in an interview that a part of Marmee’s character went to each sister. Her anger at life to Jo, her caring nature to Beth, her desire to be a wife and mother to Meg and her boldness to Amy. Laura Dern is a very dynamic actress and I loved her portrayal of Marmee.

Meryl Streep was brilliant as Aunt March, her comic timing and straight talking brought an authority to Aunt March who acted as a role model to the girls especially Amy and Jo who often sat with their aunt. She never held back any thoughts which was unusual for a woman of the time and she also never married which was even more unusual. There’s a great part where Jo is trying to sell her novel to her publisher and he insists that if the main character is a woman she must be married or dead by the end. That was how society saw a woman’s place in that part of the world.

Greta’s interpretation of the story surprised me as it was not told traditionally. We started with the girls in their adulthood, Jo in New York, Meg married with children, Beth sick and Amy in Paris. The film then went back and forth between the glow of their childhood and the coldness of their adulthood. A few moments that really moved me were Beth’s death, Jo rejecting Laurie, Jo seeing her book ‘Little Women’ being printed, Meg getting married, Laurie finally choosing Amy and the ending where the sisters are all together at Aunt March’s house now turned into a school.

All of the actors were very good at their roles and two have been nominated for Oscars – Florence Pugh for her fierce and bold portrayal of Amy and Saoirse Ronan for her feisty and tempestuous role as Jo.

I think this film will become a classic in the days to come and a masterclass in how to take a well-known, well-portrayed tale and weave it into an emotional, dramatic performance that leaves you feeling like you have lived as a March sister in their house in Concord. Overall I give this film 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.

Review: The Post and Oscar Nominations

Hello readers,

I recently saw The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep so I am going to write my review and talk a bit about the context of the film and what it means in today’s climate in the USA. Also I am going to share my opinions on some of the Oscar nominations.

The Post (2017)

The Post is set in 1971 and tells the story of the Washington Post trying to print the Pentagon Papers – around 7,000 pages of government secrets about the relations between the United States and Vietnam for over 20 years. The information was kept quiet by the government to protect themselves until Dan Ellsberg, who worked for the Department of Defence, leaked the papers to the New York Times. The paper was told not to print any more of the secret documents unless they wanted to be taken to court by the US government. The Washington Post who wanted to be taken seriously as a national newspaper, found the source and decided to also print the Pentagon Papers. They all have to face decisions between obeying federal law and avoiding jail or fighting for the freedom of information and letting the public know what their government had been doing.

The Vietnam War had many casualties including over 50,000 American soldiers. 100,000 men were sent to fight by President Kennedy. Four US Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon were involved in the Vietnam War and authorised thousands of troops being sent to fight in a war they knew they could not win.

Apart from Government secrets being kept from the people and freedom of the press, another issue addressed in The Post was sexism. Although Katharine Graham was the publisher of the Post, she still had to prove herself worthy enough of being on the board of the paper. She was the only woman on the Post’s board. For example, at an important meeting for the Post, when she was trying to get investors to back selling stocks for The Washington Post, Ms Graham had prepared her speech and another man next to her took over her speech. She did eventually manage to command the room and the decision to print the Pentagon Papers came down to her and not a man.

Overall I think the Post was a great film and very relevant to today’s US Government and the ideas of ‘fake news’ and the rigging of elections. I give the Post 5/5.

Also in other film news this week is the release of the Oscar nominations for this year’s awards. Many great films, actors, directors and other crew members were nominated.

Image result for oscars 2018

The biggest award of the night, Best Picture has many great contenders. I have only seen Call Me By Your Name (which I wrote about in November) and The Post but I hope to see a few more before the awards are handed out on March 4th. Personally, I think Call Me By Your Name was one of the best films of the year in terms of storyline, the actors, the setting, the director and the score. It has been nominated for 4 Oscars in total including Best Actor for Timothée Chalamet, Best Adapted Screenplay, James Ivory and Best Original Song – ‘Mystery of Love’ by Sufjan Stevens.

Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Other great films in the Best Picture category are Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill and how he helped to win WWII; Dunkirk, about the famous battle of Dunkirk in WWII and the rescuing of over 300,000 troops from France; The Shape of Water which has a staggering 13 nominations and is about a woman connecting with an alien in the 1950s; and Get Out, a horror film about an interracial couple visiting the woman’s white parents for the weekend.

All of these films have received high praise so far, and have done well in other award shows. Darkest Hour directed by Joe Wright has a total of 6 Oscar nominations including Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Make Up and Hairstyling. Gary Oldman has already won the Golden Globe and SAG Award for his role as Churchill. This year was the first time he has won any awards.

Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Lily James in Darkest Hour (2017)

The war film Dunkirk directed by Christopher Nolan has 8 Oscar nominations including Best Sound Editing, Best Film Editing, Best Director, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Score.  Starring in the film is Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles and Mark Rylance. Christopher Nolan has also been nominated for the David Lean Award for Direction at the BAFTAs this year.

Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk (2017)

The Shape of Water has nominations in many categories including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score and Screenplay, Best Sound Editing and Mixing and Best Cinematography. This comeback from Guillermo Del Toro, is set in the Cold War and stars women as the important characters.

Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017)

Get Out has 4 Oscar nominations in total including Best Director and Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya. Kaluuya has also been nominated for an EE Rising Star BAFTA Award for his breakthrough role.

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out (2017)

The other Best Picture nominations are Lady Bird, Phantom Thread and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

I hope that Timothée Chalamet wins Best Actor, but I predict that Gary Oldman will win as he has already won a Golden Globe and SAG Award for his outstanding portrayal of Winston Churchill.

I would like Margot Robbie or Meryl Streep to win Best Actress for their roles in I, Tonya and The Post. I think any of the nominees, also including Sally Hawkins, Saoirse Ronan and Frances McDormand could win.

For Best Director, I would like to see Greta Gerwig win as she is the only female nominee and her work is outstanding or Jordan Peele, for Get Out, his amazing debut. I feel like Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk or Guillermo Del Toro for The Shape of Water may win the Oscar.

The other awards are still important but I have picked a select few to comment on. If you feel inclined, please leave a comment below with who you want to win at this year’s Oscars.

Happy Watching,

Robyn 🙂