TV Shows I’ve been watching this month

Hello readers,

As lockdown is easing gradually in the UK and life hopefully will be returning to its pre-pandemic state, cinemas will be opening and production will increase. However, we are not quite there yet and this month I have been mainly watching television programmes that I find comfort in and sticking to old favourites. With real life becoming more exciting soon, maybe my watching habits will as well. The five shows I am going to write about in this post are all ones that have been in my life in some form for a while. For example while WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are new shows they are a continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the 23 films that culminated in Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Both of these shows pick up after Endgame and focus on some heroes who have not had their own films.

Shameless US – Netflix

I first became aware of this show around a year ago through a friend. I was introduced through the characters of Ian and Mickey and their ground-breaking relationship. For me they have been a great example of a romance that is not conventional or stereotypically confined by their sexuality. The show as a whole is set in Southside Chicago where every character has to fight for survival.

Shameless centres around the Gallagher family, the same as the UK version which this version is based upon but that is where the similarities stop plot wise. The family is headed by eldest sister, Fiona who is 21 in the first season. She has been raising her siblings since she was young and officially since she was 16 and her mother ran off from the family for good. Next is Lip, short for Philip, the smartest in the family with a high IQ who is 16 in season 1. Then there is Ian who is gay and has set his sights on the military by attending a junior cadet programme. He is 15 in season 1. After Ian comes Debbie, she is determined and is the only one of the Gallagher clan to still love her father. After her is Carl, a reckless kid with his heart in the right place. The youngest Gallagher is Liam, who is a baby in season one and somehow black with two white parents. Frank Gallagher is their father who is more interested in money, drugs and creating social change than his kids.

The show follows their lives and all the ups and downs. Other main characters are Kevin and Veronica who live near the Gallaghers and have formed a close bond with Fiona. Kevin works at the Alibi, the local bar and V works as a nurse at a care home. Other notable characters from season one are Karen and Sheila Jackson who become involved with the Gallaghers and Mickey and Mandy Milkovich. Mandy is Ian’s best friend and he meets Mickey through her.

I am up to Season 8 of the show but all together there are 11 seasons with the final season (11) being shown on television currently. Only 9 are on Netflix but hopefully the newer ones will be added soon. While this show is definitely for adults with lots of swearing, nudity and drugs; there is a lot of heart and every character goes through an amazing journey with hardships and successes.

WandaVision

The first venture for Marvel into television form with Kevin Feige helming the shows. WandaVision follows the story after Endgame as mentioned above. We are introduced to a new agency, S.W.O.R.D who have taken over from S.H.I.E.L.D as the governing body associated with superheroes and the Avengers. A phenomenon occurs when the town of Westview is trapped in a forcefield that no-one can penetrate. At the centre is Wanda Maximoff living as a 1950s housewife with her husband, Vision, who fans will know perished in Infinity War at the hands of Thanos.

Wanda’s life is now in black and white with a cast of friends and co-workers and a laugh track. As her life moves through the decades into the 1960s, 70s and 80s; we learn why Wanda is living out sitcoms from different decades.

What makes this show unique is that WandaVision completely inhabits the techniques and styles of every television decade including the special effects and props of the time. This show is a continuation of Wanda and Vision’s story in the Marvel Universe and we learn more about Wanda’s life pre-Avenger but it is also an homage to the great American sitcoms of the last 70 years.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier

This show is also in the Marvel Universe but unlike WandaVision, it is more similar to the Marvel spectacles we are used to from the MCU. The show is being released weekly and only two episodes have been streamed so far but the story is beginning to take shape.

In the show, we see Sam Wilson or ‘Falcon’ and Bucky Barnes or ‘The Winter Soldier’ in the months after Endgame where the world is trying to adjust to half the population suddenly appearing again. Sam is still working for the government as a contractor with his Falcon technology and Bucky has gone down a more solitary path. He lives alone in New York as a newly pardoned contract killer. Apart from his therapy sessions and missions to make his past wrongs right, he doesn’t have much to do with the Avengers.

A new threat appears in the form of Karli Morgenthau and her crew. They are dedicated to making the world how it was before everyone came back. Terror attacks have been threatening the population around the globe so Sam persuades Bucky to team up once again. What really convinces him is the debut of a new Captain America. John Walker is as close to a super soldier as he can be, without the serum but Sam who gave up the shield, definitely does not approve.

Bucky is still attached to his life long friend, Steve Rogers and together Sam and Bucky get back into the action. So far we have had an episode on a back story for both Sam’s family in New Orleans and more of Bucky’s past and a second with some action scenes between the pair. One delight of the series to audiences is the comedy between them. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have had great comic chemistry since their interviews together for Captain America: The Winter Soldier back in 2014 and this series has amped up their natural back and forth to their on screen characters. A particular favourite scene is when Sam and Bucky are made to go through couple’s therapy with Bucky’s therapist.

Another element that I applaud Marvel for showing is race inequality. Sam as a black man gave up the Captain America mantle but then it was given to another white man. There is also a very pivotal scene where Bucky tries talking to another super soldier who was given the serum like him. This man was treated differently to Bucky however as he is black. After this revealing conversation, Sam is questioned by a passing policeman for arguing with Bucky and until Bucky tells the officer that Sam is an Avenger and a hero, Sam faces arrest.

Love, Victor

This show has been out for a while but I am watching it weekly on Disney Plus. It is based on the film Love, Simon that debuted in 2018 which is based on a book by Becky Albertalli. I loved the film of Love, Simon and the representation and awareness it brought to young adult audiences from a major studio. Love, Victor is in the same universe as Love, Simon but picks up the story from another point of view. Victor Salazar has just moved to Creekwood, Atlanta with his family and starts at the school where Simon went. He has some trouble adjusting to a more open and accepting society and trying to work out his own feelings so he messages Simon online for advice. This starts a dialogue between the two which is presented as a voice over from the original actor, Nick Robinson.

While Simon’s story was not easy, he was from a liberal white background whereas Victor’s family are Latino and religious. They also are not as open as Victor would hope so he has trouble even processing his feelings, let alone telling his family. He starts dating a fellow student, Mia and gets along well with her but he has an attraction to his co-worker, Benji who is openly gay and has a boyfriend.

I thought this show was a good twist on the point of view that studios normally show of a supportive and accepting family. Victor’s family is very close but he still fears their reaction. I am up to Episode 7 out of 10 and Season 2 is already confirmed so I will see how Victor’s story plays out.

Taskmaster

This show is one of my favourite game shows on TV as the format is never boring and all the contestants are comedians that I like. The aim of the game is to complete the tasks and then be judged by the Taskmaster to receive a maximum of five points. The winner of each episode gets to take home all the prize tasks. The show is currently on Series 11 and has had two episodes aired.

This series the contestants are Lee Mack, Jamali Maddox, Sarah Kendall, Mike Wozniak and Charlotte Ritchie. Each contestant pre-records their tasks with the help of Alex Horne, the Taskmaster’s Assistant at the Taskmaster house or sometimes on location around the area. The tasks can be creative, fun, tricky, challenging and really put people to the test. Many people complete the tasks in a unique and funny way which makes for great entertainment. The other entertaining part is watching the Taskmaster’s reaction in the studio and see the contestants plead their case for points.

This show does not need to be seen in order and I would recommend starting from series 4 or 5 as that is when the show really hits its stride.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

My Top 20 Films of 2020

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

Hello readers,

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

Onward – 10/10

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

Godmothered – 9/10

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

Dating Amber – 9/10

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

Palm Springs – 9/10

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

The Lovebirds – 9/10

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

The Old Guard – 9/10

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

The Half of It – 9/10

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

My Spy – 9/10

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

All The Bright Places – 9/10

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

Mulan – 8/10

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

The Prom – 8/10

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

Enola Holmes – 8/10

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

Work It – 8/10

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

Desperados – 8/10

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

The F**k-It List – 8/10

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

Extraction – 8/10

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

Birds of Prey – 8/10

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

The Boys in the Band – 7/10

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

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

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

Parasite – 7/10

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

Happy Watching,

Robyn

My Thoughts on Christmas TV shows

The show centres around Johanne, a 30-year-old nurse. She attends her family’s annual December 1st celebrations and when receiving many questions about her love life and lack of boyfriend, Johanne invents a boyfriend and has until Christmas Eve to find one. I think this premise works really well in Norway as December 1st is not a traditional family gathering in the UK or US so there would have to be another reason for the family to get together.

Hello readers,

It has been a strange and stressful year for most of us and I have not been watching as many Christmas films as of late but I have been watching and re-watching some Christmas TV shows. Before Christmas 2019, I did not think that television shows dedicated to Christmas were a genre but they have been popping up on Netflix and I have been watching. It’s a great way to get a short half-hour burst of festive content without dedicating 90 minutes or more to a film.

Merry Happy Whatever (2019)

This was the first and only series I saw in 2019 and kicked off the genre on Netflix for me. If you’re looking to watch something comforting and family-orientated, then Merry Happy Whatever should definitely be on your bucket list. It centres around the Quinn family and their family celebrations over the Christmas period. The main focus of the clan is Emmy who is the only sibling to have moved away from under her father’s thumb. She is also the youngest and this year is bringing her boyfriend, Matt to Christmas in Philadelphia from their home in Los Angeles. While there are some ups and downs during the get together, nothing terrible happens so this is also suitable for kids, especially those with short attention spans as every episode comes in around the 30 minute mark.

The show does have some Disney Channel vibes as there is no swearing or violence and although the dialogue is a little cheesy I think the show has real heart; a great diverse cast showing how American families truly are. Each of the siblings go on their own journey through the show and Emmy (played by Bridgit Mendler, a Disney Channel alum) gets to see that her family aren’t as picture perfect as she once thought and her father sees that he should not try and control his adult kids.

There are a couple of other familiar faces including another Disney alum, Ashley Tisdale and Dennis Quaid as Don Quinn, the patriarch of the family. It’s a nice change of pace to see a show set in a lesser shown city in America but you don’t get to see much of Philadelphia as the show is all shot on a stage or using only half a room to create the impression that it is all staged. Think of other US comedies like Friends or How I Met Your Mother and you get the idea.

Overall, I think the show did a great job at being one of the first shows to focus solely on Christmas and you never get caught up around the festivities too much as there are so many other plotlines that the holiday is more of a backdrop with an excuse for activities and the family gathering together. I watched this show last year and then again this year. It’s an easy watch and all of the actors make you feel relaxed and at home with just enough Christmas spirit.

Home for Christmas (2019-)

This show actually premiered in 2019 but I didn’t notice it until this year. With a second season dropping this December, Netflix must have been promoting it more. This show is a Norwegian original, set in Oslo, although this is never explicitly stated. I watched with subtitles as I’m sure most people will but it didn’t distract me from the humour or heart of the show. There are some genuinely laugh out loud moments in both series of the show along with romance and joy.

The show centres around Johanne, a 30-year-old nurse. She attends her family’s annual December 1st celebrations and when receiving many questions about her love life and lack of boyfriend, Johanne invents a boyfriend and has until Christmas Eve to find one. I think this premise works really well in Norway as December 1st is not a traditional family gathering in the UK or US so there would have to be another reason for the family to get together.

Johanne with the help of her friends and roommate starts actively looking for a boyfriend and has a few adventures along the way. She tries speed dating, online dating, dating older and younger men with a mix of results and in between finds time to celebrate December with her friends, family and colleagues. Every episode shows a few days in December leading up to Christmas Eve and Johanne’s big reveal. The setting of a snow-covered high street with lots of Christmas village-esque shops creates the perfect Christmas setting. By watching the show, you learn a lot about Scandi or Norwegian traditions and rituals and you get to see a lot of the city with the various dates Johanne goes on.

I won’t give away the ending but in the second season, it is a year later and Johanne is hosting Christmas this year and still looking for a boyfriend or possibly her true love. There are a lot of characters to balance in the show but I think it does it well. There could be a little more diversity in terms of LGBT characters but there are a couple in there. Norwegian is such a lovely language and I definitely picked up a few phrases while reading the subtitles. I used to not like foreign shows or films as much as I struggled to keep up with the subtitles but having watched more and with many foreign films gaining better international recognition, I have become more familiar with subtitles.

I don’t personally recognise any of the actors but having looked at their profiles on IMDb, there are some actors that have been in a lot of projects even some English-speaking ones. The cast is great with the actress playing Johanne as a stand-out. She is able to navigate all her relationships and emotions perfectly and you can always tell what she is thinking by a look or gesture. I watched the first series at the start of December and then the second shortly after it came out. Both series were really strong and having most of the characters come back again helped to unite the story from one year to the next.

Dash & Lily (2020)

The only new Christmas show on Netflix this year is based on a book by David Leviathan and Rachel Cohn who have also had their two other joint works made into films. I think this story needed to be a television show as there is a lot to show and the nature of a back and forth works well in this format.

Dash and Lily are both teenagers in New York City at Christmas time and they are both alone. Dash by choice and Lily by circumstance. Dash is a cynic and the Grinch of the pair whereas Lily loves Christmas and takes every chance to celebrate. The story starts with Dash finding a mysterious notebook in his favourite second-hand book store and follows the dares inside. He begins a back and forth between himself and Lily who started the book. They trade dares and secrets about each other and gradually come out of their shells. Lily is shy and never ventures far out of her comfort zone or area in New York and Dash believes that joy is dead after his girlfriend left town and his parents divorced. He tells them both he is with the other and plans to spend the holidays alone at his dad’s apartment.

Dash and Lily are each helped in the dares by their friends or family and they both gradually become more well-rounded people. Setting the story in New York City at Christmas creates many opportunities to show the hidden places in the city as well as many iconic locations such as Macy’s, Grand Central Station and Central Park. There are many spots that are not normally used in New York for filming so it is not just the same scenery you have seen a thousand times. There are a lot of emotions in the show with humour and festive cheer included as well as darker emotions. The show is certainly not shielding any realities but there is not any real threats or bad language so suitable for a family watch with older kids.

One of the best parts of the story is showing New York how it really is in terms of its residents and realities. The cast felt naturally diverse as New York has many different people living there with a secondary character having a gay relationship that was relevant and real. David Leviathan has written many books starring gay characters so I would expect nothing less and I am glad it translated over to the screen.

This show will help bring out your festive cheer and show you that there’s more to life than your neighbourhood.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

10 Films to watch in Quarantine

Another British classic, a comedy this time a family adventure. Doug and Abby are separating but put on a united front at Doug’s father’s 75th birthday. The family with Lottie, Mickey and Jess drive up to Scotland for the big event. Gordie is dying of cancer but wants one more day with the children while his other son, Gavin organises the big event. Hilarity and family realness ensues. I love this film as it is really funny in a less obvious way. British comedy is often more subtle than other forms and the chemistry between all the characters along with off hand on-liners and the children’s knack for timing makes this film watchable again and again. I re-watched this film yesterday and while I remembered it being funny, I had forgotten the heart and grief that was present. Yes there is a sadness to the film but real life isn’t all fun and games. I have seen this film at least three times and would highly recommend for anyone looking for a laugh. The views of Scotland also are breathtaking. 10/10 as I see no faults with this one.

Hello readers,

Apologies for not having posted for awhile. I got very busy with university work and then the Coronavirus hit. As I now have more time on my hands due to the government-imposed quarantine, I thought I would recommend 10 films to watch if you need an escape from the situation happening around the world at this time. I have used a mix of genres and these are all films I feel provide an escape into the world of cinema with different settings and destinations that show some locations that aren’t accessible at the moment. I’ve included Hollywood and British films. I have enjoyed all the films below and would recommend if you need something to watch. As ever all the film I recommend are available either on Amazon Prime or Netflix UK.

Everest (2015)

You may not think of this film as a likely choice to distract from a global pandemic but I watched it recently and for the whole film I was completely wrapped up in the story and the fate of the group. The film as you can probably guess is about climbing Mount Everest but as I didn’t know, it is based on a true story about a group of climbers in the 1990s who did not have a happy ending. I thought the film had great realism and gave a real portrayal of the difficulty needed when climbing the highest mountain on Earth. The acting was good, featuring some famous faces: Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley and Naoko Mori. 8/10 because it was quite sad at the end.

About Time (2013)

I have not watched this film in years but it is a classic British rom-com that I will be definitely be revisiting in this time period. Richard Curtis always delivers and this film is no different. It was a breakout role for Domhnall Gleeson establishing him as a lead. The film is set in the real world with a fun twist. In the film when Tim (Gleeson) turns 21, his father tells him of a family secret: when every male reaches 21, they have the ability to time travel within their own lives. He uses this new power to improve his own life in small ways. A really touching film with some good old British nostalgia. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Margot Robbie, Vanessa Kirby and Tom Hollander. 9/10 again for sadness factor but overall it is uplifting with beautiful scenery.

Lion (2016)

This real story tells an emotional journey about a boy who gets separated from his family in India while travelling across the country by train. He is then adopted by an Australian couple and grows up there. Cut to 25 years later and Saroo goes back to try and find his family. This film may have a simple premise but is an amazing true story and contains great scenery of India. It includes great performances from Dev Patel – best of his career-; Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. I have not seen this film for a couple of years but be prepared to cry. 8/10 a great story but not a 10/10 film.

Green Book (2018)

I happened to see this film after it won the Best Picture Oscar in 2019. When I heard it had won, I was annoyed that a film I hadn’t heard of won. This was before I saw it. One of my favourite films of last year. It was poignant, gentle, dramatic, socially aware. These are all qualities I look for in a good film. As a period piece, it held up with attitudes of the time particularly towards a black, gay man without being overly discriminatory. No main character was racist or homophobic towards Mahershala Ali’s character, Dr. Don Shirley. The films chronicles an Italian-American man acting as a security man for a classical pianist on his tour of the Southern States of the US. They face much backlash from establishments but form a strong bond that isn’t often seen between two older male characters, especially between those of different backgrounds and in the 1960s. I loved the vibe between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali and the fact that when Dr. Shirley is caught naked with another man, Tony (Mortensen) doesn’t so much as bat an eye lid. There could have been more female characters but there wasn’t really room for more than Linda Cardellini who played Tony’s wife, Dolores who stayed at home in New York. I give this film 10/10 as I did when I first watched it. I am really glad that it is available to watch online.

What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)

Another British classic, a comedy this time, a family adventure. Doug and Abby are separating but put on a united front at Doug’s father’s 75th birthday. The family with Lottie, Mickey and Jess drive up to Scotland for the big event. Gordie is dying of cancer but wants one more day with the children while his other son, Gavin organises the big event. Hilarity and family realness ensues. I love this film as it is really funny in a less obvious way. British comedy is often more subtle than other forms and the chemistry between all the characters along with off hand one-liners and the children’s knack for timing makes this film watchable again and again. I re-watched this film yesterday and while I remembered it being funny, I had forgotten the heart and grief that was present. Yes there is a sadness to the film but real life isn’t all fun and games. I have seen this film at least three times and would highly recommend for anyone looking for a laugh. The views of Scotland also are breathtaking. 10/10 as I see no faults with this one.

Long Shot (2019)

I wanted to put in an American rom com as well as British ones as the Americans also do comedy well. This film has elements of a stoner comedy as well as action and romance. Seth Rogen plays Fred who bumps into Charlotte, his babysitter and childhood crush. Charlotte is now big in politics and about to announce her candidacy for President. She hires Fred as a speech writer and the two set off on a round the world press tour and bond together. I thought this film was the right balance of comedy and drama with some very real danger but also heightened reality. I saw it in the cinema last year and will definitely be watching on Netflix again. 8/10 as some scenes are a little over the top but overall a good time with great female representation.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

I really love this film and have seen multiple times in both the cinema and on DVD. A fun way to update the Jumanji film from the 1990s featuring CGI and special effects as I’ve never seen before. The trope of body swapping has been newly revived with teenagers possessing the bodies of action heroes. The film starts by showing the game of Jumanji turning into a video game in 1996. A random boy gets sucked into the game. Cut to 2017 and group of kids find the video game in their school’s junk room while in detention. They then enter the game and must complete it to escape. A great mix of teenage angst mixed with action, comedy and the chemistry between Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. They are well-known friends and collaborators so seeing at as teenagers was fun. I would also recommend the second Jumanji film; Jumanji: The Next Level but it not on streaming platforms at the moment. I give this film 9/10 as it can sometimes feel a little bit of a boys world but the characters of Martha and Bethany do hold their own.

Chalet Girl (2009)

One of my favourite rom coms and again another British one. This time it’s a trip to Austria for a snow filled story. Kim, a skateboard star needs a job. She finds a position as a chalet girl for a rich family in Austria. She then decides to learn to snowboard using her skills from skateboarding. She begins to get out of her shell and have fun with her new friends. She also finds romance with Johnny, son of the family she caters for. Will he pick Kim over his girlfriend? Filled with an amazing cast of Felicity Jones, Ed Westwick, Bill Nighy, Tamsin Egerton, Sophia Bush, Bill Bailey and Brooke Shields. While this film is set in snow, it is not a Christmas one and I think is watchable any time of the year. 8/10 as the ending is a little rom com cheesy but feel good all the same.

We’re the Millers! (2015)

This film always makes me laugh and never disappoints. One for families with teenagers as features some risque scenes and bad language. Starring comedy geniuses Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, the Miller family take a family vacation to Mexico and road trip back. In reality, Mum, Dad and the two kids aren’t related and just happen to know each other. David deals weed and he is threatened by local drug lord to take a shipment over the US/Mexican border. He enlists Rose; his neighbour and stripper; Kenny; his other neighbour and naive teenager and Casey a local runaway girl that Kenny knows to become the Millers. So many hilarious moments occur particularly when they meet the Fitzgerald family made up of Kathryn Hahn; Nick Offerman and Molly Quinn. This film has some interesting scenery but for me is about the characters and their unlikely bond. 10/10 for the ability to make me laugh over and over.

21 & Over (2013)

I have only seen this film once but found it really funny. It features three college friends as one of them turns 21. His high school friends go and visit for a night of fun which quickly turns into a quest to get Jeff Chang to his medical school interview the next morning. Miller and Casey soon find themselves handling a very drunk friend while navigating parties, cops and how to get back to their friend’s dorm. While at heart, this film is a college frat boy comedy it contained many truths about friendship and the pressures one can feel to be a particular person. A progressive yet slightly left-wing approach to gayness. I enjoyed this film especially when Miller and Casey have to complete the party house levels to get to the top. 8/10 as some portrayals of women were a little mean and some jokes didn’t make the mark but overall a fun late night comedy. Again not so much the scenery but the adventure.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Klaus – 29th December

This Netflix animation was not at all what I expected. From the tagline, I expected a cute Disney-esque film featuring a postman. What I got was a sad yet violent tale about how Christmas was created. A pompous heir to the Royal Postal Academy is sent to the remote island of Smeerensburg to set up a post office. The townspeople have been at war with each other for years and the children don’t go to school. Jesper has to stamp 6000 letters in a year to back to his life of luxury. He figures out that a kindly woodsman will make a gift for a child if they write him a letter. He befriends Klaus and uses the kids to get his letter count up. He learns of why Klaus has so many toys in his barn, a sad moment and learns to become a better person.

The animation style was really unique and a fresh take on the cutesy Christmas film. I didn’t expect it to go in the direction it did, but was pleasantly surprised. Suitable for all ages and a lovely Christmas tale that isn’t all about the big day. A starry voice cast: Joan Cusack, Rashida Jones, J.K. Simmons and Jason Schwartzman. 4/5.

The Knight Before Christmas – 28th December

I was excited for this film because the medieval knight is Sir Cole of Norwich in England which happens to be my hometown. Despite the very inaccurate portrayal of Norwich, I enjoyed this film and thought it was less soppy than other films on the Countdown. Vanessa Hudgens has returned for another Netflix Christmas film after her role in the Princess Switch.

The basic premise is that Sir Cole has to fulfill a quest as a knight in 13th Century Norwich. After encountering a sorceress, she transports him to present-day Ohio where he meets Brooke. She’s a science teacher, this doesn’t play into the story very much apart from one student who she bumps into multiple times. Cole and Brooke become closer as Brooke helps Cole to become accustomed to the modern world. He is desperate to complete his quest and return home for his brother’s knighting ceremony.

Cole becomes close with Brooke and her family – her sister and niece. Her parents both passed away a while before the film. There is one scene where they binge Netflix and scenes from Holiday in the Wild (a 2019 film I reviewed earlier) and The Holiday Calendar are briefly shown on the TV. There’s also a reference to the Christmas Prince, a film I have also reviewed this year, with one of the tree decorations.

I thought this film was very cute and had the right mix of family fun, goofiness and fantasy. Josh Whitehouse who played Sir Cole did a good job of pretending to be from a different time. I always wonder how actors pretend that they don’t know what basic things are like cars or television as it seems impossible to not be aware of these things at least subliminally.

Overall I give this film 3.5/5. Romantic and a little cheesy, just the right thing if you’re clinging on to the magic of Christmas while waiting for New Years Eve.

The Christmas Chronicles – 22nd December

This Netflix Original has similar traits as another film on my list: Get Santa as Father Christmas spends some time in jail but it is a very different film. Well, as different as a Christmas film about Santa can get.

In this one, Kate is trying to catch Santa on videotape after watching back some old home footage and seeing a glimpse of something. Her older brother, Teddy reluctantly helps. On Christmas Eve with their mum working and their father having passed away the year before, the kids are left up to their own devices to try and see Santa. After Kate manages to follow him out to his sleigh and hide aboard, a crazy adventure begins after Santa crashes the sleigh.

In this film, Santa is played by Kurt Russell, giving more of a cool dad rock and roll vibe than the usual sweet old man. After the sleigh crashes, Santa uses a cool street racing car to get around. Kate makes her way to the North Pole to get help from the elves. Kate and Teddy help Santa deliver the rest of the presents as he lost his magical hat in the crash.

I really enjoyed this film and will be watching it again this year. Just enough of a Christmas caper with non-believers and elves and actual grown-up fun. One way that Santa tries to prove his identity is by recounting what gifts people asked for at Christmas in their childhood.

Overall, 5/5. I have not got any faults with this film and it is great for children and adults.

Holiday Rush – 20th December

This new Netflix Original was enjoyable if a bit unbelievable. The basic premise of the film was that a rich radio DJ loses his job and has to downsize his lifestyle. His four children must give up their life of privilege and move into their aunt’s house. A rags to riches story mixed in with moving on from the loss of a parent. Another branch to the story is that Rush’s producer, Roxy starts getting closer to Rush, the DJ and she helps him to set up his own radio station.

What I found unbelievable was how spoiled Rush’s children acted in the first two thirds of the film. The daughter, Mya was putting in a pool in the garden and bossing around the workmen so rudely. They all wanted ridiculous Christmas presents and when they had to sell their house so their father could buy a new radio station instead of making the best of it, they all complained. I know some kids can be like this but I don’t think anyone would treat their father that way, especially since their mother died when they were all young and they were raised in a small or normal sized house.

Apart from this, I thought the film was entertaining, especially after the kids realised how selfish they were being whilst watching old home videos of their mother. A pet peeve I have with recent films is that old footage or photos always look too new. It couldn’t hurt to put a few filters on it surely. I liked the characters of Rush and Roxy played by Romany Malco and Sonequa Martin-Green. I also liked that the black characters were in positions of authority and wealthy for once while the white characters were the workers. A real twist on the last 100 years of cinema.

Overall I would give this film 3/5. Might watch again in a few years, if only to point out the flaws of the children. Something that children would probably enjoy but maybe a little too simple for adults. A cute Christmas story though with a twist.

A Wish for Christmas – 15th December

This Hallmark Original Film is one I found on Netflix. I was expecting it to be cheesy and overly romantic as Hallmark films are stereotyped to be. I thought that apart from the fairytale premise of a wish being granted by Santa Claus, the rest of the film was quite enjoyable. In the film, Sara wants to be more confident in her workplace as her superior always steals her ideas and passes them off as his own. After getting a Secret Santa gift at her work Christmas party, Sara has the power to have one wish come true for 72 hours. She wishes to be more confident at speaking her mind. This leads to her having a go at her manager for stealing her idea and ending up on a work trip with the CEO.

They go to Seattle a couple of days before Christmas to land an account. The CEO has already left for his holiday so they follow him to a town in the hills which just so happens to be her CEO’s hometown. She meets his family and learns about his aversions to visiting his family. With only 2 days to help him, secure the account and get back to her mother and sister for Christmas Day, Sara needs all the courage her wish can grant her.

I enjoyed the film, a very cosy Christmas film that showed positive images of women in the workplace that evolved into a romantic Christmas adventure. Some parts became quite predictable towards the end but I thought the setting and the acting was good enough for the genre. The ending was a good one as can be expected and this film is perfect for all ages. More of a soppy rom com than anything else so be careful who you watch it with.

Overall 3/5. Lacey Chabert is always a great actress and I’ve been a fan since her Party of Five days. Most of the other actors are regulars in Hallmark Christmas films. I probably wouldn’t watch this again as there are other more re-watchable films in the Countdown.

El Camino Christmas – 14th December

I had to replace Christmas with the Kranks with this film as it was taken off of Netflix. El Camino Christmas has been on my watch list ever since I got Netflix so I thought it was about time I got around to watching it.

For the first half, I thought the film was slow going. I found the initial premise of a Christmas Eve hostage situation intriguing but it’s play off wasn’t executed very well. Too much time was spent on the set up of each individual character instead of focusing on the main premise of the plot. I did enjoy the acting and overall pay off of the story but as I have been waiting to watch this film for 2 years, my expectations were high.

The basic plot is that a different people from different walks of life: a guy looking for his father; a drunk veteran; a young mother and her five-year-old son; a violent cop and the owner of the convenience store all end up in a hostage situation. The cops of El Camino quickly get a hold of the situation and turn it into a shoot out for no reason. There is definitely some real life echoes of police brutality and the policy that some officers adapt of shoot first, ask questions later.

It was not very Christmassy and much more violent than I thought. Something to watch if you like cop films or are a fan of any of the actors: Tim Allen, Dax Shepard, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jessica Alba. Overall 3/5.