New Year’s Eve – 31st December

This film is one by Garry Marshall who has also directed Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. As with these films, New Year’s Eve is an ensemble film following many different characters and their individual stories that intertwine with each other. An American version of the British ensemble comedy such as Love Actually.

The film follows a range of groups and relationships on New Year’s Eve in New York City. Stories follow a mother and daughter; an older woman and her much younger acquaintance; rival expecting mothers; a lonely dying man and his nurse; the woman working to make the ball drop in Times Square happen; a chef and her rock-star ex-boyfriend; a man rushing to make a speech in a RV and two strangers trapped in an elevator.

I have seen this film before, a few years ago so wasn’t expecting it to be as emotional as it was. There was a certain intensity in some of the scenes especially as characters reunited or forgave one another. Even though each story probably has 15 – 20 minutes screen time, they were all fully told and I did not find it hard to follow. I loved that some connected in unexpected ways.

This film has an amazing cast featuring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Hilary Swank, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Sarah Paulson, Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Abigail Breslin, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Sofia Vergara, Jon Bon Jovi, Lea Michele, Nat Wolff and Seth Meyers. There are many others, even on the poster above but these are the names I felt are most recognised.

Overall, this is an enjoyable feel-good film with many highs and lows in one of the most exciting New Year’s Eve cities in the world. 4/5.

September Cinema goings

This was initially going to just be a review of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood but I decided to include a couple of others I saw in the cinema. A Rainy Day in New York was one I went to for the actors and even though the performances were good, Woody Allen’s direction and writing did not work. Animals, directed by Sophie Hyde, was a screening I attended on my shift at the small cinema I volunteer at. Bizarrely, no one turned up. Below, I’m going to examine why these films have not done so well. Plus what I think of the latest Tarantino.

Hello readers,

This was initially going to just be a review of Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood but I decided to include a couple of others I saw in the cinema this month. A Rainy Day in New York was one I went to for the actors and even though the performances were good, Woody Allen’s direction and writing did not work. Animals, directed by Sophie Hyde, was a screening I attended on my shift at the small cinema where I volunteer. Bizarrely, no-one turned up. Below, I’m going to examine why these films have not done so well. Plus what I think of the latest Tarantino.

A Rainy Day in New York

A Rainy Day in New York (2019)
A Rainy Day in New York Poster

As a fan of Timothée Chalamet and his Oscar nominated performance in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (Now on Netflix) I wanted to see this film for his performance. I saw it in a cinema in Turkey on holiday this summer. It has yet to be released in the UK or US. The film has faced lots of controversy due to allegations against writer and director Woody Allen. I’m not here to debate his actions but let me just say that I do not agree with them and by watching the film I am in no way defending Woody Allen. Many of the cast have also tried to distance themselves from the film and have donated their salaries to the charity ‘Time’s Up’ which fights for fair treatment of men and women in many industries but specifically the Hollywood business.

Now on to the film. The basic premise involves college couple Gatsby (Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) going to New York City for an interview Ashleigh has landed with a director. Gatsby wants to turn the weekend into showing her his favourite spots as a New York Native and meeting his family. They quickly get separated as Ashleigh gets involved in the dramas of the director (Liev Schreiber), his screenwriter (Jude Law)and hotshot actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna). Gatsby connects with his ex-girlfriend’s younger sister, Chan (Selena Gomez) and ends up taking her to the activities.

The synopsis doesn’t sound so bad but the writing and many plot points turned this film into a sexist, unbelievable film. For starters, all the characters speak to each other as though they are doing a PhD in linguistics. The language is filled with metaphors and references that the target audience, 16-24, would not understand. I certainly did not understand it neither did the person I went with. As for the sexism, Ashleigh goes to do a one hour interview with a director and ends up having emotional and physical affairs with three different older men in one day. She is a smart young woman and seeing all these older men taking advantage of her is so remnant of the #MeToo movement that Allen is involved in its almost funny. Most people would not just abandon their boyfriends to go off with older men despite how clever or sexy they are. Ashleigh was also playing the part of the dumb blond. She could never remember which hotel she was staying in. She may never have been to New York except for once in her childhood but anyone can remember one name.

Ashleigh’s naivety and Gatsby’s pursuit of Chan despite once dating her sister and being in a relationship are some of the points of the film that really did not work for me. Also, the coincidences of people just happening to run into each other was too unbelievable. Once or twice for the rom com effect maybe but New York is not as small as it appeared to be in this film. The ending where Chan and Gatsby just know to meet in the same place was cute but too far-fetched. Another scene where Gatsby’s mother confesses to being an escort before she met his father didn’t add anything to the plot. This is practically the only scene we see them interact.

One other issue I had was that despite having smartphones, the film could have been set in the 80s/90s. The characters never went on social media which is an every day necessity of Generation Z or took any photos. They only used their phones for the occasional text or call. I think if you’re going to write a film in modern day New York you have to use the technology and environment of the present day. You could tell that it was written by someone who is not familiar with what the younger generation actually do or talk about.

Overall the actors did the best with what they had but it just felt like any other Woody Allen film from days gone by. I half expected Diane Keaton to pop up in a baggy suit. 2/5.

Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino, Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell, Damon Herriman, Timothy Olyphant, Mike Moh, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, and Julia Butters in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019)
Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood Poster

I finally got around to seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film. It was definitely not what I expected but after reflecting for a few weeks was typical of Tarantino’s personal style, elevated by the talented cast. I am not a huge fan of Tarantino having seen about half of his filmography which is not hard as he has only made nine films. My favourite is Inglorious Basterds but Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is definitely up there. I really enjoyed the setting and aesthetic of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The film revolves around several characters, many stars from the time. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an action star is becoming edged out of the business and feels like his glory days are over. His friend and stunt man, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is struggling with his own life being over and how he’s going to survive in his trailer.

Rick lives next door to Hollywood director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). They are rarely seen together as Roman is always away filming. Sharon is often seen with her ex, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). Rick is trying to get more roles as the leading man but ends up doing many guest TV episodes as the one off villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) suggests he find more leading man roles otherwise the public will start to see him as the villain.

Meanwhile, Cliff has his own plot going on as he meets Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) from a nearby cult run by ‘Charlie’ who is actually Charles Manson. I was aware that the story evolved around Sharon Tate and Charles Manson and thought it would show the famous murder but it had a more spectacular, fictonal ending. Anyway, Cliff visits the ranch where the cult live to check on an old friend, George Spahn (Bruce Dern).

Other highlights include Sharon going to the cinema to see her new film and not being recognised; Rick being told by his young co-star ‘that was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen’; a fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt shirtless on a roof. The ending was in true Tarantino style, violent and over the top. It involved members of the cult breaking into Rick’s house and ends with mauling, stabbing and one of the intruders being torched by Rick’s flame gun. Although the violence was over the top for the film, it was true to Tarantino’s style.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and the Hollywood setting really made it for me. The calibre of acting was amazing and it was great to see Leo and Brad vibing off each other. The script was great and all the shop fronts, cars, costumes and props really helped you believe it was 1969. 4/5.

Animals

Animals (2019)
Animals Poster

I had not heard much about this film other than seeing in it on the programme but I think it was a shame that no one turned up to see it. It had a quality that really drew you to the characters and I certainly became invested in their story. It centres on two women, Laura and Tyler, roommates and best friends living in Ireland. They party most nights but when Laura finds a connection with musician Jim, she tries to pull away from her life with Tyler.

The raw honesty in this film, based on a book by Emma Jane Unsworth, was one of the best parts about it. Female friendships are often shown as rock solid and always loving and supportive but the rockiness and co-dependency of Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler’s (Alia Shawkat) friendship was really refreshing to see. We can see the world through both of their eyes. Laura is fed up of being told how great she is by Tyler despite not doing any work. She claims to be a writer but has only done 10 pages in the last decade. Tyler constantly tells her how talented she is but when it comes to actually writing Laura draws a blank and goes back to drinking and partying with Tyler.

Tyler meanwhile doesn’t seem to have many ambitions other than having a brilliant night every night. Her outfits are outrageous and cool. Clothes we all wish we could pull off before throwing on jeans and a nice top. She is very insecure about Laura’s whirlwind relationship with Jim and their engagement seems to be the catalyst to set off the divide between them. Tyler turns 30 but doesn’t feel like she should clean up her act until Laura moves out.

Laura seeing her wild little sister have a baby and settled into family life drives her to want to marry Jim but the pair don’t actually have that much in common. The hopelessness and pressure to write something good was greatly shown by Laura. She had a fear of never being brilliant so didn’t really try.

I think that no one turned up as it had not been greatly advertised and most of the cast and crew aren’t widely known. Marketing is so important in today’s era when there is so much choice.

Overall I enjoyed the film and was an honest portrait of women with no male gaze thanks to the female director, Sophie Hyde. An enjoyable watch that will make you feel better about your own failures. 3/5.

This concludes my three films for this post. No 5/5s for this week but not every film you see is going to be amazing. They all had their own qualities though.

Other films I have enjoyed recently are Dead in a Week… Or Your Money Back; The Back-Up Plan and Tall Girl. Now that I am back at university, I hope to start going to the cinema more often.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Top Netflix Original Films I recommend from this Summer

Hello readers,

Another blog post today, this time about films I have seen and enjoyed this summer on Netflix. All the films below are Netflix Originals as I have seen many other films on Netflix but too many to list here.

I think that this year Netflix has produced some great original and entertaining films (and TV shows) that I haven’t seen done before.

My favourites are:

Like Father (2018)

 

A truly original and heart warming film about a father and daughter, Like Father really moved me in a way I didn’t expect. The synopsis – a workaholic left at the altar spends her honeymoon cruise with her estranged father – really does not explain the emotions this film portrays. The back drop of New York and later the Caribbean cruise liner, Harmony of the Seas was a combination that not only worked but that I had never seen before. The cruise ship was epic and breathtaking and exuded luxury which makes the fact that Rachel is sharing the experience with her dad, not new husband all the more hilarious.

Harry and Rachel are put in a group of other honeymooners and that provides comic relief and advice. Seth Rogen makes an appearance as Rachel’s holiday rebound.

This film while being fun to watch also contains deeper messages about love and parenting. For any daughters who have absent or working away fathers, it will make them think about what’s important.

Directed by Lauren Miller Rogen (Seth Rogen’s wife) and starring Kristen Bell as Rachel and Kelsey Grammer as her father, this film definitely explored emotions deeper than I thought it would in a unique setting.

A particularly enjoyable scene was the game show where Rachel and Harry have to compete as though husband and wife.

I give Like Father 5/5.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Based on bestselling novel by Jenny Han, this teen romance has quickly been dubbed a classic by many. I, for one, happen to agree wholeheartedly. It centres around teen Lara Jean who lives in her own fantasy land when it comes to love. She’s never had a boyfriend but plenty of crushes. When the secret love letters she writes to them are posted by her younger sister Kitty, Lara Jean’s fantasies start coming true. Lara Jean begins a fake relationship with Peter Kavinsky, her 5th grade crush, because that always goes well.

A reason why this film is so widely loved and appreciated is down to a few key reasons. One is that Lara Jean and her sisters are Asian-American. Many mixed race girls have never seen themselves as a main character represented so well in film or otherwise. The Coveys’ heritage is never sidelined with their American father attempting Korean food and the sisters’ love for Yakult, it is never exposed for stereotypes or even explicitly mentioned. It is visually shown with a few references. Another reason is Peter’s respect for Lara Jean. He never makes fun of her for being inexperienced, he loves listening to her and helps her gently move out of her comfort zone. When Kitty tells him, ‘call me Katherine’ he is patient until she learns to like him. He also quickly earns the respect of Dr. Covey something which others find hard to do.

Kitty Covey is another well thought out character. Though she is only 11, she knows that as a woman she shouldn’t be talked down to or dismissed. She even talks back to her dad and is always seen wearing a necklace saying ‘Feminist’. She makes fun of her sisters’ but also helps them find romance.

The film truly depicts how stepping out of your shell can result in finding what you’ve been looking for and shows many people that being shy doesn’t mean you can’t get the guy.

Directed and written by women, Susan Johnson, Sofia Alvarez and Jenny Han (author of the book) really shines through in the script and the male characters are written just as well as the female ones.

Starring the brilliant Lana Condor (X-Men Apocalypse) as Lara Jean, Noah Centineo (The Fosters) as Peter, Janel Parrish (Pretty Little Liars) as Margot, Anna Cathcart (Desendants 2) as Kitty and John Corbett (Sex in the City) as Dr. Covey.

This film really does make you believe in love so therefore I give To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 5/5.

Father of the Year (2018)

David Spade and Nat Faxon in Father of the Year (2018)

I wasn’t expecting to like Father of the Year and almost dismissed it as another bad comedy but I surprised myself by enjoying it. The synopsis definitely doesn’t do the film justice – a drunken debate between two college graduates about whose father would win in a fight – really is very wrong. One, the two college graduates are childhood friends who went to college together and have one last summer before going to New York. The debate was not drunken but a funny dinner discussion at one boy’s house with his father present.

The film for me shows a father dismissed by his son as being a wasted, unemployed slob, desperately trying to have one last summer before his son begins his adult life.

While Ben’s father, Wayne is all of the above, he is also genuinely caring which can be hard to find in a parent. Ben’s mother seemingly left Wayne to go travelling and have an ambitious career and is only briefly mentioned in the film.

Larry’s father however is a scientist but is pushed around by his 8 year old stepson, Aiden and wife to a point of the viewer feeling frustrated at why he can’t have a backbone. He also does care for his eldest son and tries to be a good father. He never resents Aiden for treating him so appallingly and and can barely tell him off.

While both fathers do end up fighting and causing trouble for Ben, this is only a small part of the film. Ben meets a girl, Meredith, his first real relationship while Larry searches for his purpose in life.

Although the slapstick comedy made me laugh out loud, the feelings and emotions between father and son also made me love for the characters and their misfortunes.

Starring David Spade (Joe Dirt) as Wayne, Nat Faxon (the Desendants – Writer – Won Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award) as Larry’s father, Mardy; Joey Bragg (Liv and Maddie) as Ben, Matt Shively (Power Rangers) as Larry and Bridgit Mendler ( Good Luck Charlie) as Meredith.

I give Father of the Year 4/5.

Dude (2018)

A real coming age story of four friends about to graduate high school, where they call their teachers by their first name, dealing with love and loss whilst smoking weed.

The four friends, Lily, Chloe, Amelia and Rebecca attend a progressive school unlike any shown in American media. Chloe is dealing with the loss of her older brother, Thomas while Lily as his girlfriend also grieves. Rebecca deals with not being as rich as her friends and her crush on a teacher and Amelia is stuck mediating her divorcing parents. Although three of the girls are wealthy, the film shows that money can’t buy friendship or happiness.

I liked the film for it’s honesty about grief and friendship and that girls can be stoners too. It shows how grief for a brother and a boyfriend often feel the same but can be different.

Featuring an all star cast of Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Kathryn Prescott (Skins), Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon),  Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8), Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Austin Butler (Aliens in the Attic).

Set It Up (2018)

Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, Glen Powell, and Zoey Deutch in Set It Up (2018)This more traditional rom com between two adults in New York is original but features a troupe I’ve seen before. Two people who hate each other slowly become friends and fall in love. This particular setting though was very original.

Two assistants hatch a plan to create a romance between their two demanding bosses to give themselves more free time. With the romantic setting of New York City, love was bound to happen.

The comedy comes from Harper and Charlie both faking gifts and date ideas from each boss that they should clearly use in their own lives. Harper wants the free time to find a suitable boyfriend and finally write an article for the website her boss runs and Charlie wants more time for his girlfriend.

Of course they eventually find they want more time for each other.

Harper is refreshingly a huge sports fan and sees her favorite team, the Mets whenever they have a game.

The film shows that it isn’t bad to have ambition and love could be right under your nose when you least expect it.

Starring Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall) as Harper, Glen Powell (Hidden Figures) as Charlie, Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels) as Kirsten, Taye Diggs (Chicago) as Rick and Pete Davidson (Saturday Night Live) as Charlie’s roommate, Duncan.

I give Set It Up 5/5.

The Kissing Booth (2018)

Joey King, Joel Courtney, and Jacob Elordi in The Kissing Booth (2018)

The first of my recommendations that I saw this summer and the first one I really loved.

Elle Evans who has had the same best friend, Lee Flynn since she can remember has the smart idea to run a kissing booth at her school fair. Over the summer she has matured and now catches the eye of some male students.

After promising the appearance of Lee’s gorgeous older brother, Noah at the booth, she is surprised when he turns up and kisses her. They then embark on a secret relationship as she has a pact with Lee to never date his brother.

Elle is the kind of sweet and loveable character that always ends up making a fool of herself despite trying her best. She attempts to keep everyone happy but can’t help following her heart.

Also based on the best selling novel by Beth Reekles.

Starring the incredible Joey King (White House Down) as Elle, Joel Courtney (Super 8) as Lee, Jacob Elordi (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Noah and Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles) as Mrs Flynn.

I give The Kissing Booth 5/5.

If you have any Netflix Originals that you have enjoyed this summer, please leave your recommendations below.

Happy Watching

Robyn 🙂

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.

Guest Writer: It’s All About the Plot – Dramas by Women to Watch this Summer

Hello readers,

This post is written by a guest writer – A. L. Fox. This woman is a professional writer, having written articles for newspapers and magazines but here is her first blog post. She writes about films and TV shows that she watched recently and wants to recommend to you.

Happy Watching

Robyn 🙂

It’s All About the Plot – Dramas by Women to Watch this Summer by A.L. Fox

What makes a good film? Simple question but there is no simple answer. Critics and the viewing public often disagree as box office figures often illustrate. One recent example is that of the latest blockbuster in the Star Wars franchise, Solo. It was given a warm reception by most film critics and yet, it has had poor box office returns.

However, back to the question about what constitutes a good film – and, in my definition, that means a film that I have enjoyed watching – and one that I don’t wish back the hours spent in its’ company.

For me, plot is everything – tell a good story and you’re definitely on to a winner; dialogue comes next closely followed by good acting – and good casting. If the actors aren’t right for the characters whom they are portraying (wrong age, wrong ethnicity, wrong dynamics and so on) then no matter how good their acting skills, they won’t be convincing and the film will feel contrived. You could argue that all films operate at this level but there has to be some ring of authenticity to connect with the audience. On reflection, perhaps casting needs to lead the field. Nina Gold, casting director of well-earned repute, with Games of Thrones and The Crown, just two of her long list of credits, would probably agree.

There are so many films out there; so much choice that hours can be wasted just choosing one to actually watch. Sometimes the blurb helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Here are two of my random selections from Netflix:

Maggie’s Plan (2015)

Maggie's Plan (2015)
Directed by Rebecca Miller

Stars: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore.

Reading the blurb on Netflix and the ‘rom com’ categorisation, almost had me swiping right. But the quality of the cast led me to press select and I urge you to do the same. This was a sensitive portrayal of relationships and conflict and a very touching reflection of the dynamics within those relationships. Maggie wants to have a baby but she’s not in a relationship and decides to use a donor. But she meets John, who has distanced himself from his marriage to a much more successful college professor, Georgette. John doesn’t work – he is writing a book and Maggie is flattered that he has asked her to proofread his manuscript. Their relationship develops as Maggie finds herself pregnant and they marry.

However, Maggie then finds that John continues his self-absorbed life and she becomes the main breadwinner and carer, often looking after John’s children from his first marriage. Seeking to regain her independence, she seeks to reunite John with Georgette realising that they still love each other and that they are similar personalities.

There’s a wonderful plot suggestion at the very end of the film that completes the heartwarming tale.

Their Finest (2016)

Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton, and Sam Claflin in Their Finest (2016)

 

Directed by Lone Scherfig

Stars: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy.

This was categorised as drama and it provided plenty of that along with a slice of war history that is not as familiar as the bombs and battlefields of WWII. Catrin leaves her Welsh home to live with a man in London but he soon leaves her for another and to support herself, she works as a secretary and then as a scriptwriter for the film division of the government, making propaganda reels to keep up the country’s morale.

Her struggles for recognition as a woman scriptwriter are documented without becoming too sentimental or political but it does highlight the difficulties of being accepted as a professional working woman in that era. There is a love interest who, although set against her joining the division at first to the extent of undermining her contribution, eventually falls in love with her. The ending isn’t as expected but this elevates the film from descending into the realm of fantasy. A good watch with some interesting historical detail and a good plot.

The Split (2018)

That word again – plot. The television series that has caught my attention – and kept it – is The Split, from the pen of Abi Morgan. The story centres on the travails of a family of divorce lawyers, the Defoes, mother and two sisters who are lawyers and another sister who works as an au pair, thrown into turmoil by the return of the father after a thirty year absence. He ran off to America when the children were small – with their nanny. There is plenty of drama with everyone’s relationship falling into the spotlight in turn; it’s all there, from hidden children to hidden secrets, from the twists and turns of divorce battles to betrayals. It depicts love in all its’ forms and manages to retain a freshness and dynamic that keeps you interested. With Nicola Walker heading a fine list of actors (Anthony Head is the father), the occasional misstep could be overlooked in the lower ranks. It is now on iPlayer so watch it before it vanishes.

Reviewing my recommendations, I have noticed that they are all by women – the writing, and the directing. Women tell a good story and have more empathy with the position of women in society generally, In the beginning, in the 1920s and 30s in Hollywood, the majority of screenwriters were women; it was relatively low-paid and it was all about the action. When cinema became big business and men realised there was money to be made from writing, they muscled in and took over. Now, only 16 percent of screenwriters are women – a shocking statistic that needs to be addressed, something the above writers are helping to change.

After all, women have been telling stories for centuries; they need to regain control and prominence on our screens once again.