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.

Back To The Future Secret Cinema

Since it was first launched in 2007, Secret Cinema has kept growing and punters have continued to stump up a fair whack to take part in an offline event where in the past they didn’t even know what film they’d be seeing. In it’s most notable release so far, ‘Back To The Future‘ was revealed in advance and the tickets for the dates in July and August disappeared in no time. Luckily, Stuart (my brother-in-law) and Lorna (my sister) managed to get us all tickets not that my wife and I had any idea what it was all about when we were presented with the tickets following our family get-together the day before.

Lorna had told me in advance to keep my Sunday evening (August 10th) free but I just thought it would be tickets to watch a film or go to a music concert! As it was, my first guess was kind of right but in a way that was so different to anything I could ever possibly have imagined!

Despite the many Star Wars and 007 features on Tokyo Fox it’s actually ‘Back To The Future‘ which is my favourite film. However, regardless of that I was still very apprehensive about this event as I couldn’t understand what it actually was at first and with jet-lag kicking in I really wasn’t confident that we could stay awake for that long having been in bed so much earlier on the previous nights. Furthermore, when I did my research on the event the first Secret Cinema article I came across was one slating it for all number of reasons, most notably the £50+ ticket prices!

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After a morning of rain-soaked sightseeing we returned to our rented apartment for a much needed rest ahead of the nights events wondering how the rain would affect the occasion. We were pretty much still oblivious to what Secret Cinema entailed though when we arrived at Stuart and Lorna’s hotel in Stratford where they were staying for the night. On booking the tickets, each audience member is assigned a character name card and identity with many personal details on it (I was Roderick Poitras, an egg gatherer!) and one has to dress up as that extra to become part of the experience of being part of the production of this classic movie. We would certainly find out later on that it really is best to just go with the flow and get immersed in the world of cosplay in order to reap the full reward.

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The line to enter the “secret location” at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London stretched for miles and took us an hour or so till we entered via a bag search. This is a rare event in that mobile phones are confiscated from those who decide to bring them each night. It’s supposed to be some response to digital culture and of the course the organisers can use the excuse that mobiles didn’t exist in 1955 so allowing them would take away from the grandness of the event. What we didn’t realise though was that we could purchase disposable camera’s on sight (£6) which naturally we did and thereafter our attitude changed a little bit as it became just about taking pictures rather than enjoying it in the way that people used to do in days gone by!

So how to describe this event? It’s basically a BTTF festival with a bit of cosplay, theatre, cinema and live music thrown in for good measure. As soon as we entered we were on Twin Pines Ranch whereby we encounter the fairly surreal situation of interacting in character with some workers (a.k.a. trained actors speaking American English) amid real goats from Mr Peabody’s Farm.

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The site had been reconstructed to resemble the 1955 Hill Valley as close as possible with the courthouse square taking the central area. The clock tower is of course in front of that including a huge giant screen displaying the film. Hill Valley high school was to one side of the square and of course was playing host to the all important ‘Enchantment Under The Sea‘ dance which bookended the nights main event with Marvin Berry & The Starlighters performing. Lou’s Cafe was behind the square and the place for us to spend huge amounts of money on food and drink if we so desired! Just the £8 for my cheeseburger as not surprisingly this was not on sale at 1950’s prices!!

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The roads between the ranch and the courthouse square featured the houses of Biff, Lorraine, George, a few others and a bit further along was the Doc’s house and the Texaco gas station. Of course I’ve been to the actual houses used during filming in Los Angelesbut nevertheless it was still very exciting to see these rebuilt places with actors inside them mingling with the audience in character. This interaction had actually started while we were queuing outside and continued all night with sketches taking place randomly at any place and any time. “No jaywalking” was said by traffic policemen and other such folk throughout the night every time one of us “extras” committed the number one crime in Hill Valley!!

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Courthouse square was where the vast majority of the huge crowd sat to watch the film which began just after 9pm. I had originally thought that this would, in a way, be the least exciting part of the evening but on a night of delightful surprises I was happy to be proved wrong again.

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Throughout the film, I not only enjoyed watching it outside with thousands of likeminded fans (which was actually far more exciting than I thought possible for a film which is nearly 30 years old!) but we also got to witness and be part of live re-enactments with many of them acted out on a stage lying beneath the screen. Furthermore, there were numerous cars, vans, yellow school buses, cadillacs and skateboards whizzing around the square as the actors and stuntmen recreated key scenes from the film parallel to their appearance in the movie. It was a pretty awesome spectacle.

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Conditions were fairly windy at times but thankfully the rain also managed to mostly hold off for the duration of the event. Overall, there was so much going on throughout the evening and it really is quite difficult to paint a really true and accurate picture of what this particular Secret Cinema was all about. The attention to detail was really great and there were so many geeky BTTF references everywhere. Now, you have to understand that this is my account of how I got lost in cinema on the night. With this event though, nearly every single participant has a different and unique experience and therein lies the beauty of such an event.

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Top 10……Movie Locations Where You Can Stay

Hot on the tail of the top (double oh) 7 hotels featured in James Bond films here are the top 10 recommendations for other places where you can spend a night amidst movie history. Just to get things clear you have to pay to stay in all of the listed accommodation rather than just rocking up and pitching a tent outside the filming location!! This list, which is in no particular order, will take you around the globe and offers the full spectrum of price range.

1. Sidi Driss, (from $9 per night) Matmatat-Al-Qadimal, Matmata (Tunisia): Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) – No surprise that this one is featured. Coach loads of tourists stop off here every day yet very few of them actually stay the night! That’s probably because it’s very dirty with poor service! I was the only guest when I stayed there…..but it was a privilege to spend the night at Luke Skywalker’s home! Cheap too!More details here.

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2. On On Hotel (from $3 per night), 19 Phang-Nga Road, Talad Yai, Muang, Phuket  (Thailand): The Beach (2000) – Another ridiculously cheap place to stay. Leonard DiCaprio checks in to this rundown “Kao San Road” backpacker place but its nowhere near the legendary Bangkok spot where western travellers congregate. It is in fact way, way down south in Phuket town. More details here.

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3. Imperial Palace (from $49 per night), 3535 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109  (USA): Austin Powers International Man Of Mystery (1997) – This Nevada state city has been used in many movies over the years and could probably have it’s very own top 10 list (now there’s an idea!) but just the single hotel for this entry and that’s Alotta Fagina’s penthouse suite where Austin shagged her rotten to use his exact words!! It’s since been re-named as The Quad Resort & Hotel. More details here.

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4. Tiki Motel (from $?? per night), 7301 Santa Fe Avenue, Huntington Park, Los Angeles (USA): The Terminator (1984) – John Connor was conceived at this very run-down in what is perhaps the most pivotal point in the whole Terminator franchise. You could stay in the same room where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese did the deed but in all honesty you probably wouldn’t want to! More details here.

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5. Royal Eagle Hotel (from $627 per night), 26-30 Craven Rd, London W2 3QB (UK): Trainspotting (1996) – The boys take a break from Scotland and head down south to London to do a drug deal. Sick Boy leads the guys out of Smallbrook Mews, across Craven Road in a parody of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. The “small-time wasters” then wander into the Royal Eagle Hotel. More details here.

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6. Grand Hotel Evropa (from $30 per night), Vaclavske namesti 25, Prague (Czech Republic): Mission: Impossible (1996) – This was the headquarters of mysterious arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave) in the first of this action spy film series based on the TV series from the 60’s and 70’s. More details here.

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7. Westin Grand (from $274 per night), Friedrichstrasse 158 – 164, 10117 Berlin  (Germany): The Bourne Supremacy (2004) – The luxury hotel where Landy stays. Bourne cleverly finds out at reception that she is staying in room 235. He then watches her leave from his position on the 4th floor and then takes the stairs down and goes through the hotels revolving doors where he gets in a taxi and follows her to the CIA hub. More details here.

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8. Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel (from $216 per night), Wollestraat 41-47, Bruges (Belgium): In Bruges (2008) – Dark, comedy thriller featuring Colin Farrell (Ray), Brendan Gleeson (Ken) and Ralph Fiennes (Harry) with the former two Irish hit-men lying low in the Belgian city at this canal-side hotel. More details here.

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9. Four Season’s Hotel (from $750 per night), Teyfikhane Sok No 1 SultanahmetIstanbul 34110 (Turkey): Midnight Express (1978) – This used to be the infamous Sultanahmet jail depicted in this biographical crime drama. More details here.

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10. Plaza Hotel (from $550 per night), 768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (USA): Crocodile Dundee (1986) – What could be better than washing your backside in the same bidet that Mick Dundee (presumably) washed his posterior in? Well sadly that can’t be done here as the facilities don’t have bidets! The interior scenes were shot in the studio but you could still pretend and shout it from the window down to pedestrians on the street below!  More details here.

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6 Movies ‘Set’ In Japan But Filmed Elsewhere

Unlike other Asian countries, foreign production companies usually remain faithful to Japan by actually filming on location when need be but there are of course times when other places are used to fill in for the country. One of the most common scenarios is for Japanese scenes to be filmed at Japanese, or even Chinese gardens in the USA, Australia or wherever but the following movies were all faked in some way using other countries to double up as Japan.

* The Karate Kid Part II (1989) – The sequel to the classic 1986 film sees Daniel-san follow Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) back to the latter’s homeland to see his dying father in Okinawa whilst settling some old scores. Oahu in Hawaii stood in for the southern Japan island. A scenic area called Kahaluu was spotted in an aerial survey from helicopter by the filmmakers 20 miles from Honolulu.

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The place is 43 acres and is covered with palms and a lagoon which once served as a royal fish pond. Thanks to some of Morita’s connections, filming was able to take place on the land which had been closely preserved before then. An Okinawan village was built and 50 Okinawa-born Hawaii residents were recruited to portray the villagers. Further shooting took place at The Burbank Studios in California where the Naha street and the O-bon dance and finale at the moat-surrounded ruins of the ancient castle were filmed.

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* The Last Samurai (2003) – Whilst some filming was done in Kyoto and Himeji the rest was principally done in New Zealand. The Taranaki region on the west coast of the country’s North Island played host to much of the filming with the Japanese village  constructed on the hillsides of the Uruti Valley where some battle scenes took place too.

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New Plymouth is the major city in the area and its port played the part of the Japanese Port. Less than an hour away from there is Mount Taranaki which portrayed Mount Fuji.  The parade ground, where the Japanese troops are trained to use rifles, and where Algren (Tom Cruise) invites a young recruit to shoot him, is the Pukekura Sports Ground in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. The ’battle in the fog’ scene was filmed in Mangamahoe Forest, outside the town.

* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) – Not too much of a shock that this poor second sequel was not filmed in Japan.  It was set in feudal Japan in 1603 even though the movie poster states that it’s set in the year 1593!!  All filming was done nearly 5000 miles away in Astoria, Oregon. (You can see the full movie here)

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* Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002)  – It doesn’t take a genius to realise that none of this third instalment in the Austin Powers trilogy was not filmed anywhere near Tokyo! They didn’t reference this fact quite as blatantly as they did in the second film where Austin Powers (Mike Myers) comments on how England looks remarkably like Californian countryside! 40 minutes into the movie Japan’s capital is seen by way of Dr Evil’s (also played by Mike Myers) new lair which is a submarine in Tokyo Bay in the shape of him including the classic little finger to the mouth. It’s long, hard and full of sea-men! This was supposedly created using CGI and the docks at San Pedro in south Los Angeles.

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The Asahi Sumo Arena doesn’t exist which is where Austin and Foxxy head (albeit with obvious rear projection of Shinjuku in the background) to find Fat Bastard (again played by Mike Myers) who tells them of Roboto Industries whose boss is named purely to give Powers the chance to say “Domo arigatou Mr Roboto” as was sung in Styx’s 1983.

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* Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) – This Japanese volcanic island is actually part of Tokyo albeit a long, long way south (750 km) of the mainland. Access to the island is prohibited (for the general public) but the filmmakers were given special permission by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to film there on a short day trip there. A short scene with Ken Watanabe doing something or another on the beach was shot and then  Sandvik in Iceland was used to replicate its black sand beaches. Other scenes were filmed primarily in Barstow and Bakersfield in California as well as the studio’s in Los Angeles.

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* The Wolverine (2013) – An artistic license was certainly used where the filming of this one was concerned. Sure, the funeral scene really was at Zojoji temple in Tokyo but that footage was all interwoven with what was filmed at Chinese Friendship Gardens in Sydney. The very same gardens were also used in ’The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert‘ (1994). The Australian city was further used with Nagasaki’s wartime prison camp being built at Bonna Point Reserve in Kurnell on the south of Botany Bay.

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Yashida’s heavily-defended compound in Tokyo was actually filmed at the Fox Studios on  the former Sydney Showground at Moore Park. Paramatta is in Sydney’s western suburbs and the intersection of George and Smith Streets doubled up as the Tokyo streets where a foot chase took place. Furthermore,  Sydney Olympic Park was made into a Japanese village draped in snow where Logan (Hugh Jackman) heads to save Mariko from Yashida’s empire in the mountains. Filming also took place on Brisbane Street in Surrey Hills which was transformed to look like a Japanese street with Japanese signs and vehicles scattered throughout.

New York Filming Locations: Sliver (1993)

In 1993, one year on from ‘Basic Instinct‘, Sharon Stone appeared in another sexual thriller called ‘Sliver‘ where she played Carly Norris; a book editor living in New York City. Having moved into the complex (below) at 211 Madison Avenue at East 36th Street (given as 113 East 38th Street in the film) she learns that some of the previous female tenants were murdered and police suspect that there is a serial killer in the building. After becoming romantically involved with building owner Zeke (William Baldwin) she discovers that he had the building secretly wired with hidden cameras and had been watching the lives of each tenant including Carly. She decides to move out and find alternative accommodation upon suspecting Zeke might be the serial killer.

 

In Central Park at the Resevoir bridge (below) on West 94th Street is where Carly goes jogging with a mysterious hooded man hot on her trail but when he passes her and turns round its revealed that its just Jack Lansford (Tom Berenger). He’s a fellow resident of the same building and along with Zeke, was also romantically pursuing Carly and has a part to play in how this film, based on the Ira Levin novel of the same name, concludes.

 

New York Filming Locations: When Harry Met Sally (1989)

When it comes to certain scenes stealing a movie there’s not too many which are more famous than the fake orgasm scene around the 43 minute mark in 1989′s ‘When Harry Met Sally‘. Following a discussion between the two on the topic of Harry’s one night stands and his boast that none of these ladies had faked an orgasm, Sally sceptically proves his theory wrong by faking a climax amid the intimacy of the room. That’s not the best moment though as that erm comes moments later when one lady (actually the director, Rob Reiner’s mother) says “I’ll have what she’s having” which is delivered with perfect comic timing.

   

This sandwich shop is Katz’s Deli (above) on 205 East Houston Street and the table where they sat even has a sign saying ‘You are sitting where Harry met Sally’ not that I knew that at the time! We went in the place which operates a take-a-ticket billing system but it was so so busy inside that I really couldn’t be bothered with it all and so decided against it.

Long before all that, is Washington Square Park (below) in Greenwich Village where Harry Burns  (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) arrive after she gives him a lift to New York after they graduated from the University of Chicago. What then follows is a load of scenes which show them failing to find love whilst occasionally meeting other by chance. As their friendship grows they are faced with the question of whether or not men and women can be friends without sex getting in the way.

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New York Filming Locations: Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan‘ won many accolades and even though its not my usual type of film I do sometimes make an effort to watch these hyped-up Hollywood award-winning films. The fact that Queen Amidala/Padme (Natalie Portman) from the Star Wars prequels was in it was another reason to see it and I was actually intrigued by the dark side (no Star Wars reference intended) of it all. Watching it was one thing but doing a location was another but as I was meeting a couple of people for lunch near the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

 

Nina (Portman) exits the Lincoln Center subway station between West 63rd and 64 Street and enters the Lincoln Center on Columbus Avenue.