Sunday, January 8, 2017 wasn't the best of years generally but there were some good films

Happy New Year's Eve / thank goodness 2016 is over day! 2016 has been a dark year on many fronts. Inequality and bigotry has shone through in election results as has the need to find a way to adequately support the disenfranchised low- lower middle classes in western countries, the refugee crisis and the situations that have led to it particularly in the Middle East have worsened, in Australia our lack of support and care for asylum seekers has resulted in another death just this week, and people are at the lose as to how to process this before you add the deaths of many beloved celebrities (you may think that is trivial compared to the others but as I blogged about a while back the emotional connection people feel to celebrities of this type isn't). This is before you account for the tough year people might have had personally.

This is background to say that it feels a little odd in this to be writing about what films were any good. Nonetheless prepare for my annual list of the 15 best films of the year.

This year is a little different as for the first time in nine years I didn't make it to the Sydney Film Festival so there is nothing here that didn't get a broader cinematic release in 2016. As always the guiding principle is that the film was released between 1 January and 31 December of the year in question i.e. 2016. I will admit not to having seen two of the films people have tagged as "films of the year", Hell or High Water (it simply isn't my kind of film, not that this normally stops me, honestly I just missed it somehow, but I hear it is amazing and I am actually seeing next week) and Hacksaw Ridge (it looked good but I boycott all Mel Gibson related films on principle and have done for years).  Therefore those declarations aside this is the best 15 and worst one of the over 60 films I saw this year (normally with the SFF that is close to/over 80...seriously would love someone to support my movie watching habit).

15. The Founder

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a traveling salesman, the kind that is always after the next big idea/scheme. When he gets an order for an overly large number of milkshake mixers from a take away joint in California called McDonalds', he is fascinated and drives to see what the business is about. He meets Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald who have created the first truly fast food restaurant- no plates, no tables, no music, and food to the customer in a few minutes. Kroc becomes obsessed in franchising the business but the McDonald brothers are reluctant as past franchise attempts have ended poorly with quality standards dropping. Ultimately the brothers relent and Kroc starts trying to franchise like mad and with glitches along the way the modern McDonalds' emerges.

Now I don't know how much of this is accurate but it is based on the actual early days of McDonalds' and it is heartbreaking. Keaton (a repeat actor from last year's top 15 and who will occur again later in the countdown) has had an amazing 2015/6 and he can pull off the perfect brand of charisma and slime needed for Ray Kroc. There is solid support from Laura Dern as Kroc's first wife and Nick Offerman (another person from a film I loved in 2015) as Dick McDonald. This all said I wanted to single out John Carroll Lynch's performance as Mac McDonald as the one to watch this film for- he nails the pathos needed for a man who is broken by the scheming of Kroc.

 14. High-Rise

Two films in and it may look like 2016's films were as dark as the year was generally but don't worry happier films are coming...

Based on the J. G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise presents the descent of a capitalist society into dystopia. The film opens on Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) declaring himself finally happy in the high-rise apartment block in which he lives as he sits on his balcony surrounded by rubble eating someone's dog (yes this film is that dark, no, thankfully, you don't see him kill the dog on screen). Flashback three months, Laing has just moved into the high rise (it is now established that the film is set in the 1970s) and he is to all appearances a successful medical doctor and lecturer at a medical school. When he moves in, he strikes up a relationship with Charlotte (Sienna Miller) a single mother who lives on the floor above, and a friendship with Helen (Elizabeth Moss) and Richard (Luke Evans) Wilder who live, like all the families (except Charlotte and her son), on a much lower floor. The high-rise has everything these people might want- a supermarket, a school, a pool, and a hedonistic 1970s lifestyle- so the people of the high-rise increasingly become insular and rarely leave the building even at times avoiding work. Laing attracts the attention of Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) the architect who designed the high-rise and they develop a friendship of sorts much to the annoyance of Royal's wife Ann (Keeley Hawes). One night as Ann Royal hosts a lavish 18th century France themed party, the power and water are cut to the lower floors of the high-rise where the poorer tenants live, and the beginning of the buildings descent into the dystopia of the opening scene begins.

There has been some push back on the translation of novel to screen by fans of the novel but as someone who hasn't read the novel I found the film highly compelling. The acting is amazing but truly what else would one expect from this cast- I rarely have a bad word for Hiddleston, Irons, Hawes, and Moss, and Evans is starting to make a mark for playing creepy domineering men as also seen also this year in The Girl on the Train (not a great film but Evans wasn't bad in it) and I'm looking forward to him as Gaston in next year's live action Beauty and the Beast. The cinematography was surreal when it needed to be and chaotic when that was called for. A warning it is a film with a high classification (MA in Australia) for a reason so if the above description hasn't hit that home, this film is quite confronting at points.

The film ends with Charlotte's son listening to a broadcast of Margaret Thatcher which slams the film back into reality for British viewers but one would expect all viewers as they see the fact that we elect leaders who support the kind of class warfare and capitalist aspiration that has destroyed the high-rise. A harsh warning this year particularly.

13. Eye in the Sky

A joint US/UK operation is running to target high profile terrorists who have been sighted in Kenya. On the UK side of the equation is tough as nails Colonel Catherine Powell (Helen Mirren) who has been seeking one of the terrorists in question for years, and Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) who is consulting the government on the operation. On the US side of the equation is Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) a young drone pilot and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) his co-pilot whose first active operation it is. The terrorists are sighted thanks to the work of an on the ground operative in Kenya (Barkhad Abdi) and it is determined that they are preparing for a suicide bombing at which point the question is raised as to whether the operation has moved from capture to kill. Just as the approval for kill is approved, a little girl from one of the neighbouring houses appears and sets up a road side shop to sell bread inside the strike zone. Watts calls for a reassessment of the possible collateral damage and a mass legal and ethical debate is sparked on the UK side of things (the senior US officials stating they have no issue with the strike going ahead).

This film is an interesting exploration of the ethics of drone warfare, and the issue of weighing the life of many possible future victims against one current actual victim. Interesting is that we see drone warfare as removing the human element from war to a degree and yet the characters most impacted by the strike and the possible ramifications of it are Watts and Gershon as in piloting the drone they can see the images from it directly. Like the last two films, this is built of the performances, and though I loved seeing Helen Mirren's portrayal of a strong senior officer in the Army and an amazing turn by Rickman in one of his last roles (his delivery of his second to last line- "Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war"- chilling), I was blown away by Aaron Paul stepping beyond the role of Jesse Pinkman and not letting Breaking Bad define him. Paul's performance was a real standout especially in the scenes where he has to go toe-to-toe with Helen Mirren and holds his own- I hope this is the sign of more to come from him as I wouldn't want him to be pigeon holed by Breaking Bad (even though I do love him in it too). I don't have any documentaries on my list this year (sorry I did see some but they just missed out) but I feel this is the underdog candidate for most important film of the year because of the issues it touches on. Drone warfare isn't going anywhere but there remain so many ethical questions about its use.

12. The Jungle Book

Now for something lighter...finally.

I'm sure most people know the plot of this one but just in case.  Young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is adopted by wolves after he is found in the jungle one day- he fled his village to escape a tiger. He is raised by the wolves especially by Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o) and can speak to the animals. The tiger who threatened him, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), arrives at the wolf colony looking for the man-cub that they harbour and the black panther, Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley), offers to help Mowgli get back to the nearby village. As they travel they meet various animals both friendly like Baloo the bear (voiced by Bill Murray) and threatening like Kaa the cobra (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and King Louie the ape (voiced by Christopher Walken).

This film has all the charm of the original cartoon and then something more. The CGI of the animals is the best I've seen- it is breathtakingly beautiful at points and the only animal who really doesn't look like the original animal is Baloo which is to make him more Bill Murray like which I'm OK with. The voice acting and the performance by Neel Sethi are outstanding- I particularly loved Murray (perfect casting), Walken and Elba. The film like the original and I'd guess the book (I don't know, I've not read it) have a strong theme of the impact of humans on the environment, and have to say one of the only downsides of the film is that it changed the ending (which I wouldn't give away in case people haven't seen this or the original) and much prefer the original, one could argue darker, position Mowgli finds himself in. This marks film one of three Disney entries to the top 15 for me this year.

And a warning back to the darkness we go....

11. The Revenant

In 1823 somewhere in the North West of the US, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is leading a group of hunters through uncharted territory that is heavily populated by Native American tribes. After fleeing an attack by one of the local Native American tribes, the hunters are forced to leave the pelts they have gathered behind and flee back towards the safety of the barracks at which they are based. During this flight, Glass is attacked by a bear and is near death. Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), the leader of their party, leaves three men to tend to Glass and bury him when he dies as the rest continue to the barracks. John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) stays as he will be paid to do so, but then tries to kill Glass, does kill Glass's half Native American son Hawk, and steals Glass's gun. Fitzgerald bullies the much younger other man who stayed behind to say Glass died and they buried him, and they ultimately bury Glass alive. Glass digs his way out of the grave they dug and, though still severely injured, embarks on a quest to get his revenge.

This is a film that I didn't want to see as a grim revenge tale isn't really my thing but I know many people say it is their film of 2016 and it won many awards and I do love Leo, so I finally watched it. The thing that initially struck me was that it didn't feel like a film for the US, I found the tone and the structure and even the way it was shoot, very South/Central American. Maybe it was because the director is Mexican but I didn't feel that way about Birdman which was his last film so I'm not sure that is the case. The cinematography is beautiful and I can see why they took so long to shoot as finding a day with the required amount of snow would have been difficult in the modern world (something both DiCaprio and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (the director) spoke about in terms of the impact of climate change).  DiCaprio and Hardy both deliver as you would expect them to in their respective roles- particularly noteworthy is Hardy's menace and DiCaprio's silence and also that he sounds convincing when he needs to speak a Native American language (supposedly the wrong one but still). I hadn't realised that this was partly based on a true story which makes it all the more astounding. It is a brutal film but it is definitely worthy of the accolades it has received.

10. Love & Friendship 

Back to light again...

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is a widow who is on the look out for a new husband for herself and one for her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Lady Susan has no money to fall back on and a reputation for being an infamous flirt. After she pursues the married Lord Manwaring and is cast out of his house, she finds that the husband (Stephen Fry) of her only friend in London, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), has forbidden their association and she heads to the country to live for a while with her late husband's brother and his wife. Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwall) despises her sister in law and is horrified when Lady Susan targets her brother, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) as a possible second husband despite being several years his senior. This situation is cast into further disarray when Frederica is kicked out of school and has to join her mother, only to be follow by Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) her suitor who is both deeply silly and clearly enamoured with her mother.

Let's start with the title just to clear the air, for some reason they gave the film the title of a late Austen work instead of the early Austen work, Lady Susan, on which it is based, I have no clue why and I think many people have been confused by that (obviously it is an awful adaption of the former but quite a good one of the latter on which it is actually based). The script of this film is delightful, so witty that I'm sure Austen would not have had any issue with it, and in scenes with Lady Susan and Alicia Johnson, it is spoke at a pace one rarely sees in British cinema. Beckinsale was a surprise for me as I'm used to seeing her in most worse fare (the Underworld series, anyone?) but she is amazing here and I do like an actress in her forties who is willing to play some who is both very devious and has an adult child thereby highlighting her age. This was one of funniest and funnest film of 2016.

9. Moana

Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of a tribal chief on a unnamed Pacific Island. Her tribe is very tied to their island and they do not travel beyond the edge of the reef that surrounds the island. When she was a child, Moana was fascinated by the stories of her grandmother (voiced by Rachel House) that told of a trickster demigod called Maui stealing the heart of Te Fiti the goddess who created the islands and that due to this great suffering is coming to the islands. Moana is also fascinated by the sea though she is not allowed to go out into it. One day during her training to be the island's next chief, she notices that the crops are failing and the fish are no longer available within the reef, and she wonders what to do to solve this when her grandmother takes her to a cave on the island that contains the legends of their ancestors. In this cave, she discovers that her ancestors were sea faring explorers and she decides to follow their footsteps find Maui and retrieve the heart of Te Fiti in order to save her island and her tribe. 

It has been said that the plot of Moana is a fairly predictable "heroes journey" but I would disagree with that to a degree as a hero is rarely female, rarely not white, and next to never a teenager. A while ago, I wrote that Frozen turned a corner for Disney in its representation of women and I feel Moana goes even further and is a much better film. There is no question or issue of Moana becoming the leader of her tribe in fact the tribe seems pretty happy about it (unlike Elsa with her frost powers), Moana shows a focus on community but not as benefits herself as the ultimate ends, there is absolutely no romantic plot for any characters (yay! A Disney princess movie first), and finally she hates being called a princess. The film has a strong message of community empowerment and of the impacts of human actions of the environment (Maui is half human and he steals the heart of Te Fiti in an ill conceived attempt to help humanity). Also the animation is brilliant, and the voice acting very strong especially by Cravalho who carries the bulk of it for sections of the film before Dwayne Johnson shows up to assist as Maui. Finally the songs, thing one, singing in not English! So happy to see that in a film set in the Pacific Islands- I believe the songs in question are in part in Samoan but feel free to correct me. The songs, thing two and last thing, can Lin Manuel Miranda just write everything now? I'm spent a lot of this year listening to Hamilton and there were songs where I could just hear his work on Moana as I think his lyrical style is glued into my head, I'm thinking especially of the rap section of "You're Welcome" (my favourite song in the film- who knew the Rock could sing?), and I hope this points to more cinematic score work ahead (he did score part of my number 1 film of 2015, The Force Awakens, as well) for him and makes me very desperate for the live action version of the Little Mermaid that he is supposed to be working on for Disney to be become a reality.

 8. Nocturnal Animals

Apologies for the trailer quality here I couldn't find the proper one.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an art gallery curator, receives from her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) the draft of his new novel which he has dedicated to her. Susan starts reading the novel and the viewer is taken into the novel itself in which a family (played by Gyllenhaal again he doubles roles, Isla Fisher, and Ellie Bamber) are stopped on a deserted Texas highway by group of shady young men and the women are kidnapped whilst the father, Tony, escapes their captors. Susan continues reading the novel and as she reads she also remembers her first husband and their marriage, especially in light of the fact her second marriage is now falling apart too, and she doesn't know what to read into the fact her first husband has dedicated such a violent story to her. In the world of the novel, Tony seeks the help of the local detective (Michael Shannon) to find his wife and daughter. 

Back into the darkness we go and this one is mighty dark. This is the second film from fashion designer Tom Ford and after the amazing, A Single Man, I was very keen to see it. Visually it is just a beautiful as A Single Man and much of that beauty is just a stylised but in a very different tone for obvious reasons. The weight of trying to figure out why the novel was sent to Susan in the first is highly suspenseful and Adams plays that suspense well (it has been a good year for Amy Adams and I'm not done with her yet). I will say that I did feel that the novel was a fairly loosely coded revenge on Susan for how she treated him which was only enhanced for me by casting Isla Fisher as the wife in the novel- I'm not sure anyone else sees it but I feel that she and Amy Adams look very alike. The novel sections of the film are very intense and the tension is barely broken in the early scenes before the flashbacks start as when you exit the world of the novel, it is just Amy Adams alone at night in a stark modern house. Gyllenhaal performance is particularly strong as he has to play two characters the affiable Edward in the flashbacks to Susan's first marriage and the increasingly broken Tony in the novel world. Underpinning what the film is saying on the surface about this marriage and its aftermath, there is a interesting question of art and reflection of life in art by an artist.

7. Sing Street

In Dublin in the 1980s, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to move schools due his parents' (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) money difficulties. On one of his first days at his new school, he notices Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a slightly older and much cooler girl, sitting on some steps of a nearby building. Despite the warning of his classmates, he approaches Raphina and tries to talk to her and as a way to catch her attention, he asks her to be in the film clip for his band. The only problem with this is that he doesn't have a band. Working with his new classmates, he speedily put one together and starts working on writing some songs. Focusing on his new band and on Raphina enables Conor to escape his home life which is falling apart as her parents veer towards a divorce. 

As mentioned a few years back when I was talking about Begin Again, I've been a fan of John Carney's work since Once and this again is a delightful modern musical. The soundtrack which is a combination of songs by the band in the film (which are not bad) and amazing 80s tunes is great. The performances are understated in a way that suits the film perfectly especially the lead performance by Walsh-Peelo whose first film this is. If you want some 80s nostalgia and beautifully understated Irish-ness, this is the film for you.

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As a child Jyn Erso witnesses his father go with Empire troops after they have shot her mother, following her parents' instructions she flees and hides in a near by cave. Fast forward over a decade, the Rebel Alliance frees the now adult Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) from an Empire run prison. A dissenting pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), has fled from the Empire with a message from Jyn's father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), about a super weapon he has been working on for the Empire. On Galen's instructions, Bodhi goes not the main rebel force but instead to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) a rebel extremist and the man who raised Jyn after her father's capture and mother's death. The Rebel Alliance needs Jyn to help them get to Saw Gerrera as he will not deal with them directly. Begrudgingly Jyn agrees to assist and leaves with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2S0 (a robot- voiced by Alan Tudyk). When they arrive in Jedha, they are met with Empire forces and extremists and they also join forces (pun intended) with Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).

This might come as a surprise to some as you have been expecting it higher in the countdown after The Force Awakens took out last year's countdown. In all honesty I loved this but I loved the five films above it more and I actually think it comes in fifth in terms of Star Wars films putting it behind The Force Awakens (just to clear this up, from my point of view the list goes Empire, New Hope, Force Awakens, Jedi, Rogue One...a bit of quality gap...Revenge of the Sith...a bit of quality gap...all ewok related one off films...wide gaping quality abyss....Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones... you might shuffle the middle a bit but basically it should always be Empire best, and Attack of the Clones worst or you are just wrong). The reason this wasn't as good as the original trilogy and TFA, one thing, script. There were several weak points and there can pretty much be summed up in the pun scene, I'm trying not to spoil but if you've seen the film you know what I mean. That said if you aren't the first two prequels and you are in the Star Wars universe I'm sure to love you at least a bit and forgive bad puns and other weak script moments. The highlights for me, one, diversity- this film continues to have a racial diverse human cast like could have had more women though.  Two, great characters- Chirrut and K-2S0 have some great lines (amidst the wonky script), and the bulk of the cast of hugely likeable. Three, murkier morals- I really loved the character of Cassian and not because Diego Luna is crazy attractive (though that helped) but because it was the first time we've seen a rebel who will do anything for the cause including kill an ally (it happens in the early minutes of the film so not a spoiler), I would like to see more of him. Four, convincing villain- I'm not talking CGI Tarkin (though I take less issue with that than most...I also don't take huge issue with the end of film CGI character) or Darth Vader (though that scene at the end, SO good) but more Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic so menacing and such a good performance. Five, performances- most are very solid. Six, damn that chemistry (!)- I know that John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are busy trying to have the most sizzling chemistry in the Star Wars universe since Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher but Felicity Jones and Diego Luna out chemistry-ed them by a mile. Seven, finally the prequel that the trilogy deserved!

By the way, ignore most of the trailer above. It indicates a completely different tone to the film and also most of the shoots in it aren't in the film.

5. Arrival

In the opening sequence of Arrival, you see Louise Banks (Amy Adams) tending to her ill daughter leading up to her daughter's death. Then you see Dr (or Professor that wasn't clear) Banks at her day job working as a highly respected linguistics expert at an unnamed university. Her class one day is down in attendance and ultimately interrupted by the news that mysterious pods have arrived from outer space piloted one assumes by aliens. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) sees up at the University to recruit Dr Banks to assist the government as they attempt to communicate with the aliens. Dr Banks ultimately agrees and is transported along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to the site of the pod that is in the States (13 pods have appeared hovering over various locations around the world). Banks and Donnelly start to establish and develop communication with aliens who they nickname Abbot and Costello, but the international cooperation between the people at the different sites starts to break down, and fear and paranoia creep into the general population and the soldiers at the US site.

Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker have had a good year this year- both two films on my countdown- not to write Jeremy Renner off he is also good here too. Amy Adams is particularly outstanding in this film especially in the later stages of the film, and whereas I struggle to buy actors playing academics at times, particular Adams and also Renner are believable. This is very smart, slow burning sci fi of the kind I haven't seen for years (The Martian wasn't quite a slow burning so it just missed on this camp), and I wish there was more of it out there. With The Martian, I think this is one of the best written sci-fi films of the past few years. I cannot speak about one of the plot lines I loved as that would be a massive spoiler but I do think the film has several important and interest themes. The themes I can speak about are themes around understanding especially when dealing with those you do not understand. It is intriguing that it has taken this long to have a harder sci-fi first contact film that works first from the basis of linguistics, and not physics. The film shows that communication is key when seeking to understand "the other" which is a beautiful message in a world that reaches so frequently for the fear and paranoia that are seen later in the film as a reaction to those different to ourselves instead of proper understanding. Understanding and communication also hits home with the international collaboration seen in the film would that we lived in a world where this was even a vague possibility. This is the sci-fi film for those who love language and linguistics, the science behind that language.

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky (Julian Dennison), a rough city kid who is in foster care, is fostered to Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill) to their remote farm in rural New Zealand. Whilst Bella is very welcoming and seeks to make Ricky feel at home, Ricky just wants to get back to the city (though he quickly warms to Bella) and Hector finds Ricky an annoyance. As the film unfolds, Ricky and Hector find themselves and their dogs, Tupac and Zag respectively, in the bush together, and a national search, led by child welfare officer Paula (Rachel House), is launched to find them.

I have to say I don't think I've laughed harder at a film line this year than Julian Dennison saying, "Aw no, I got poop on my kicks" (just imagine that in a New Zealand accent and try not to laugh). New Zealand is making some great films lately, especially comedies, and I really hope that they are being released beyond our mutual corner of the world (in its Australian release this film earned about four times its original budget which I think if you graded box office earning as a percentage of budget would make it the most profitable film of the year here). This film is just low key brilliance. The script is hilarious and the performance hit the low key comedy on the head. I think Dennison for a young actor is a great nature comic talent, and it was nice to see Sam Neill in a comedy role as I've only seen him in quite bleak dramas of late otherwise. I also hadn't realised until just now, the great year Rachel House is having between this in which she is a ridiculously foolish antagonist and her voicing of Moana's grandmother in Moana. New Zealand's bush is a beautiful (one could say majestical- sneaking reference to the film) backdrop to the comedy as are the crazy collection of minor characters Ricky and Hector (who entertainingly goes by Hec) find there. I have not laughed harder at any film in 2016 and in couple of scenes, also cried harder as like all good comedies there is some darkness and sadness here.

3 (tied). La La Land

On the freeway into LA, Mia (Emma Stone) pauses her car for a moment in the traffic to take a phone call and is honked at by Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). It is soon revealed that Mia is a struggling actress working at a coffee shop on a movie lot and going to myriad miserable auditions, and Sebastian is a struggling jazz pianist who moved to LA to start a jazz club but has been unable to do this so is eking out an existence playing in bars and at parties. Mia runs into Sebastian again when he is fired from a club after failing to just play Christmas carols as he has been asked to, and after he blows her off there, the next time they see each other at a party she requests a ridiculous song from the band in which he is playing. After this meeting, the two actually talk and a romance blooms.

This was my most anticipated film of 2016 as it had three elements I adore; Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and it's a musical. In another year, it wouldn't be tied third but would be clear film of the year for me. From the swirling opening musical sequence on the freeway (before you meet Mia and Sebastian), it is brightly coloured, all dancing, glory, and it feels like you have stepped right back into the musicals of the 1940s or 50s. There are even parts of clear illusion to classical musicals and films- in particular Gosling dancing and singing on a pier in a mode akin to Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain, and Stone and Gosling visiting the LA Planetarium in illusion to Rebel Without a Cause (made obvious by the fact the characters watch this film). I haven't seen Whiplash, Damian Chazelle's last film as director, (I did see the other film he wrote in 2016, 10 Cloverfield Lane- a very different film) but I have heard it shows his gift for working with musical subject matter in that which I feel he excels at here. The music, much of it jazz, is outstanding and it is perfectly in-synch with the cinematography which is gorgeous. Neither Stone nor Gosling is a naturally gifted singer or dancer, but both sing well and dance amazingly (the choreography throughout is another one of my highlights of the film- my favourite scene is a dance sequence inside the LA Planetarium). In terms of performance beyond singing and dancing, Gosling and Stone display the amazing chemistry they previously had in Crazy Stupid Love, and their performances, especially Stone's, are brilliant. It is interestingly mixed message as it highlights the difficulty of artists being in a romantic relationship with other artists, whilst also celebrating artists and arts and the aspiration to be in the arts. It is also a love song particularly to the arts in LA. Ultimately it is a film for dreamers as Stone sings at one point- "Here's to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem". Would that we can all be better dreamers?

3 (tied). Spotlight

Based on a true story, in 2001, the new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), meets with Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and Ben Bradlee Jnr (John Slattery) to ask that Robinson put together a small investigative team, a "spotlight" team, to look into child abuse by the Catholic Church in Boston back in the 1970s. Robinson puts together a team comprising, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo),  Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James). Due to Boston's strong Catholic roots, most members of the team have connections to the church, and all of them suffer crises of faith during the investigation. As the team digs they undercover more and more abuses and conspiracies to hide these, they also comes head-to-head with the church, legal, and political powerhouses that fuel Boston.

You may be thinking this was a 2015 film as it won the Best Picture Oscar this year, and was released in 2015 in most countries, but it was actually released in late January 2016 in Australia. This film hit me like a tonne of bricks and until early December it was going to be my film of the year (that is when I saw my number 1 film, and I saw the other tied number 3 in mid December) even though I had seen it the week it came out all the way back in January. The reason this film was so significant for me was at as you will see listed at the end of the film, my hometown, Wollongong, was one of the cities that had a similar investigation occur and it actually occurred several years earlier than the investigation in Boston (from the early 1990s onwards) and formed the backdrop to my being in primary and high school at Catholic schools whilst I was also growing up attending the Catholic Church with my family. I was not personally impacted by what happened but it was only a few steps to people who were and therefore I find material on this issue really sticks with me. The personal impact aside, there is a reason this won the Best Picture Oscar. Whether you count it for 2015 or 2016, it was definitely one of the best films of the last two years combined. The performances are outstanding especially McAdams and Ruffalo (where would my countdown be without one of his films each year?) but it really is an ensemble effort. In the age of click bait journalism and post-truth (whatever that really means), this portrays what we might be losing and it is clearly to society's detriment, if we let quality, investigative journalism disappear. It is also good to be reminded as inquests and commissions into actions like those investigated by the spotlight team continue worldwide that this is a portrayal of which is still a very real situation and hurt for many people, and it goes to show that you should never blindly trust anyone as all humans are flawed.

1. Kimi no na wa (Your Name)

One morning, Mitsuha (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi) wakes up in her country town to discover that she has no memory of the day before, and her family and friends tell her she was acting very oddly that day. Mitsuha dreams of escaping her rural home with her sister and grandmother at a religious shrine, and moving to Tokyo. Then she wakes up in Tokyo in the body of Taki (voiced by
Ryûnosuke Kamiki) and she assumes that she is having a real vivid dream. The next day, Taki wakes up to discover that he has no memory of the day before, and his coworkers and friends tell him he was acting very oddly that day. The two teens slowly realise that there are in fact swapping bodies, and start leaving messages to each on their smart phones so that they can now what has happened the day before. Whilst in Mitsuha's body, Taki gets to experience a relationship with her grandmother that seems unlike anything he has in his life otherwise. Whilst in Taki's body, Mitsuha helps him speak to girls, all while she gets to experience the city which she loves. As the body swap continues the two teens grow closer and closer to each other.

The story in this film isn't what is new, body swap films are too many to name- I was particular reminded whilst watching this of In Your Eyes, the amazing 2014 Joss Whedon scripted film where two people can see and experience life through each others' eyes (it was only released online and a few festivals so unfortunately not many people have seen it). The exciting thing here isn't the originality of the story, it is how it is told. The teenager set up does add something to the body swap story as does it being in Japan, and the difference in the characters' lifestyles. One of the issues with body swap films is that they get so caught up in the swap that they don't develop the characters but Mitsuha and Taki are complex and beautifully crafted, especially Mitsuha in my opinion. The plot is more than the basic body swap and it has a depth and turns are worth experiencing.

I've missed Miyazaki since he resigned and the anime I've seen since then has a times good but not great. This is the film that there is deeply beautiful animation that isn't from Ghibli in the post Miyazaki era. The animation is glorious and I still think that there is a lot to be said for this style of animation over the style coming out of Hollywood right now.

I recommend watching the sub not the dub- I always do. Again sadly only one of my films is not in English but at least this year it is number one.

And whoops....honourable mentions...


I honestly forgot this came out in 2016 in Australia. I seemed to remember it was a 2015 film that I hadn't seen by my countdown but it came out on 14 January a week before Spotlight. I only remembered it half way through writing this list. It would have come in somewhere around 10th had I remembered it. Beautiful film and beautifully acted.

The Daughter

I didn't include an Australian film on the countdown so this is my Australian film of the year- not included as I saw it at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival, though had its theatrical release in 2016. Beautiful cinematography and masterful acting.

So those are my best films for 2016 and now it is time to hand out the opposite honour, worst film of 2016....

This came down to categories of films. Firstly animation. I've saw a few animated films in 2016. Moana and Your Name obviously made my bets of countdown, and Zootopia was enjoyable. The issue was the work of Illumination studios. I know a lot of people love Despicable Me but it left me cold, and the fact that took the most annoying part of that film and managed to make it a phenomenon deeply confuses me- yes I mean Minions, I don't think there is a pop culture fad of recent years that I've hated more and found more grating. For some reason, I watched two of their films this year Secret Life of Pets and Sing. Sing wasn't completely awful just bland but Secret Life of Pets was boring and a waste of some decent voice talent. I was not a fan of it at all but it wasn't my worst film of 2016, just a strong third on that list. Secondly and here lies the victor, comic book films. I normally a big comic film fan and at least one normally creeps into my best films of the year list but not this year. I enjoyed Dr Strange, Deadpool, Captain American: Civil War, Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusade, and X-Men: Apocalypse (I was fairly alone on that last one), and Marvel continues to put out mostly great TV content and DC vaguely enjoyable TV content. However DC live action on the big screen, my goodness!! I already blogged about Batman Vs Superman and the awful Martha clinker and the awful script and the unnecessary over the top violence and my continued dislike of the bulk of the work of Zack Snyder.  Now you'd think now the time to save words and refer you back to that rant but sadly no Batman Vs Superman takes a close second of worst film.

The worst film of 2016 was....

Suicide Squad!

The above is all the trailers in one clip but I couldn't find just one.

I really feel bad for Will Smith and Margot Robbie as this is the second year in a row that they have been in my worst film of the year, and this isn't their fault and they are, particularly Robbie, far and away the best things about this film. The trailer looked amazing (the one set to Bohemian Rhapsody- second in the above reel- is pretty much a lesson in how to make an exciting film trailer) and I was excited that this was the first time my favourite DC character, Harley Quinn, was due to appear on the best screen and Margot Robbie was good casting for her. Then I watched the film and it was a crazy mess of a disaster. The script was awful, there were parts that were borderline racist, it took every opportunity to have the women dress in next to nothing, it did NOTHING with Katana (part of the latent racism), and it did the impossible and made the Joker boring. It was also a lengthy visual cliche- the giant sky beam with a ring of destruction, and the faceless blobs of CGI army as featured in every second comic book or sci fi film you have seen for the last five years. The acting for a large part was awful or the actors seemed to have clearly realised a dud and given up (Viola Davis, why are you even in this? You are much better than this rubbish) and this is one spot where it was worse Batman VS Superman as most of the actors in it, especially the women, managed to deliver semi decent performances against a similarly atrocious script. It'd single out the treatment of Enchantress as the worst thing by far- Cara Delevingne is forced to belly dance in next to no clothes in the midst of supernatural smoke for most of the film. It does have two redeeming factors- Will Smith and Margot Robbie who both deliver decent performances, and though I don't love the version of Harley Quinn, Robbie played her well and if she continues in the role, as she is supposed to, it paves the way to see the complexity of a character who has been the comic book embodiment of abuse by a romantic partner. 

There you have it, the best and worst films of 2016 in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Dear America....

Now as is clear if you read much of me blogging (not withstanding that you may know me in person and see my facebook or twitter where it is more obvious), I'm a wee bit of a politics nerd. This means that when it comes to politics not just locally but globally I get overly involved. This year that has been particularly evident with the angst of Brexit and of our election in particular the make up of the senate. That said this is nothing compared to the fact that I've now reached the point where I have opted to try not to listen to, watch, or read anything about the US election during my lunch break at work (a hard task that I often fail at). It leads to anger and a lot of ranting- I think my office will be very happy when it is all over tomorrow and they no longer have to listen to me. I also started rewatching The West Wing at home to distract me for looking into it at home- I've also listening to The West Wing Weekly podcast which I would highly recommend. It is near impossible as many people I follow/am friends with on social media share a lot about it, and also because it is like the ultimate car crash I can't look away from.

Now when your election is hurting the brains of people from other countries, you need to ask why.

Today I saw articles on the German and Austrian responses to this US election, and compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, and if you have ever been to either of these places or spoken to people from either, you know that this is not a comparison people of either country would make lightly as it highlights a very dark time in their histories. Again this should lead to serious pondering.

So why is the US Election so important to the rest of us...

Well unless the Chinese have massive sudden off the charts economic growth before tomorrow, as goes America so goes the Western world. Though some of us may wish it otherwise America is the most powerful country and it continues to seek to live up to the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, and to be the world's policeman (again no matter how some of us would want it otherwise).

If you are setting the tone of global politics, the least the rest of us can hope for is a rational, intelligent person in the role who does not just seek to uphold US values but also sees the power that their role has beyond their borders.

In an ideal world we hope the same as we do for our own leaders...We hope that this leader doesn't drag those of us in other parts of the world into unjustified wars (that said, there is unfortunately more precedent for this than I'd like from former US leaders). We hope that they understand the threat to the world that is climate change. We hope that they seek to uphold the weak and impoverished in their own country, and aboard. We hope for someone who will defend the rights of all people in their country regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. We hope for a well thought through and balanced approach to economic issues.

The ugliness of this particular US election campaign has already shown that this will not be the case if one of the candidates gets in.

A few years ago when the possibility of a Trump candidacy was first suggested, we in the rest of world hoped it was a joke and declared that there was no way the Republican Party would let him get the nomination. Then we were deeply confused when the joke became a reality, and increasingly feeling more depressed as it didn't go away (I know now that we've seen one on TV in House of Cards many people were hoping for a nomination from the floor at the RNC). The rhetoric that Trump bought to the campaign was by far the ugliest I have ever seen. The 3am tweets full of racism, sexism, and dangerous claims of rigged elections were only bizarre but not terrifying until such time as he was the nominee. The ironic dragging up of Bill Clinton's sexual history and assault allegations as if that were relevant to his wife's campaign* and as if it didn't just seek to highlight his own infidelities and his own assault allegations was both mean spirited and deeply foolishly, and after all he is the one running for the presidency and whereas Bill Clinton is not (he isn't allowed to run again after all). The declaration of ideas such as that climate change was the work of the Chinese (I'm not sure how that follows) and that Mexicans were rapists, the endorsements by the Klan, and the dismissing of sexual assault allegations based on his assessment of the woman's attractiveness proved again and again that he should not be put at the helm of any country, let alone the most powerful country on earth.

Now I know that many people will declare that Hillary Clinton isn't a perfect candidate either. I agree with you (personally I wanted Bernie Saunders to be the Democratic nominee) but this isn't a lesser of two evils argument. The reason that Hillary Clinton isn't perfect is in part because she is more qualified. Donald Trump has zero relevant experience- being real estate mogul or a reality TV star is nothing like working in politics or public service, and it cannot be seen as preparing anyone for the presidency except in that these roles have power and as does the presidency. Hillary Clinton on the other hand has been working in the public sector for years, and so we know about her failures and oversights in that area. I could list them as I did for some of Trump's but the fact of the matter is that unlike Trump's most of them (even the emails) did not occur whilst on the campaign trail and also unlike Trump's were largely investigated and cleared by the relevant agencies within the US government.  Were there possibly other experienced candidates with less of these issues and questions? The answer is definitely yes. However the attacks on her that I have seen in the main stream media and on social media aren't normally rational explorations of the issues, they are flimsy claims about her "likeability" or her dress sense or that she is vaguely "corrupt" with no specifics or that she is too old (she is younger than Trump) or asking if she has the stamina (again Trump is older) or discussing how she is going to be "President Mom". When I look at these I'm not convinced because they sound vaguely familiar and it has nothing to with her eligibility to be president and hundred percentage to do with her gender. A few years ago, we had our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, and there were some valid questions on things she did just as they would have been for a man in the same position, however the media and social media exploded with discussion of her dress sense and her martial status and then when she reversed an election promise (as all world leaders end up doing) there were the most heinously sexist rallies in major cities with being posters using the word "bitch" and others portraying her as witch and the coining of the horrid title "Ju-liar", and horror of horror a man who attended these rallies became PM a few years later at which point the country lost a little of its collective soul. There are countries in the world where women can run for the highest political office and this doesn't happen- many Scandinavian countries have had and currently have female leaders, and though I may not agree with her politics, Angela Merkel has been running Germany for over a decade. Whenever this kind of attack happens to female politicians, I just want to scream "ignore her gender and talk about the issues!!!!" as loudly as I can. Talk about the issues with Hillary Clinton by all means but talk about them just as you would the issues with a bloke and I'm fine with you but this is ridiculous! There is no shibboleth for the presidency (guess which West Wing episode I'm currently watching) but if we go on experience, demonstrated ability generally and calmness under pressure (a key factor for an American president), even with the legitimate questions about her as a candidate, there is only one possible choice for president of these two candidates as the US goes to the polls. I may not support all Hillary Clinton has done or will do as president but right now I'm with her and not because she is the lesser of two evils but for the valid issues, she is still the better candidate.

A few more things:

- Dear Republican Party, too little too late! I know that many prominent Republicans have declared that they are voting Democrat or not voting for President in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape scandal. The people voting for Trump are in large part not dyed in the wool Republicans, and your decision will not change theirs. You have allowed the beast to grow and you needed to chop off its head back when it was just an idea. You needed to nominate from the floor at the RNC or to better coordinate your efforts as candidates fought for the nomination- some of your potential nominees who weren't Trump were down right scary or just plain foolish and there were generally just too many of them, you could have narrowed the field and put your power behind one of them who wasn't Trump. If you had done this, you wouldn't be needing to have this scrambling discussion now because Trump wouldn't be a factor.
- Dear Trump voters, I'm excited that so many of you are voting for the first time because, you know what, voting is important! I don't agree with your choice and I'm horrified by the sentiments you keep expressing about the Democratic candidate, women, and people of other races. However I feel sympathy for the fact that so many of you feel so unheard by your society. So on this eve of the election, I beg you, to pause, and think about the weight of the responsibility of voting, and to think on why it never was something you were interested in previously. I ask you to think about whether it is true that despite all evidence a New York billionaire could know and speak to the values and needs of working class Americans in the mid west and south of the country. I implore you to speak to your friends who always vote about why they vote the way they do. Voting is powerful tool and it isn't just a means to make a one off statement- the person elected needs to be capable of running the country for the next four years.
- Dear Hillary Clinton (hopefully by the end of tomorrow Dear President Elect Clinton), don't forget the reason the Trump campaign happened. Working class America has a voice and the politicians of your country (and all countries because it is the working class community in other countries who had major roles in, for example, Australia's scary senate, and in Brexit) need to start looking at why they feel the way they do. Under the rhetoric of racism and sexism, there are fixable issues or at least issues to be discussed surrounding rights, entitlements, the economy, employment, and adjustment to change.  Don't be scared by the rhetoric but actually seek to heal the divide because the world will just get scarier if it isn't fixed.

So that is my American election post. I'll be happy when it is over...though that will mean the end of the Kate McKinnon/ Alec Baldwin bits on SNL which I have loved to bits. There is so much wrong with the US that I cannot see the solution for but as a country that has mandatory detention for asylum seekers, Australia cannot be the moral guide point on anything right now either. I want to see that greater and more intelligent public debate that The West Wing dreamed of but it seems more wish fulfillment than ever (especially as the President who might have got the world nearer it has spent most of the last eight year hampered by congress...Barrack Obama, I will miss you). Maybe the very idea of America is an exercise in wish fulfillment as from its foundations it sought to be set itself up with unique, as the dream state to which other could aspire but which never met its full potential. Aside from The West Wing, the pop culture respite to the election cycle for me has been the soundtrack to Hamilton (fingers crossed, hoping, and praying I get tickets for it when it opens in London as I'll be there then- I'm also reading the Hamilton biography on which it is based, so yes I'm more than an little obsessed). The beautiful thing about Hamilton, aside from the fact it has been the trigger in changing my mind on rap as a genre, is the great promise of the unfulfilled potential of the idea of a new nation. The American founding fathers may have been further right wing in their politics than I would subscribe to (Democrats weren't a thing back then and definitely not us far on the left) but they were intelligent men with big ideas and sharp minds who loved debate, and you've got to love that. The women that they were married to were also amazing despite the fact that we are still discovering their stories- history being the domain of men and all- just look up Alexander Hamilton's wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and her sisters (all of whom feature in the musical with some historical embellishment- no qualms with Lin Manuel Miranda's depiction of them, but the reality of all of them is even more amazing) for an idea of what I mean. Americans are going in droves to see this play, and the fact of the matter is this is what their political system promised when it started so they should be seeking that appeal to their better angels as they vote. In the play, Hamilton describes the nation that America could be as he dies- "American, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me, you let me make difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints, and rise up". This is the America that America should be, the place of endless possibility for everyone...for all the reasons that Anita in West Side Story wanted to be there and beyond.

So tomorrow get to those poll booths, think about your vote including its impact on the rest of the world, and please don't elect a man who thinks insulting people and meaningful debate are the same thing...don't throw away your shot, America!

Image result for hamilton  musical quotes
A solid principle in voting and holding political office as well as for the kind of man hunt the Schuyler sisters on it at this point in Hamilton

*There are some questions about Hillary Clinton's responses in the past to sexual assault allegations against her husband, and there is no getting away from that. Not that her responses are to be ignored or taken lightly, but it needs to be taken into account that many of her responses quoted were in the immediate aftermath of the accusations and the fact that she felt personal hurt that flavoured her responses at the time of the quotes cannot be dismissed.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Part time study- sometime it is quite the humbling exercise

Hello people of blog land! Another bout of my perpetual busy-ness has meant once again I haven't posted in a while. Tonight my post is in light of my recent (fairly dismal) study efforts. It is a bit of cautionary excursion into the world of the part time student... full of warnings for those considering part time study in the future.

Now as regular readers know I was once enrolled in a part time PhD and there are posts from the long ago that you might wish to read about that (or more accurately about my frequent guilt at not working on it and the emotional turmoil of withdrawing from it). What I don't think I've mentioned before is the path to the PhD. Back in 2005, I was a wee little history/English literature combined honours student. Now to clarify, honours (for Americans and others who are outside of the traditional system now abandoned by everyone except Australia and some parts of the UK and New Zealand) is not an indication of a high average across the undergraduate degree, it is separate one year research addition to the undergraduate degree which involves additional more in-depth coursework and a thesis, and if one gains a high enough grade in it, they can go straight into a PhD without the hassle of doing a masters (this is what I did). Now foolhardy young twenty something that I was for the latter half of my full time honours year, I found myself working two jobs to a level that would be considered full time work and not sleeping much at all. It is not a great way of doing things (to say the least) and if you somehow pull it off it gives you false expectations of your ability to juggle work and study.

When I was doing the PhD (started only six months later), I quickly discovered that when insomnia waned that the combo of even part time study (the honours year was full time) and full time work was not easy if you were getting closer to the recommended hours of sleep. I wrote most of my honours thesis between 1 and 4am, but by the time I started my PhD, I was rarely awake at 1am and next to never after 2am. This said, there were windows where the supportive nature of my workplace at the time in facilitating my study needs meant that I got a solid amount of momentum up and work done (a solid slab of it was written when I withdrew). As those who read the earlier withdrawal from the PhD post will know, the nail in the coffin of the PhD was moving to a less supportive workplace. That said, I was quite vocal on the fact that the combo of part time research degree and full time work probably wasn't wise.

When I picked up "part time" (actually full time but split across modes and colleges) coursework study a few years ago, I thought it would be easier than the PhD to juggle and I found not so much. Where the PhD was nice and focused jumping between three subjects a semester whilst working part time (last year) and full time (this) has been hard to keep track of or find time to do. So I figured I'd give some tips for those who are considering this path of action- part time coursework study and any form of work- to help them learn from my mistakes and make wiser choices:
  1. Don't do it! That is the wisest advice I can give. If you have the option to study full time, do that.
  2. Balance your work and study well. If your study is in an area that is relevant to your work or will help you advance at work make sure and speak to them about flexible arrangements to accommodate it. If it isn't, keep one or the other at a low level- cut down work hours or cut down subjects.  Trust me, scrambling to get your brain into the right gear to write an essay on your lunch break having dealt with completely different things all morning is crazy difficult.
  3. Prepare. I am awful at this as I did my whole undergraduate degree at the last minute, but it is key. You don't know when you might get sick and suddenly lose a clunk of study time. This is true for all students but when I was floored by a really bad head cold last semester in window where I had two essays due on the same day and a busy period at work, it was a mess to sort out requiring many an extension request and not only were the essays less than great, I also ended up taking significantly longer to recover from illness.
  4. Once again Prepare. If you are studying a postgraduate coursework degree, the chances are your educational institute will have worked hard to make sure that the full time students don't land a ton of essays due at the same time, but that isn't you. If you, like me, are taking mixed mode study with some cross institutional study mixed it, it gets super messy, but even if you are just having to juggle different subjects at different year levels or areas mixed together because those are the ones that fit right now, you will get this problem. You are much more likely to have things due close to each other so you need to be on the ball as one domino in the work/study balance falls or as mentioned above sickness or something appears, you will struggle a lot to get this done. I just had a lecturer question my essay writing ability and I wanted to find him and show him my honours thesis to show that I could more than write an essay but the simple fact of the matter is that the essay was a rubbish essay because I had three essays due in a two week window, during which I was also busy with other things (read work mainly), and suffering the ill effects of particularly bad hayfever/ sinus issues (I hate spring!).
  5. Don't expect to be a brilliant superstar. I used to scoff at the "Ps get degrees" mentality (P means pass or a grade between 50 and 64 to those not Australian) as an arts undergraduate- it was however a life motto in my science degree. Since starting my current course, I had to adjust that and it was hard. In my first essay, I got the lowest essay mark I had ever received (just beaten by two of the three essays of the last few weeks- all three weren't great and those two were also submitted late) and I had a bit of a meltdown. I was a good student as an undergraduate. I never got low marks in essays, essays were my thing. Before I spiraled too out of control, I did something I'd never done as an undergraduate and met with the lecturer. It wasn't long into that conversation that I realised the issue. I wasn't a twenty year old undergraduate with minimal work or life responsibilities anymore, I was a thirty something with a full time job and many other things beside going on for me. I couldn't just smash something out at the last minute and expect a high mark because even that had required a clear head space and a solid few hours of library time. Also I had gone from being graded against peers who were just as slack I was to being graded against full time students who had significantly more than the zero time I had to do research. You might get a few good marks but you need to know that if you aren't able to make time for research if you won't go as well- that is a simple fact of all study but it needs pointing out to the part timer.
  6. Think about the study head space. When workers try out study on the side, it usually for one of three reasons- career development, career change, or general interest.  If you are studying for career development, it is likely in the same field as your work so the head space is more transferable. If you are studying for general interest, then study is more of a hobby and therefore approached from space of "fun" so it is a welcome distraction and easier to do. The second of the three is my big caution. If you are studying for career change or career development for a career you don't yet hold, it can be very hard to get into the right head space and therefore the work/study balance is really important. Also it is really important to be mindful of your mental health, if you don't love your job/ it just isn't for you, you might be oddly motivated in your study and might start disliking your job more or losing motivation for it and struggling at work (this isn't an issue of me but I've seen it in others). Also you may see your study as an escape route so if your marks aren't great, you may be really down on yourself and start double guessing both work and study, and get into a super negative feedback loop. Obviously these can lend to some super unhealthiness.
I could say much more but that is six points to consider...point one being the most important!

I'd love to hear any thoughts others have. I do think part time study works for some and as I said for many parts of my PhD, it worked OK for me. I just think you need to be really clear on your motivations and the possible results of the study before you embark on it- especially as all of the above could be applied to undergraduate coursework study and lots of it to postgraduate research study.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

What's wrong with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? And no it isn't what you think...

So yesterday I caught Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, what would the world be if I didn't have thoughts to share on it...but first because some people are super sensitive...

And to avoid this....

I also include spoilers about season two of Daredevil and season one of D.C. Legends of Tomorrow...though also Arrow seasons one through three (I haven't seen four, but I figure that people are caught up on those so less of a warning about Arrow plot points) you are warned.


Hopefully people who care about spoilers are gone, and I'll proceed.

Now Batman v. Superman has got some awful reviews which have resulted in one of the best viral videos in years...

Personally, was it that awful? Not so much. It was of the same quality I've come to expect from D.C. lately. Now that could be seen as a back handed swipe at the current D.C. Universe by a Marvel fan, but I watch and enjoy all of the current D.C. fare, I just think that they are setting the bar at enjoyable but not brilliant which means that Marvel are running circles round them with things such as Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones. I know D.C. fans who actually agree with me on this, and honestly it is a while since Dark Knight which was the last quality D.C. offering.

So Batman v. Superman good but not great. It was hampered by large obstacles. Henry Cavill has the looks of Superman even if as an Englishman it is bit weird for him to play the man who represents "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" but he is seriously hampered by the scripting and lack of depth in character development (Cavill is a much better actor than the recent Superman films makes him seem and that isn't his fault). I was excited for Ben Affleck as Batman (shoot me I'm a fan) as I thought he would make a good Bruce Wayne (even if the Batman side of things was a question mark) and once again he was let down by the script and also by the ridiculously unnecessary dream sequences- I would love to see Affleck and Jeremy Irons as Alfred in a Batman solo film, even though Irons' Alfred was a VERY young Alfred to a 40-ish year old Bruce Wayne. The women of the film owned it...fighting against the faulty script and the dreadfully heavy handed direction (I'm getting to this), Gal Gadot managed to shine and make me personally (and I know others) super excited for the upcoming Wonder Woman  film, and not just because I was already keen for the first female led superhero film in years with an awesome cast with some strong female actors and a female director (much like Jessica Jones in the TV comic book adaptation scene). Amy Adams and Diane Lane who both delivered strong performances against a weak script in Man of Steel do so again, especially Adams who has made this Lois Lane really interesting. So that was the good-ish as far as it goes...the acting from the bulk of cast was quite strong which made the plot line more enjoyable, and the set up for the D.C. films to come was good.

The weak points, which are not what is "wrong" with the film as far I'm concerned, are another matter. The biggest problem is Zack Snyder. The man might love making comic book movies but he needs to stop. I have seen to date six films directed by Snyder and by some miracle one of them worked (I know others disagree but I liked Watchmen and thought it was a strong film). Two of his other films I count among my least favourite films of all time- the banal and overly violent instead of scary 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, and the poorly scripted, borderline (actually lose the borderline) fear of the other mongering 300... it doesn't help that I've seen and like the original Dawn of the Dead, and read and enjoyed 300 the comic. Then there is Suckerpunch, great soundtrack, but... I have nothing much else to say about that, and Man of Steel, were you trying to get me to dislike Superman more because you didn't need to work that hard? Snyder's direction is heavy handed to say the least and he gets no favours from the largely weak script in this film. The action sequences in particular lack subtly and nuance, and before you ask what is a nuanced action scene, I reply watch Mad Max: Fury Road, it's all action and yet you care about the characters, that is how. In the climatic battle sequences, I was emotionless and considering how much I love Batman that is hard to do...seriously I almost wouldn't have cared which way the fights went. The fight scenes looked at points like Snyder and co were just lifting visuals from the Arkham series of video games, and as a big fan of those games, I say the games did it better. There were points where they tried a minute of visual subtly and all but one of these (which was my favourite shot of the film and I'll get to later) failed and in many cases seemed to blur out of focus. Snyder is down to direct the two upcoming Justice League films and to script the second one, and if I was a D.C. person, instead of a Marvel one, that would make me cry (in fact it almost does regardless as I know I'll watch those films and I know Snyder at the helm means there is strong chance they will not be great). Aside from my dislike of the directorial style of Snyder which I could devote a whole blog post to on its own, the script needed editing and a serious rework, there was heavy handed visual and script signposting (OK that is Snyder again but seriously the repeated sign posting (spoiler coming) of the significance of Batman and Superman's mothers sharing the same given name (can I say I've always thought that was lazy on the part of D.C. but not surprising considering similar issues with the mothers of Black Canary and Oracle/Batgirl sharing the given names of their daughters?) was annoying as all get out), the dream goodness...the dream sequences (I cannot get over how awful and unnecessary they were...edit, people! Losing them would have made the film a reasonable length), and finally the Lex Luthor who wasn't. Just to expand on that last point, I like Jesse Eisenberg and I think he did a good job with the character Snyder and the script writers gave him to play but the issue is that character wasn't Lex Luthor, that character was a more than a little loopy version of the version of Mark Zuckerberg that Eisenberg played so well in the amazing Social Network. Lex Luthor- a power hunger tyrant yes, but wacky and sprouting of strange non-sequiturs, no. It is the very reason that it works really well when the folks at D.C. put him in the same space as the Joker, because the Joker is wacky, chaos driven, reason-less lunacy whilst Luthor is calm, power hungry, megalomania. People can recognise the tyrants and dictators of history when they see Lex Luthor, and that is what makes him a brilliant comic book villain. There is no need to make him crazier as that what is we all love about another D.C. super villain, good ol' Mr J. 

So that is my option of Batman v. Superman, good/enjoyable thanks to some strong acting particular the women in the cast, but massively let down by heavy handed direction and a poor script. Ultimately it was better than Man of Steel but it is marginally outshone by D.C.'s current TV fare and considering it is a perfect example of enjoyable but not great, that isn't a compliment.

Now I get to what was wrong with the film and where I might spoil the film and other things in a big way.

What bugged me the most with this film was its attitude to death. The reason being that comic book films and TV series are everywhere nowadays, and the significance of the attitudes about death by heroes to forming ideas about this for many of the young viewers of these films, this needs to considered.

Historically comic books have had a confusing view on the top of death. Firstly there is the notorious issue of "retroactive continuity" (ret-con for short and random shout out to Torchwood for brilliant usage of this term as the name of a short term memory loss drug). For those not familiar with the idea of ret-con, it is the practice of bringing dead characters back to life and changing the continuity of the comic to allow for this. There are very few comic book deaths that are untouchable in terms of ret-con- Ben Parker being Marvel's big example of this, and Thomas and Martha Wayne being D.C.'s. However a one-off issue of Spiderman has ret-conned Uncle Ben's death, and there are people theorising that with D.C.'s declaration that they will be revealing the identity of the Joker (please don't D.C.!), they will potentially reveal him to be Thomas Wayne (awful idea, completely out of line with any continuity (especially when looking at Batman and the Joker's respective ages in all depictions of the characters), and too messed up even for Gotham...I hope that this is just the crazy folk of tumblr being wacky....still to re-iterate please don't tell us who the Joker is, D.C., we don't want to know). Ret-cons of the long term dead in last few decades- in particular, Bucky Barnes, Gwen Stacey, and Barry Allen- have led to declarations that no ret-con is out of the question, and length of time between death and ret-con have got significantly shorter in recent years- for example, my favourite comic book character, Rogue, was ret-con recently after only a few years in the grave and in the interim a series that featured her briefly but was out of continuity with series in which she died was published. The practice of ret-con has lead to the perception that comic book writers don't care about character death or feel that it should be significant.

However ret-con is completely at odds with the attitude towards death held by the bulk of heroes in both Marvel and D.C. comics. In both cases for the most part superheroes don't kill villains on purpose and accidental death of a villain can lead to PTSD or similar on the part of a hero. This question of whether superheroes are above the law and therefore able to kill those they fight have been played out twice on TV recently and this is where the spoilers start. In the recently released second season of Daredevil (brilliant by the way even if sadly down on the first season due to the powerhouse performance of Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk reduced to a few guest spots- his replacements as series antagonists (Jon Brenthal as the Punisher, and Elodie Yung as Elektra) are amazing but his performance was just something really special) really hits on that theme. As per comic book superhero rules, Matt Murdock is strongly anti killing folk as part of his Daredevil ways, but both Frank Castle and Elektra Natchios have none of these scruples hence why Punisher and Elektra are normally tagged anti-heroes not heroes (what with the Deadpool movie, it is the year for Marvel antiheroes...Deadpool BTW entertaining with good soundtrack but not great which was disappointing- better than Batman v. Superman though). Two of the big questions of this series are should Matt Murdock listen to Frank Castle about vigilante justice and go down the path of killing villains, and can Elektra be reformed from her assassin ways. The answer to both questions is no, as seen for Elektra in a particularly graphic throat slitting scene which horrifies Matt. For the current version of Daredevil, it seems justice cannot permit murder. Turning to D.C., the question of superheroes killing folk was a recurrent plot point of season one of Arrow. Should Oliver Queen be OK with taking lives? He thought yes for a while but partly due to the convincing opinions of his associates, he ultimately went with no. This wasn't the last time Arrow and its expanding universe asked this question and it is the question drives its potentially most interesting but sadly often misused or underused character, that of Sara Lance or the White Canary. Sara Lance does not appear in the Green Arrow comics but when her death was proven to not actually have been a death, she was initially re-introduced as a character not dissimilar to  Black Canary (initially confusing as her sister in the show carried the comic book character's name- thankfully since slightly ironed out by renaming her, "The White Canary"). Having been trained by the League of Assassins, Sara had no issue killing folk and it was only Oliver's influence in season two of Arrow that got her to turn her back on her killing ways for a time. After Sara's murder in season 3 and her resurrection in the Lazarus Pit in season 4 (I haven't seen it but I have seen Legends of Tomorrow in which she is a main character so I know it happened), her blood lust is increased and she finds it increasingly difficult not to kill people in battle so is constantly at war with herself about this (this internal battle and her bisexuality make Sara a character with so much potential to is a pity she is not in the hands of more capable creatives). The conclusion ultimately is to be a hero in either universe it is key that you do not think killing is a means to justice and the TV sides of both universes are beating that drum loudly.

This is where I get to what is wrong with Batman v. Superman. Comics have a conflicted view- the death of characters can on one hand easily be ret-conned but on the other hand life is important and for the most part it is not the role of superheroes to take power over this. The conflict raises issues but it is better that people are conflicted than that they reach the conclusion that death by superhero is fine or that death is key to justice. Now in the world of the Justice League, the biggest and loudest advocate of superheroes not killing folk is Batman hence why Arkham and Blackgate are overflowing with criminals and the graveyards of Gotham are not overflowing with dead. This has led to occasional fall out with Superman who at times may is in favour of accidental civilian casualty and Wonder Woman who is one of the few superheroes who is completely OK with killing folk in the line of justice (Elektra, White Canary, Wonder there something in the fact that women are the ones with lower moral compass on killing folk? An intriguing thought for another time). Batman has historical put a very high value on human life and even though the Batman films have at times struggled to portray this, it has been the case that most Batman film villains, those who didn't end up in Arkham, die by their own misstep. And here is the issue. In the rubbish dream sequences, the dreaming Bruce Wayne has a scant to non-existent regard for human life, and though he does redirect the final battle to an abandoned section of the Gotham docks near Ace Chemicals away from civilians, there are earlier scenes where he uses guns and a level of violence that was certain to result in death. The film's main focus is Superman's collateral damage especially in terms of the human life cost, but ultimately Batman comes across as only being mildly less interested in avoiding the death of those he fights. The film has removed the internal conflict of comic book views of death and has come down on the wrong side, civilian death in its view is just collateral damage, death is unimportant, and for a film trying to make the opposite point, it fails spectacularly.  That is what it is ultimately wrong with this film, it makes death not a problem and that is never the message to send young people especially when you are utilising characters who would never normally say that such as Batman and, for the large part, Superman.

Now to the redeeming minute of cinematography of the film...

It relates to the one character who you know is OK with killing people and dealing with her moral compass is just one of the things that makes me so excited for the Wonder Woman movie. There is a point in the final climatic battle in which there is a glimpse of subtly which I'm attributing completely to Gal Gadot's acting...It's not this one but I can't find it online and this is pretty close and the same scene...

There is a moment where she is fighting and she just gives this look of loving the battle- more than you would ever see from Batman or Superman- and that is her character in a nutshell and if they hit that tone in Wonder Woman, we will be looking at an awesome film that, unlike this version of Batman who is OK with a bit of death, is exactly what the comic book writers intended.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In memory of Ziggy and the Metatron

Last week the world was thrown into a mass outpouring of grief by the publicly sudden but privately less sudden deaths of two legends of the artistic community, David Bowie and Alan Rickman. I have been a long term fan of both of these men and so like many others spent last week a state of grief for two men I've never met. As I start to emerge from the David Bowie part of that grief (I've pretty much only listened to Bowie since hearing of his death) and start to process the second one of these great loses to not just the arts, but also to the world at large, I have reflected on a few things that struck me this week.

David Bowie and Alan Rickman had many things in common aside from the impact they had on music/movies/art and movies/theatre/writing respectively, and the fact they were the same age or died of the same awful disease. Both men hailed from working class English backgrounds. Both men by all accounts were genuinely lovely human beings- I've never heard a bad word about either of them in their interactions with fellow creatives or journalists or fans or everyone. Both men were very committed in their family relationships- Rickman was with the same women from his teen years to his death, and Bowie was with his second wife for over 20 years. Both men had an impact that echoed across generations as the public outpouring of grief I've seen ranged from teenagers through to people older than the men themselves. As I reflected though I wanted to emphasis two commonalities...

The importance of public arts funding

As I said both of these men were from working class backgrounds, which meant neither was from a family that could fund establishing an artistic career or attending a private arts college. In fact both men attended publicly funded arts schools. In an era where these are things of the past in many countries and where governments routinely cut arts funding, the legacy of these men in part emphasises the importance of government arts funding. Not to make their deaths a political topic, but without public arts funding we might be in a world with no Jareth the Goblin King or no Severus Snape (on the big screen anyway), and what a poorer world that would actually be.

 Privacy in a public world

We live in a world where day by day everyone shares everything on the web, but one of the biggest impacts of both of these deaths was how private they managed to be, especially in light of the level of cultural impact both men have. No-one outside a tight inner circle of friends and family knew either man was ill or that death was an imminent possibility. The public did not get stepped through their cancer journeys or to have a death bed vision of them down the lens of a smart phone. Maybe it was because they were men born in an age where privacy was more common and respected, but in their deaths, they showed that in the 24/7 social media whirlwind of the modern world, they reminded us that there are things that should be private. Families and friends of famous people have just as much right to private grief as do the families and friends of us common folk. Cancer in all its horrid manifestations is a drawn out and horrible illness, and since most of us have witnessed a loved one struggled through that journey, we can all understand that it is something you wouldn't want to invite the whole world to observe. I know it seems ironic to say this on a blog but there should be a space for the private and personal space in this world especially when sickness and death come to call. I am grateful that these two great men can reminding us of this, and I hope that the media and the broader public continues to respect the need to give their families and friends space to process and doesn't start trawling to find stories of how their last months were spent.

Those are the two commonalities that struck me, and the third thing that struck me was the interesting way in which the public interacts with the death of celebrities. As a society just as we don't do privacy well, we also in Western countries increasingly as awfully bad at dealing with death. We hide from it, we don't speak about it, and we try not to show weakness when faced with it by stifling our tears in public. However this is when we are dealing with personal death- the deaths of loved ones who others we speak to might not know. When a public figure dies, though we have never met them, the fact that we are admired their work and that they have inspired us or made us dream is something we share with hundreds of others. Having bottled our private griefs that others in the broader community may not share, we are hit harder by grief for people who shape our lives via popular culture but we have no personal relationship with. You could probably write a psychology thesis on this but I feel that the death of public figures sometimes gives the space to speak about death generally that society normally does not afford us, and what occurs is a distinct brand of grief unseen before the mid twentieth century. As many others spent last week in the same way that I did, listening to Bowie's music and watching Rickman's films, I know that there is definitely something more than trivial going on there. These men have been inspirations to hundreds (if not thousands of people) and it is one of these rare times where people across the world could agree that there is something profoundly sad and wrong about any death, and that each death should be mourned.

So from me, this is a brief thanks to these men. Firstly Alan Rickman...

I have been a fan of his work since I first saw the Ang Lee version of Sense and Sensibility as a teenager, and whilst I've seen the film he is perhaps known for to people my age (just breath, guys, I'm watching it...and by it I mean Die Hard... as I type). Though he is best known for the gravitas he brought to evil characters with his amazingly deep voice and flawless delivery but I actually most love his comedic turns. I know younger people will always remember him as Snape and older people as Hans Gruber but there is much more. So I thought I'd give a short recommend of Alan Rickman films that aren't Die Hard or Harry Potter... In fact, these are my top five Rickman films generally and count down.

5. Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy

Now Hitchhikers' Guide isn't a great adaptation of the book and I say this despite being a crazy fan of pretty much everyone in it, but there are one thing that the casting director could not have got more right. There are two characters out there that when I read the book I thought if they make a film of this and don't cast Alan Rickman, it wouldn't be a proper film of this book. One was Severus Snape (I read the other day that some Harry Potter fans thought he was miscast when the cast list was first announced and all I can say that these folk is, did you read a different book to me?!?!) and the other is Marvin the paranoid android from Hitchhikers' Guide. There is something about Rickman's voice that makes it ideal for the perpetually depressed Marvin.

4. Love Actually

OK this film is comedy but Rickman's character is not comedic. I love Love Actually but the Alan Rickman/ Emma Thompson story line just breaks my heart every time. Seriously I've seen it tonnes of times but the scene where he tries and fails to apologise for being a horrible husband and she replies by telling him that he has made "the life I led ridiculous" by cheating on her, I cry buckets of tears. Now that is mainly Thompson's performance, but it would be nothing if she wasn't playing off long time repeated co-star, Rickman. Rickman's character may be a useless husband in the film but Rickman makes him more than just a sleaze. Not to defend him but the character seems like a good boss- when it comes to Laura Linney's character that is, when it comes to his assistant...that's another matter (you don't sleep with staff!). Rickman manages to make it believable both that Harry is a supportive boss to Linney's character and simultaneously a deeply weak man who does something deeply stupid and wrong. One of Love Actually's strongest point is that a lot of its characters are flawed humans doing stupid things, and the Rickman/Thompson story line is the most believably real and has the least fairy tale ending.

3. Sense and Sensibility

Yes this is a comedy...haven't you read Austen? This is the movie that kicked off my love of Alan Rickman's work and it once again also features his Love Actually co-stars, Emma Thompson and High Grant. I remember watching it as a teen and thinking Colonel Brandon was very sweet but at the same time being horrified by the age difference between him and Marianne. When I read the book, I calmed down about the age difference (16 to 35 was pretty normal at that time) but when rewatching it this weekend, friends and I googled various things, and did the maths, Kate Winslet was 20 and Alan Rickman was 49 so I think I was right to be creeped out when I was a teenager (that said, oddly not creeped out as much nowadays). Colonel Brandon is the kind of character who risks being deeply dull (it is a criticism many lay at the feet of Sense and Sensibility) and it is why, more than any other Austen cad, I can understand why Marianne felt Willoughby was a preferable option. Rickman manages to get right past that with the stoicism he gives to the character, and I have to say whilst Brandon in the book is a tad boring, Brandon in this movie very attractive option (yes I know I'm talking about the man who would go on to play Snape).

2. Galaxy Quest

I watched this movie a lot when I was at uni- though I have to say I think I still have seen Love Actually more times and I definitely have seen the next film more times. This film about failed franchise stars who go from convention to convention, much in the vein of many people who starred in Star Trek, is one that enjoys mad nerd cult film status but is sadly underseen by others. Rickman plays Alexander Dane who was the Spock type character, and he is deeply hilarious as a theatrically trained actor who cannot get a role and has been reduced to a catch phrase- "By Grabthar's hammer, I will avenge you". That Rickman would go on to be a franchise star with his portrayal of Snape makes this performance even better.

 1. Dogma

Now some might think this a bit of a shameful guilty pleasure confession but I LOVE the films of Kevin Smith (pre Clerks 2- that was not great- and I've not watched the subsequent ones). Dogma  is one of my absolute favourite films of all time and Alan Rickman's droll portrayal of the Metatron is just perfectly pitched. If the voice of God is that slightly sarcastic, I'm fine with it. I could gush for hours about how amazing it is but I say just watch it (that said if you think sex jokes overly crash, a warning there are quite a few as this is Kevin Smith film after all).

So that is my thank you to Alan Rickman/recommendation of Alan Rickman comedies. Also I've now finished Die Hard and gosh it was seems you all were right all along.

The next and bigger thank you is to David Bowie. Most people my age were introduced to Bowie one of two ways- by relatives who were into his music or by the movie, Labyrinth- and whilst I have relatives who are fans (particularly my older sister who even saw him in concert once... so jealous!), for me it was definitely the latter. Labyrinth has been one of my most loved films ever since I first saw it aged six or so, and long before I realised just how weird it is to combine a teen girl, a baby, animated owls, a sheepdog, muppets, and a grown man in very tight tights on the big screen (brilliant weird, but weird none the less). When I got into music as a teen, I discovered that almost every artist I loved (being all alt rock types as they were) listed Bowie as one of their biggest influences, and by the end of high school I had a vague familiarity with many of his hits and a quote from one of his songs scrawled across my school folder (it was the line from "Changes" that is the epigraph to Breakfast Club and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't mainly motivated by that film). As I've mentioned in previous blogs, most of my discovery of music that wasn't 90s alt rock/pop happened when I was at uni, and it was at uni that I truly feel in love with the music of David Bowie. As I listened, I understood what the bands I loved as a teen were talking about. They were shadows of what Bowie was (great shadows with great skills but still nothing on the original). Bowie's musical innovation, his constant reinvention, his questioning of societal norms (especially around gender), and his role as voice for the outsider, this is what modern bands could now merely aspire to because he had set the bar too high for them to comprehend. There is something in his music that I doubt we will see the likes of again. Personally for me, Ziggy Stardust is the height of perfection when it comes to an album of any type of music (along with Sergeant Pepper) can keep your Mozart and even your Beethoven, I would rather spend time with a skinny English man in flares.

The irony of just the sheer scale of Bowie's genius is that rumour has it we almost never got to hear it. From what I hear tell, when he came to pitch Space Oddity to his record company, they were at a loss as to what to do with it. They saw Bowie as a solo artist was trying to sell them what was primarily a folk album (which is in part true of some of the tracks) with a very strange and different title track that was not folk but was about an astronaut and was not like anything they had heard before. What a mercy for us all that they took a gamble on him...

I do have five tracks for you, including my two favourites (cannot pick five favourites as three of those would change any time I was asked), but I also want to say, if you have never listened to the music of David Bowie, do yourself a a copy of Ziggy Stardust and mark aside a chuck of time this weekend to have a listen and prepare to have your musical life as you know it turned up side down. Also since I'm not listing anything off it below, I also have to say here, if you are Bowie fan (or even if you aren't) and you haven't bought a copy of Black Star yet, GET a copy! His last album is truly beautiful and amazing, and also really haunting when you consider the lyrics in the light of his illness and imminent death.

So five tracks to celebrate Bowie....

"Within you" from the Labyrinth soundtrack

I adore all of the music in Labyrinth and this also is a shout out to where I first encountered the genius of David Bowie.... also because this section of the film looks like a film clip when nope it is just a regular bit of the film.

"Under Pressure"- technically Queen feat. Bowie but both have featured it on greatest hits albums and perform it alive

Since Queen are also one of my favourite all time musical artists, I would be remiss not to include this. Also it is AMAZING!

"Life on Mars"

This completes the three songs that if you asked me another day I may not list as favourites. I love these three but I love also "Changes" or "Heroes" or "China Girl" or "Man who sold the world" (actually is there a better opening riff to any song ever then the one to "Man who sold the world"?), or "Golden Years" or "Space Oddity" or the list goes on and on... my two all time never changing David Bowie songs which you MUST listen to...

"Ashes to Ashes"

OK so this film clip is deeply odd to say the least and disturbing if like me you aren't a massive fan of clowns, but the song.... There is some much here. Dreams that have shattered, heroes that are failures. It is pretty much a motto for a generation of gen Xs right there. Also listen to it and just feel the power of the influence of Bowie's music on those who followed.

"Suffragette City"

It started live as a B side on Ziggy Stardust and it now rightly has found its way onto many of the Greatest Hits of Bowie albums out there. My all time favourite Bowie song...I just love everything about it!

So my thank you to Alan Rickman and to David Bowie for the amazing things that they did for the arts, and to quote the character that generations will remember Alan Rickman for, when will the influence of these men be felt? "Always"