News Reel & Blog

Written by Christian Abbott on 18th December 2020

Christmas is one of the best times of the year; everyone has their favourite part of the season. From seeing family to sharing presents, no other holiday is like it! But, there is another reason to enjoy the season – the films. This time each year, it almost feels as though we can unlock a whole new selection of content, films that at any other point in the year would be strange to view.

Christmas films are unique, some bad, many good, all have their own charm. With them, come the favourites, the films we have to watch each Christmas. Everyone has their own pick, that one film you always come back to, here at Searchlight we are no different. We went round and asked the team which is their Christmas classic.

Cathy Alford – The Holiday (2006)

Christmas and romance go hand and hand, right? Well The Holiday certainly thinks so. Following two women struggling to find the right guy, they decide to swap homes in each other’s countries, and just so happen to meet a local guy and fall in love. It’s a classic tale told very well, starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and… Jack Black(?), it’s hard not to enjoy. If you haven’t seen it, make this year the time you finally do so.  

Amy Osterley – Arthur Christmas (2011)

Christmas is a time for family, friendship and coming together, three things this film understands. Speaking of three, Arthur Christmas is about three Santa’s, the grandfather, dad and son, all with their different ideas of what Christmas is all about, add a missed Christmas present on Christmas Eve into events and you have yourself one of animations best films for the season.

Suzanne Alden – Home Alone (1990)

Who doesn’t love Home Alone? This is the gold standard for Christmas films and it needs no introduction. If you are one of the 5 people on Earth that hasn’t seen this, it follows a young boy who is left… home alone, and has to defend his house from burglars. You know a film is great when it spawns endless sequels nobody likes. Ignore them, watch this, and watch it again.

Melanie Short – A Christmas Carol (1999)

There are so many A Christmas Carol adaptations it boggles the mind, there are even two on this list! It really could be its own list for favourite adaptation. This version from 1999, starring Patrick Steward deserves its place along any other. The timeless Dickens’ tale of a bitter old man who learns compassion from three ghosts of the past, present and future, it never gets old.

Victoria Lugg – Muppet’s A Christmas Carol

Now, for a more light-hearted take on Dickens’ classic, why not throw a load of Muppet’s into the mix? On paper it seems like a bizarre crossover, but that just feeds into its magic. Many consider this the definitive version of the story, and considering most of the cast aren’t human, that should tell you something.

Rifka Rodrigues – Harry Potter

There is something about magic that just feels wintery, and indeed, Christmassy! Harry Potter, beloved by millions still to this day, is a wonderful and nostalgic choice for a go-to Christmas film. The story follows a young boy who is invited to join Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and quickly discovers that things will continue to get stranger. So many grew up with these films, and right now, people need a little nostalgia.

Christian Abbott – Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

One of the films that started it all, it feels as fresh and full of life as it did over 70 years ago. This is the story of Santa himself, or maybe not? It follows a boy’s belief in Santa and the power that belief can have. Simply put, it’s wonderful. If you’re still not feeling Christmassy, watch this, it’ll change that.

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Written by Christian Abbott on 11th December 2020

Picture credit: HBO Max TV Network, Disney Plus TV Network

It has been a challenging year for the entertainment industry, from difficulty shooting productions, to adapting to social distancing rules, to audience members being unable to see live production or enter a cinema. Despite this, this industry has proven once again its adaptability and ingenuity. Films have been completed, platforms created and audiences are still able to see the content they like. But, how was this possible? With cinemas closed and productions largely halted, how are we on the cusp of seeing new films and TV shows in abundance across 2021? The answer is streaming.

Over the last few years it has been obvious to even the most passive of observer that streaming has exploded in popularity and accessibility. Never before has there been such an embarrassment of riches for streaming platforms, and especially the content they are producing. Year on year, month on month, it continues to grow without much fault.

Audiences stuck at home for most of the year has aided this development; it has accelerated what most industry insiders believed to be inevitable. And now, in the final weeks of 2020, they doubled down on their plans to build up their streaming platforms and shift away from cinemas.   

Last week, HBOMax made the announcement that their entire 2021 slate of films would be coming to their platform alongside a theatrical release. (For us here in the UK, they will likely be coming to NOWTV, the Sky platform which has an international agreement with HBO.) For many, this was shocking, and even disturbing news for cinemas. Already on their knees, this was not the news they were hoping for. Many filmmakers have rallied against this, including Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk, Tenet), who are fighting to help save cinemas.  

Then, just this week, Disney held their annual Investor Day presentation, surprising most with the sheer volume of content they are pouring into Disney+. With around 30 new shows announced across Disney+, Hulu and FX, it seems clear that they are shifting their focus. While they did announce new films, including two new Star Wars films and many Marvel productions, the tidal wave of streaming shows reveals their intent.

2021 will be a defining year for cinema; ultimately it will dictate the future of its very existence. While no-one is prophesying its end, many are now seeing their relationship with it differently. Cinema is beloved by so many, and the act of going with friends and family to see a new release on the big screen is something streaming cannot replicate, and shouldn’t even try to.

Back in 2013, George Lucas (Star Wars) made a prediction, one which seems ever more fitting as the days go by:

“What you’re going to end up with is fewer theatres, bigger theatres, with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies is going to cost you 50 bucks, maybe 100. Maybe 150. And that’s going to be what we call ‘the movie business.’ But everything else is going to look more like cable television on TiVo.”

Perhaps he will be proven right, cinema won’t go, but it will change – adapt.

Broadly speaking, this year has proven the resilience of this industry, and it should be uplifting news. As it seems, streaming is the future, but it is up to us if we want cinemas to be part of that future as well.

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Written by Christian Abbott on 3rd December 2020

Image credit: The Queen's Gambit, Netflix

As of late, Netflix has been taking a scattergun approach in greenlighting shows. There seems to be new, Netflix produced, content every other week with so many just passing by without much of a word. From fantasy / sci-fi epics such as The Umbrella Academy, to crime dramas like Ozark, they produce so much, and only a few breaks into the zeitgeist. Enter, The Queen’s Gambit, an unassuming show, outspoken and quiet, but alluring and captivating, much like its lead.

Beginning in the late 1950s, moving through the 60s, this is the story of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), an orphaned girl who quickly learns she has the talent of chess. Despite her natural ability, it comes at a cost, she can only play well when she take tranquilizer pills, something she becomes addicted to almost immediately.

At first glance, it is an unusual, and perhaps not an immediately engaging premise. Mixing tales of drug addiction, chess playing and adolescent discovery is a unique narrative cocktail, but it pays off. It moves from scene to scene with the same intensity as any other sports story, more in common with Rocky than anything else. Watching Beth rise through the ranks of chess, as we discover and learn the game with her is a joy.

Beth isn’t without her faults however, as she is not just discovering chess, but also herself in an isolating and lonely upbringing. Shy yet determined; she slowly comes out of her shell and into the wider world. The part just wouldn’t be the same without Anya Taylor-Joy playing it, coming from films such as The Witch or Split, she is familiar with outsider roles, but this is her greatest and most dynamic performance to date. Aided by a cast and crew clearly giving it their all, there is so much creativity and enthusiasm in front and behind the camera, it’s a breath of fresh air.

The ability to make chess engaging to watch for a wide audience, not only that, but make it cinematic, is a feet to behold. Showrunners Scott Frank and Allan Scott deserve the praise they are receiving. Their choice to make this a limited series gave them both the flexibility of television with the narrative urgency of film. Too often shows get bogged down by pointless subplots or character arches stretched into oblivion, this avoids that.

This is hard to not enjoy, and despite the fact it wades into sentimentality near the end of the series, it never distracts itself from its own purpose. Entertaining and uplifting, this is a crowd pleaser that does its job very well. For anyone’s next binge watch, this is a clear choice.

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