Iceland on film: a film-inspired road trip for Guardian Travel

Reynisdrangar seen from Vik, South Iceland

Reynisdrangar seen from Vik, South Iceland

There is no best-location Oscar. But if there was, as the makers of Prometheus, Game of Thrones and Thor have recently found, it would surely go to Iceland

The sun has yet to rise but the morning light is already illuminating the reasons why Iceland is renowned for its landscape. I’m standing on a helipad in the south-eastern town of Höfn: with its harbour behind me, I can see snow-covered mountains separated by four icy tongues, each part of the enormous Vatnajökull glacier.

A few lights glow yellow-orange in windows but the main colours are sky blue, a sliver of pink around the clouds and the dark-brown mass of mountains yet to reveal their rugged detail. I’m not waiting for a helicopter; this just seemed like a good place to take in the view … sort of. The wind speed is more than 40mph – that’s an eight (fresh gale) according to Mr Beaufort’s scale – and, as I frame a photograph, the wind inflates the hood of my parka and personal lift-off feels imminent.

Despite the conditions, the drama of this view makes it easy to understand why Iceland has, in recent years, become almost as popular with filmmakers as it is with tourists. And I’m here to explore the locations that have tempted Hollywood producers. Continue reading

Neil Finn on Auckland: for Guardian Travel

Neil in studio - Tony NybergThe solo artist and Crowded House frontman on food, music and the great outdoors in Auckland, New Zealand

The city has so much character. It’s a sprawling place that weaves around bridges and harbours, and there are lots of neighbourhoods, such as Britomart, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, where good things are happening. I love the Polynesian aspect to the city. There’s a strong Maori presence and tradition but there’s also been an influx of people from the islands, too.

Buy fish and chips and climb Mount Eden. Get your food at The Ancient Mariner and head up the nearby hill (Maungawhau in Maori). You get a great 360-degree view of the city and a volcanic crater to peer into. You can walk up or take a car … but don’t leave the handbrake off: I once saw a car roll into the crater.

One of the venues I’m fondest of is Powerstation(powerstation.net.nz). I played there before Christmas and it’s just one of those really good clubs – nothing when you first walk in, but with a room full of people it has a big vibe. For a more close-quarters gig, there’s the Kings Arms. It’s a good place to see up-and-coming bands, as is the Golden Dawn.

Continue reading

Filmed in Iceland: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty in The Secret Life of Walter MittyIt’s not uncommon to find Iceland grabbing attention in Hollywood movies – it’s just rare for audiences to know it is Iceland. In the last two years, the country’s glaciers, volcanoes, black sands and waterfalls have lent the required other-worldliness to films such as Oblivion, Prometheus and Thor, while also featuring in HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series.

But in the Ben Stiller-directed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which goes on UK national release on 26 December, the island’s epic scenery gets a lead role, and this time the locations aren’t supposed to be an alien planet – this time it’s all about Iceland.

Stiller’s romantic comedy, which is based on the classic James Thurbershort story, is about a daydreamer who is forced to leave behind his flights of fancy and challenge himself by seeing the real world. The film features Iceland as an integral part of the story – a first for a blockbuster.

Continue reading

John Grant on Reykjavik: for Guardian Travel

John GrantThe American singer-songwriter, 45, on his adopted home’s best restaurants, coffee and hostel – and why you should think twice before taking a northern lights tour

I first went to Reykjavik for the Airwaves music festival (icelandairwaves.is) in 2011. I went back a couple of months later to record my second album, Pale Green Ghosts. After that I decided I just didn’t want to leave.

Reykjavik has a mixture of southern and northern mentality. There’s a laid-back, relaxed attitude, but also the feeling things are going to get done.

There is a lot going on in the city but you can find your own space. I love the fact that there are small shops to explore and cosy cafes to relax in.

The first thing I would do is head to Mokka (mokka.is) for a coffee. It’s the place that is on the cover of Pale Green Ghosts. As soon as you open the door you can smell them making waffles. Mokka opened in 1958 and is the oldest coffee shop in Reykjavik – and it hasn’t changed. A lot of locals, and artists, hang out there. It’s a great place to start and get a feel for the city. Continue reading

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, book review

There is an inherent danger in creating a lead character who is trapped in boring, small-town life – the concern being the reader ends up feeling bored and downtrodden too. It’s a problem that Barbara Kingsolver creates and fails to deal with in Flight Behaviour. One of the main reason why this is a frustration is that – unlike a previous novel of Kingsolver’s, The Bean Trees – this book is long. Much too long.

This is a weighty novel about significant issues such as climate change, science, religion and media agendas. Unfortunately, it falls into the trap of using clumsy dialogue to explain these “big” topics and it’s often very difficult to engage with characters whose dialogue feels like it’s being shouted at you: “YOU, YES, YOU. ARE YOU SO DUMB?” There is a science lesson in these pages but the reality is that you don’t need to hear it told in full to grasp the concerns or understand the characters. Continue reading

Sightseers review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Jonathan Aris, Monica Dolan, Richard Glover, Eileen Davies
Screenplay: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump
Runtime 88 minutes|Directed by Ben Wheatley

Dark, deadpan, violent and very, very funny, director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to Kill List shows exactly why a strong script and performances often defeat even the biggest Hollywood budget. Wheatley’s movie, scripted by its stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (with additional material from Amy Jump), is a filmic cocktail mixing Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, any Shane Meadows film and Natural Born Killers. Yes, that sounds weird, but it’s right.

While many of its quotable lines have the potential to become catchphrases and its comic set pieces will no doubt become popular YouTube destinations, what underpins Sightseers is the creation of two lead characters who audiences will root for. And this is the case no matter how twisted or violent their adventures become. Continue reading

Simon Killer review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michaël Abiteboul, Solo
Screenplay: Antonio Campos
Runtime 105 minutes | Directed by Antonio Campos

There is a wonderful, stylistic swagger about director-screenwriter Antonio Campos’s Simon Killer. From the moment the soundtrack kicks in and the opening sequence plays there is a tangible sense of an inventive mind at work.

It’s there in the second scene, too, which neatly subverts the convention of zooming in on a character as they share a revelation. Campos chooses to zoom out, slowly, isolating Simon (Brady Corbet), putting the audience at a distance from him. Then, the camera creeps back towards him. Bringing us closer to this young American college graduate about to sample life in Paris. Continue reading

Everyday review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Shirley Henderson, John Simm, Stephanie Kirk, Robert Kirk, Shaun Kirk, Katrina Kirk
Screenplay by Laurence Coriat, Michael Winterbottom
Runtime 94 minutes | Directed by Michael Winterbottom

It is a testament to the honesty and power of Michael Winterbottom’s filmmaking that the “gimmick” that will attract much of the press attention for Everyday is actually the device that delivers its intimacy and humanity.

Shot over five years, and using four real siblings (Stephanie, Robert, Shaun and Katrina Kirk), this is a movie about the mundane rituals of life: the trudge to school, the battle to make ends meet, the playground fights, the lonely nights and the despair at not being a united family. But for every rain-soaked scene there is a shaft of light, literal and metaphorical. Continue reading

Kiss of the Damned review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Josephine de la Baume, Roxanne Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Alexia Landeau, Michael Rapaport, Ching Valdes-Anan, Riley Keough
Screenplay: Xan Cassavetes
Runtime: 97 minutes | Directed by Xan Cassavetes

What paints the most vivid picture of Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned is its readiness to take a diverse bunch of themes, actors and filmmaking styles and throw them into the pot to let them stew. The result isn’t the greatest concoction but it is different, challenging and, above all, always interesting.

If you want an idea of the mix of actors then ponder Josephine de la Baume (One Day, Johnny English Reborn), Roxane Mesquida (Gossip Girl, Rubber) and Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes’ Peter Petrelli, Gamer). As for filmmaking styles, well there’s a dash of Hammer horror, some slick 80s music-video posturings, a dinner-party talky bit Woody Allen/John Cassavetes would probably like, a dose of cinema vérite, a touch of Argento and a good few dollops of lightweight 70s porn. Plenty to keep you on your toes. Continue reading

A Liar’s Autobiography review : London Film Festival 2012

Stars: (voices) Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, Cameron Diaz.
Runtime: 82 minutes | Directed by Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett

Despite Monty Python’s collective success throughout the 70s and 80s, Graham Chapman has remained the most enigmatic and least recognisable of the team. Not for him the successful moviemaking career of Terry Gilliam or the Hollywood acclaim accorded to John Cleese and Eric Idle. Even on home turf in the UK Michael Palin and Terry Jones’s output hogged the limelight.

Chapman may quite happily have accepted the title of “he who is least well known” but as this anarchic and vibrant animated documentary reveals his real life was as Technicolor and rollercoaster-y as any film could hope to dream up. The movie’s three directors, Bill Jones, Ben Timlett and Jeff Simpson, have taken Chapman’s autobiography, helpfully narrated by him before his death in 1989 (Chapman himself would concede it would have been much harder afterwards), and drafted in teams of animators. Continue reading