Top 10……Filming Location Trips For 2014

Another year has passed and despite my reservations about the future of such ‘top 10……filming locations’ this time last year, I have managed to do enough locations to warrant another list. It’s quite 007-centric and has in the main included just topping up pre-existing entries. Here then, in no particular order, is the Top 10……filming location trips for 2014…

1) Entrapment, 1999 (Click here)

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2) The Hangover Part II, 2011 (Click here)

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3) The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974 (Click here)

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4) Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997 (Click here)

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5) The Wolverine, 2013 (Click here)

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6) Godzilla, 1954 (Click here)

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7) Notting Hill, 1999 (Click here)

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8) The World Is Not Enough, 1999 (Click here)

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9) Skyfall, 2012 (Click here)

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10) Quantum Of Solace, 2008 (Click here)

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For the best filming locations for other years please click on the links below:

2009     2010     2011     2012     2013

Top 5……Films Set In Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar (formerly Burma) will always have a special place in my heart as it’s where I proposed on Christmas Day one year ago. However, choosing a ring wasn’t the only preparation I did ahead of the trip as I also worked my way through a countless number of movies set in the country which has long suffered from internal conflict.

These struggles completely dominate almost all films set in Myanmar and due to the slight relaxation of control by their government the country is relatively calm these days but watching these films still doesn’t do too much to put one’s mind at ease!!

1. The Lady (2011) – Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November 2010 whilst director Luc Besson was actually working on this biopic about the icon starring Michelle Yeoh. They were filming in Bangkok on a six week shoot at the time which was where most of the Myanmar scenes were filmed. Suu Kyi’s lakeside mansion outside Rangoon was recreated to exact dimensions in Thailand in a setting identical to the real house.

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Besson scouted locations himself in Myanmar and even filmed in disguise at landmarks such as the golden pagoda (Uppatasanti) and the aerial shots of the river were done on the sly via a rented helicopter crossing the border from Thailand to Burma.

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2. Beyond Rangoon (1995) – Depicting the events during the 8888 Uprising in 1988. Its main star Patricia Arquette loses her passport at a political rally and, left to her own devices, she gets caught up in a fight for democracy as she and leader U Aung Ko travel through Burma as they try to escape to Thailand. The film, which has an emotional score by Hans Zimmer, was mostly shot in Malaysia with some scenes captured in Thailand. You can see it here

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3. Rambo (2008) – Sly Stallone mumbled his way through war torn Burma to rescue a group of Christian aid workers in the long awaited (20 years!) follow up to ‘Rambo III.’ Burma is even more of a bloodbath than generalisations purvey as Rambo and a few cronies rampage their way through the whole country taking out the lot of them almost single handedly. Among his victims are a group of pirates and an entire squad of Burmese army soldiers whom he shoots with a jeep-mounted machine gun. Stallone justified this in a press conference by saying the violence in the film was to draw attention to the ongoing problems in the country.

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4. Largo Winch II (2011) – The original title for what became more commonly known as ‘The Burma Conspiracy‘ starring Tomer Sisley back as the title character alongside a much under-used Sharon Stone. Burma is only really seen in flashback scenes from a few years before and naturally it’s not very nice stuff. I haven’t seen the original Largo Winch film so sadly can’t compare them in any way but this one, though a bit disjointed at times, was quite an entertaining watch and Largo’s scenes with Malunaï (played by a Thai actress) were particularly moving at times.

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5. Stealth (2005) – This poor-mans ‘Top Gun‘ absolutely bombed at the box office and shows one scene quite early on in the film involving an aircraft bombing of a high-rise building in nighttime Rangoon.

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You can read about my own trip to Yangon here

Top 10……Films Set Around Christmas!

It’s Christmas time and holiday cheer is very much on the horizon which often involves people watching classic festive films like ‘Scrooge‘, ‘A Christmas Carol‘, ‘Santa Clause: The Movie‘, erm ‘Jingle All The Way‘ or many of the special TV episodes filmed for this time of the year.

Others like ‘Home Alone‘ (1990), ‘Die Hard‘ (1988), ‘Gremlins‘ (1984) and ‘Lethal Weapon‘ (1987) which are just set during the Christmas season are also popular choices so I have delved into the archives to find some movies (of course ones that I have been to some filming locations of!) with seasonal connections whether it be a major one or a really tenuous link!

So here then, in no particular order, is the TF top 10……

1. In Bruges (2008) – Certainly not the first one that comes to mind when you think of films taking place at Christmas! Two Irish hit-men hide out in Belgium during the holiday season not that it’s at all important to the storyline. The woman at the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel, where they stay, is doing something with the Christmas tree in one scene and their angry boss, Ralph Fiennes, shouts at his wife in front of their tree and kids in another.

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2. Ghostbuster II (1989) – The sequel is set in New York City during the Christmas period and culminates on New Years Eve as a crowd of locals sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. A Christmas tree is visible during at least one scene and I guess one other festive link this has is that it was made (according to some critics!) to sell toys at Christmas time!

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3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – This Stanley Kubrick-directed erotic thriller is not your traditional Christmas film in any way! It opens at a big Christmas party before  Tom Cruise’s jealous character goes on a sexual odyssey so that he can feel equal to his “cheating” wife. However, not all is straight forward as he soon witnesses a secret sex society and people begin dying. It’s lacking in festive tunes and the common joviality shown by many at that time of the year. Christmas trees can be seen throughout as London doubles up for New York in holiday season.

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4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – In his one and only appearance as James Bond, George Lazenby takes the reins of the double agent in the sixth 007 movie. Part of the film takes place at Grindelwald in Switzerland during the Christmas season snow is all around. Festive connections include a Christmas tree at the Piz Gloria clinic, presents for the ladies and there’s even a Christmas song called “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown.”

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5. Love Actually (2003) – By far the most festive film in this list as a large group of inter-related people are followed for the five weeks leading up to Christmas, exploring their various love-states. An all-star cast take part in this feel-good film.

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6. About A Boy (2002) – Bachelor Will (Hugh Grant) has no job and doesn’t need to have one as he can just live off the royalties of “Santa’s Super Sleigh”; a Christmas song his father composed in the past. Towards the end of the film we see Will hosting a Christmas gathering at his place with his new extended support system.

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7. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – Thirty-something singleton Bridget is introduced to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at her parents’ Christmas party and is not impressed. He’s snooty and wears Christmas jumpers but as we know that eventually changes over time among several pivotal holiday-themed/snow scenes.

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8. The English Patient (1996) – A Hungarian cartographer choosing to maintain the assumption by others that he is an Englishman is badly burned in a plane crash during World War II and relays parts of his past via flashbacks and one of these includes a Christmas party scene where amidst a chorus of Silent Night, Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is seduced by Almásy (Ralph Fiennes).

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9. When Harry Met Sally (1989) – Several Christmas and New Year’s-related scenes take place in this romantic comedy which spans over 15 years.

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10. I am Legend (2007) – A viral outbreak occurs on Christmas Eve 2009 in Manhattan, and quickly spreads across the world. The epidemic seemingly begins in the lead up to the Christmas season and festive decorations can be seen throughout the early parts of this Will Smith movie.

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Bonus: The Bourne Identity (2002) – Remember when Bourne and Marie seeked refuge in the French countryside? Well, they go to stay at her stepbrother’s place where Bourne notices the Christmas lights are still on. That sign of recent occupancy tells him that they have to leave before the owners return. It is also snowing throughout most of the film which is usually a good indication that it’s the holiday season.

Top 10……Movies Filmed In Central America

Before I went travelling around Central America during the Christmas and New Years holiday of 2012/2013 I spent the months before preparing as only I do! Forget internet research and thumbing through guidebooks, for my work beforehand is often all about watching movies (and TV shows) filmed in that part of the world. Thankfully there were just about ten of them which makes it perfect for a top 10 listings feature; the perfect aid for anyone going or thinking of going to Central America.

This area, sandwiched between North and South America, possesses seven countries (eight if you include the southern part of Mexico as is often the case) of which five feature here. Sorry but I don’t know of any western productions being shot in Honduras or El Salvador!

Here then, in no particular order, are the top 10 movies filmed in Central America…

1. Nicaragua – ‘Carla’s Song‘ (1996): Robert Carlyle leaves Glasgow behind to go to war-torn Nicaragua to help Carla search for her past. Estelí; the third largest city in Nicaragua is where a lot of those scenes were filmed. It is 150km north of capital city Managua.

2. Belize -‘The Mosquito Coast‘ (1986): Based on the novel of the same name, this tells the story of a family leaving the USA in the hope of finding a happier, simpler life in the jungle but things don’t quite go to plan. Hotel Mona Lisa on the south side of Haulover Creek in Belize City was one of the filming locations.

3. Belize – ‘The Dogs Of War‘ (1980): This one is also based on a novel and is about a small, international unit of mercenary soldiers privately hired to depose of the President of a fictional West African country so that a British tycoon can gain access to vast mines of platinum. The movie was shot in Belize City and the Chateau Caribbean hotel was where Christopher Walken’s character stayed upon his arrival.

4. Guatemala – ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope‘ (1977): The rebel base where Luke Skywalker and co launch their attack to destroy the Death Star and save their people from Darth Vader’s grasp was shot in Tikal. It gets only 13 seconds of screen time and features the Millennium Falcon flying over Yavin 4 which is overseen by a rebel standing on top of Temple IV in the western part of the national park. More details here.

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5. Guatemala – ‘Moonraker‘ (1979): Tikal features again on screen but this time only for three seconds! 007 travels through the Amazon in search of villain Hugo Drax’s lair, encountering Jaws and other henchmen along the way, before he discovers it supposedly at Temple I of Gran Plaza. More details here.

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6. Panama – ‘Quantum Of Solace‘ (2008): Due to its diversity Panama doubled up for both Bolivia and Haiti. Colon at the Caribbean end of the Canal represents Port Au Prince in the latter and Casco Viejo in Panama City fills in for Bolivia. The ruins of the Old Union Club were revamped for villain Dominic Greene’s party. More details here.

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7. Panama – ‘The Tailor Of Panama‘ (2001): Another 007 connection for Panama with Pierce Brosnan playing a far seedier agent than Bond. Filming took place in the picturesque old town of Casco Viejo, the lobby and bar of The Marriott Hotel and Gatun Lake. More details here.

8. Panama – ‘Contraband‘ (2012): To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills in this action crime thriller. The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal and the  local neighbourhood known as El Chorillo featured in the filming. The latter is an impoverished area within Panama City where some of the more salacious scenes take place.

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9. Costa Rica – ‘Spy Kids 2: Island Of Lost Dreams‘ (2002): The artificial Arenal Lake which is situated in the northern highlands was one of the locations used in this sequel production along with Manuel Antonio National Park. Known for its beautiful beaches and hiking trails this impressive landscape has white sand beaches, lush foliage, great mountains and tropical forests which made it a prime area to film this sci-fi family adventure film.

10. Costa Rica – ‘1492: Conquest Of Paradise‘ (1992): Directed by Ridley Scott, this overly long flop of a film details the discovery (albeit a fictionalised one!) of the New World by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and the effect it had on the indigenous population of the Americas. Filming took place at Playa Herradura (Herradura beach) in Puntarenas; a coastal town on the Pacific Ocean located about four km north of Jaco.