Monday, October 16, 2017

Life after death in sitcom land and new true crime in podcast land

Hi again folks, still from Scotland. Whilst I've been away I've been able to catch up on old pop culture things or start on new popular culture things, and I have two big recommendations (granted I started writing this a week ago and I think everyone got the memo on the second recommendation in the interim). Following this I have a few words on something else that just started a new season which I have been a semi-reluctant fan of for a while to tie in with the fact that last week was World Mental Health Week.

TV show wise, thank goodness for Netflix and its automatic transfer to the country you are in (please take note spotify (I'm very disconnected from music right now) and Amazon Prime (to get the third season of Outlander on UK Amazon I had to try everything I had and much mucking around to sort it out as I was previously a Prime subscriber back home, and this was despite having a UK Amazon account for many years- before I had US and Australian ones in fact)). I'm not sure what UK prime time looks like nowadays (I have a TV at my AirBnB but I've not turned it on as yet) but my previous experience has been wall to wall soap operas and reality TV. I'm sure that isn't all that exists as I watch a lot of good British made TV and also this was coloured by my staying in hostels previously and therefore not having control of the TV. Maybe it is because this that I will be recommending a US made show which is on Netflix.

The show I have been watching recently dropped on UK and Australian Netflix. The show was on other channels earlier as the first season was aired in 2016 originally and Netflix just got the rights and dropped the first season in one hit along with debuting the first episode of the second season in September. The show is the newest sitcom from Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-nine creator Michael Schur, The Good Place. Check out the first season trailer...


That gives you the plot to a degree but just in case you didn't watch or the link messes up, the summary is as follows. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself in a office setting where she is greeted by Michael (Ted Danson) who advises her that she has died and is now in the afterlife. Michael tells Eleanor that due to the good works she did whilst alive, she has been placed in "the good place" for her afterlife. As she is welcomed, Michael walks her through the neighbourhood of the good place in which she is to live, and to her very small and insanely quirky (for want of a better word) cottage in the neighbourhood. He puts on a video of the work she did in Africa for human rights and talks about her work as a death row lawyer, and introduces her to Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) a Senegalese professor of ethics and moral philosophy who is supposed to Eleanor's soul mate (in the good place everyone has a soul mate). After Michael leaves them, Eleanor reveals to Chidi that the video of her life is not her life and that she was not a lawyer or that good a person at all. Eleanor is sure she is not supposed to be in the good place and asks Chidi to help her with this. In the course of the first episode, you are also introduced to Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil)- a wealthy British philanthropist of Pakstini descent, Tahani's soulmate Jianyu Li (Manny Jacinto)- Taiwanese Buddhist monk who has taken a vow of silence, and Janet (D'Arcy Carden)- the information system and assistant for those in the good place that takes human form.

I would strongly recommend not investigating the show at all online due to spoilers. Just start on it. I'm a big fan of Michael Schur's shows (the ones he created- he also wrote for the US version of The Office which I'm not a fan of due to my love of the original UK version but I know many folks are fans), and I love to see here like Brooklyn Nine-nine a diverse cast, and like both Brooklyn Nine-nine and Parks and Rec very cynical humour of the kind you don't often get in US sitcoms and some solid roles for women. I am also a long term fan of Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, and the presence of either on their own without Schur in the creator's chair would likely have resulted in my watching the show. Bell takes the sass she honed many moons ago as Veronica Mars and adds to that an adult cynicism and still manages to make the potentially unlikable and selfish Eleanor into a very likeable character. Danson in the element he has perfected over decades is amazing, and the continual cheerfulness and odd naivete he gives to the character of Michael is delightful- yes naivete despite Michael being a hundreds of years old being. The actors I was not familiar with (Harper, Jamil, Jacinto, and Carden) are also really amazing- Harper in making the straight man to the chaos not boring, Jamil in nailing the pretentiousness of Tahani, Jacinto for spoiler reasons I won't go into, and Carden for making Janet definitely more than the robot that she keeps being called, I feel like Janet is the public servant of the afterlife. The guest cast is also good especially Adam Scott who should be in everything and is very different here from Ben in Parks and Rec. In addition for guest cast, there was much confusion of me trying to place Amy Okuda who plays a background character late in the season (only super nerds will potentially twig to this and they will likely just recognise her but it took me a while to realise she was Tinkerballa from The Guild). The premise is also quite novel which adds to the quality of the show. The whole idea of someone who is in the good version of the afterlife trying to qualify for her position there is something I've definitely not seen before. The writing is hilarious and along with Schur one of the main writers is Drew Goddard who worked on Buffy among other things. The mechanics of the afterlife in the show will likely lead to many comments by folks of various religions who watch the show especially in terms of a merit based afterlife and what that suggests for the moral philosophy that Hollywood proposes. This show is definitely a new favourite for me, and makes me think of the words "fork", "shirt", and "bench" very differently.

Onto podcast land... I am a late comer to the whole podcast vibe only joining in just over a year ago, and cliche dictates there is no-one more zealous than a convert, I feel I'm always talking people's ears off about some podcast or another. From initially cautiously investigating one podcast about a beloved TV show (The West Wing Weekly if you are curious), I now listen to over twenty different ones. I listen to a bunch on US politics (all by the same media company), a few fiction based story ones, a bunch of comedy ones on various themes, a few on cults (though all of them do have a habit of hitting my bugbear of adding an 's' to the biblical book of Revelation which drives me a tad nuts), and a bunch on true crime. There are ones that I never get behind on (the previously mentioned West Wing Weekly, My Favorite Murder, and Pod Save America in particular) and some that I'm still trying to binge to catch up on (I think I listened to about twenty old episodes of The Guilty Feminist, a new favourite, on a recent speed trip to London) and some I binge every few weeks to catch up on. Now there are some podcasts that seem to oddly have a universality of appeal which a few years ago would have been unheard of, except for everyone's old back up This American Life. Then came Serial and I remember being at my job at the time and half the people I worked with were listening to it constantly, and then I'd catch up with friends and many of them were listening to it, suddenly podcasts were the norm and everyone seemed to be in on it (just to confirm, I have listened to the first season of Serial now- people told me not to bother with the second). Also fascinating was that Serial was true crime which many people don't warm to but here were people I knew would not normally be interesting in true crime listening along and talking about it with fascination. Suddenly podcasts were a thing everyone was into (except me for some reason) and then as everyone picked their particular poison and the Serial excitement died down, it seemed there weren't podcasts for everyone, there were just podcasts for certain groups. But then the suddenly another one emerged in S Town- I was on the podcast train when it came out and binged it in two days and ended up emotionally drained for about a week afterwards. I think S Town was helped by its connections to Serial and This American Life but it was very different from either of these so if it was just their drawing power I would have expected numbers to dip and people not to finish it, but I remember the weeks after when people I knew would walk up to me with a knowing look in their eyes and a look of emotional exhaustion and I knew S Town had claimed another victim. So that is the lead in to say my new recommendation appears in the last week (literally since I started typing this post last Tuesday and now (Monday night of the next week)) to have become the next one of these universal buzz podcasts.

That recommendation is Dirty John.

Image result for dirty john podcast

It starts with the description of a coroner's examination of a body and then shifts to the story of a woman called Debra who meets a man, John, through a dating site, and he seems to be exactly what she is looking for. Debra has been married four times previously and has three adult daughters from those marriages (Terra, Jacqueline and the middle daughter whose name is only mentioned a few times and therefore I cannot recall). Debra is a successful and wealthy interior designer living in Orange County California who the podcast mentions uses her business to help single mothers by seeking to hire them and train them. John tells her he is also divorced and has kids from that previous marriage and that he is a doctor who has recently been working for Doctors Without Borders in Iraq. John seems odd but after a failed first date, they give it a second try and the relationship speeds ahead at an insane rate and soon enough John meets Debra's daughters. Jacqueline, who is the eldest and lives and works with Debra, meets him first and takes an instant dislike to him and tells her mother that sometime is off about this man. Terra, the youngest, is more trusting of new people than her big sister gives him a chance but then she starts to be wary when a few odd events occur and John is very unpleasant to her boyfriend, and she ends up terrified of him. With all of her daughters (the one whose name I can't remember as well- I'm really sorry to this woman but unlike both her sisters she was not a large part of the podcast nor was she interviewed for it) warning her against a man with whom she has had a very fast moving relationship, Debra has to pick between her family and John.

Now obviously that is just the beginning and I did leave a few spoilers even from the first episode out intentionally. I know everyone is binging this podcast now or has in the last week. I actually listened to it as the episodes were still dropping a few weeks ago- they were released one every few days over a week and a half- so to those who binged the whole thing, imagine having to wait even just a few days on episodes (so stressful). I found it via another podcast, Sword and Scale (BIG warning that one isn't for the faint hearted as it includes audio recordings from crimes including emergency calls and other things). That said the intensity of the podcast I got the recommendation from should not deter you listening to Dirty John- it is true crime but not the same kind of true crime as most of the others in that vein, and it definitely isn't one to give you nightmares. You get sucked in by the mystery of it all- whose body is the coroner describing at the beginning of the first episode? who stabbed the body (not a spoiler- that is in the first couple of seconds of the first episode)? who will Debra listen to, her daughters or her boyfriend? what is the deal with John as clearly something is not above board with him?  It is very fascinating and in my case it made me want to go back and watch a TV show I gave up on after a dud season several years ago (no mention as to which one as that would be a spoiler).

A few minor cautions before you start on it though. Firstly the narrator is clearly a great reporter but he does not have the best "voice for radio" so I found that annoying to begin with- bear with it and you should get past it. Secondly, not the podcast but the events may tend you to accidentally victim blame as you listen, be very careful with this and maybe try and empathise with the women as you listen even if what they are saying sounds off.

Anyhow Dirty John is on all the podcast places now and all the six episodes of it are up.

 Moving on to a few words on a show that has recently returned for a new season, its third. Now I love musicals and I love cynical, offbeat, and at times inappropriate humour and I love unlikable characters, so this show would seem to tick all the boxes for me, and I do really like it but it also makes me at times deeply uncomfortable and as it returned in the week the world turned a small corner of its eye to mental health, it is worth a comment.  That show is Crazy Ex Girlfriend. I know what you are thinking well it does have "crazy" in the title what did you expect but having "crazy" (which many with mental health issues consider a highly offensive term) in the title isn't a blank slate to say anything you want on mental health. The show is camp and hilarious and the cast is amazingly talented though I'm not sure I forgive it for writing out one of my two favourite characters in the second season. It is also full of strong female characters, is racially diverse, and its only strong and stable couple are two men. It gets so many things right, and if you want a sample of this, have some songs as it is a musical after all- I cannot find my favourite from season one which is about having large boobs on Youtube but here are some of my season 2 favourites. Firstly spoilers if you haven't seen the show and want to on this one- this one is about the relationship between my erstwhile favourite character and the lead character as he leaves the show...


Secondly this one is what the main character, who is Jewish, envisions every Jewish gathering is about. It shouldn't spoil anything for you:

Thirdly, probably my favourite from the second season and definitely zero spoilers here, this is the personification of a particular wind that is supposed to blow through town and make everyone act strange.


So you are seeing, it is good, right?- assuming you like musicals. All the songs are in different musical styles but all of them work, and the humour is dark and irreverent. It seems brilliant.

OK so let's go to the problematic context. The premise of the show is that a successful property lawyer from New York has a breakdown due to the stress of her workplace which triggers her existing tableau of mental health issues, and in the midst of this she runs into a man who was her boyfriend at a holiday school camp when they were teenagers, he is in the process of moving back his small Californian home town and she follows him. In song form, her moving is covered below (mainly because I haven't really featured the main character yet):



Now gradually the main character, Rebecca, finds friends, settles into her new job, and on a few occasions seems to be working things out. The problem is that she doesn't listen to the help she is given, she doesn't work things out, and the bulk of the surrounding characters only briefly call her out on these issues before essentially enabling her and that is if they notice at all that there is an issue- e.g the man she follows to California, Josh Chan, is literally one of the dumbest humans ever and it takes him almost all of the first season to notice that she has problems. Even though another character clearly identifies a mental health issue in themselves early in the second season and seeks help and moves in the right direction, no-one stops to think of this woman who is spiraling out of control as essentially the breakdown she has in the first episode continues without break over two seasons. This may all seem a bit too serious as it is a comedy show and it does clearly portray to the viewer that there is something wrong both in the way she interacts with the world and also in the therapy that she attends and ignores (depression has been suggested on the show as has borderline personality disorder and anxiety- I would lean to bipolar 1 or something similar with a side of other things were I to try and diagnose her but that hasn't been suggested yet). Also I understand the urge to deal with mental health with comedy in a positive non mocking tone (the show rarely directly mocks Rebeca's issues) but it just irks me a little that there is a show with a main character with a clear mental health issue who is so strongly in denial about this as the world seeks to fight mental health stigma. As I said I really like the show, but at times I just can't shake how deeply uncomfortable it makes me. Supposedly the diagnosis of Rebecca's condition is coming in season 3 and hopefully that moves the show out of the space that rattles me. Until then, my favourite season 2 moment from the one of my favourite characters who remains, speaks to where I sit with the show at times:
Image result for heather crazy ex girlfriend wine

Beyond that during the week after Mental Health week, I encourage people out there to be honest about their mental health and not to be afraid to see a doctor (and listen to one) when it is less than stellar. Also friends of folks with mental health concerns, love them well, listen to them well, and don't be afraid to be the person who at times has to say the hard words about seeking medical advice.

That is it from me for now. I'm off to watch this week's Outlander and then to continue on Mindhunter (new on Netflix, partly directed by David Fincher, featuring Jonathan Groff (such a big fan of his and no not from Frozen), so far good 70s tunes, and a fictionalised account of the formation of the FBI psychological profiling department that works on serial killers (the real people in this department coined the term "serial killer")...two episodes in and I'm loving it so a post on it might be forthcoming). Laters folks!

Monday, September 18, 2017

2017 Emmy's...the great divide

So hello again from Scotland...yes still in Scotland.

I want to chuck in a word about about the Emmy's. Basically it goes yay!

I haven't posted this year on this blog about TV picks and pretty much they can be summed up by the big winners at this year's Emmy's i.e. The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies. If you run down the Emmy ballot for the awards presented on Emmy night, I picked the best overall in all categories (also being a big Veep and John Oliver fan) except the reality TV (sadly my pick didn't win) and TV movie ones (I must get around to Black Mirror at some stage), picked all the acting categories except Male acting in dramas (I was on the money for miniseries (lead and supporting) and comedy (again lead and supporting), but I've not seen This is Us (my pick for the lead in a drama wasn't even nominated- the season as a whole was patchy but Sam Heughan's portrayal of a man coping with the aftermath of rape in the early section of season 2 of Outlander would have been my pick, actually he was solid the whole season, the plot was at fault not the acting)) nor The Crown), and could have made a solid guess at the writing and directing awards. Pretty much, if I had put money on it, I'd have raked in it- I even picked the female guest acting awards presented a week ago (if they had skipped over Melissa McCarthy and, especially, Alexis Bledel, I would not have been happy- it was amazing work by both these Gilmore Girls alums).

My brief yay aside. This year's Emmy's do raise questions... Let's start with the two shows I was delighted to see rake in the awards.

The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies are adaptations of quite good (in some different and some similar ways) novels by female authors who aren't American- for those unaware, Margaret Atwood is Canadian and Liane Moriarty is Australian.  Both were strong female led productions, and not surprisingly in the female acting categories in which they competed with the exceptions of lead in a drama, there were two nominations from each show as compared to only one nomination for a man in either, Alexander Skarsgard was a deserved winner for Big Little Lies in my opinion too. Both shows also had women working behind the camera- writing, directing, and producing. This is before you get to the plot which I will split and try to keep spoiler free.

The Handmaid's Tale is about a bleak totalitarian future America. Fertility has plummeted and therefore some women in the society who are known to still be fertile has been forced to become handmaids by the government which practices a twisted version of fundamentalist Christianity (their belief system is based on a very small number of bible verses). The role of the handmaid is to bear the children for influential couples who are infertile, and once a month they participate in a ceremony where the husband of the couple essentially rapes the handmaid (though in both the book and the miniseries, the handmaids appear to be losing the concept of their body as their own and therefore have been deadened to the fact that the ceremony is thinly veiled rape). The lead character, Offred (handmaids are striped of their identity and known as "of" followed by the name of the man whose household they are assigned to) is a handmaid who has started to question the structure of the society. That is pretty much all in the first episode, though the ceremony takes longer to be revealed in the book so apologies for that spoiler if you read the book first. I would recommend reading the book first as the show does deviate from it- I found the changes fine (they expanded the training of the handmaids and the structure of their interrelation with each other in society, expanded a few characters, and moved the order of events a little) but a friend likened them to fan fiction based on the novel.

Big Little Lies is set in suburban beach-side California. The show opens with an event at an elementary school, at which someone dies. Before you find out who died or how or if it was murder (though it is implied that it is), events rewind by about six months to orientation for the children starting kindergarten. The viewer is then introduced to Madelaine who splits her time between helping at the local theatre and being a stay at home mother to Chloe and her teenaged daughter from her first marriage, Abi. On her way to the school, she meets Jane, a younger single mother who is new to the area and whose son, Ziggy, will be in Chloe's class- there is a hint of trauma in flashbacks about Jane from the first episode and this is gradually unpacked. The two mothers then meet with Celeste who is a friend of Madelaine's whose twin boys are also starting in the same class. At the orientation, Ziggy is accused of having tried to strangle Amabelle, the daughter of working mother, Renata. The events of the six months between this orientation day and the death at the school event then play out, with occasion interruptions by a chorus of gossiping parents giving testimonies to the police after the event. Again very surface level there and Nicole Kidman spoiled more than I did in her acceptance speech but suffice to say, violence against women committed by men is a big theme of the series and the book as is the idea of how a boy develops into a man who is violent and what acts of violence by children mean. I would recommend again reading the book first but not for the changes on the way to the screen (of course there are some but less than The Handmaid's Tale, beyond a major a location change), instead for the tone. The book is set on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and especially with the Greek chorus of minor characters popping up regularly, it is not just a drama but also at times quite a funny satire of primary school culture and playground politics in Australia (especially if you have any familiarity with that part of Sydney).

As you can see from these plot summaries, the things men do to women is a common theme as is the place of women in society. And based on these themes, you can maybe see why I say this raise questions. America currently has a president who voiced views on consent that are not just questionable but flat out nausea inducing, and whose ways of talking to or about women are terrifying at times (more often than not in fact- whether it is talking creepily about attractiveness of her eldest daughter or his continued attacks on Hilary Clinton). Whilst domestic violence statistics around the developed world are spiraling disgustingly upward at the minute, the US government hasn't announced any clear initiatives to address this- granted neither have many of the other developed nations so that is a black mark in all of their books at the minute. The US Department of Education is currently moving to make changes to Title IX which will make this avenue that currently allows some recourse to those who are victims of sexual assault on college campuses no longer able to be used to this end- again other developed nations also need to work on structures to eliminate sexual assault on college/universities campuses but the US is actively stepping backwards which is very worrying. Finally since coming into office, the Trump government has repeatedly attacked reproductive health services and moved to cut funding to these- doing this by saying Planned Parenthood and others simply exist to supply access to abortions, when this is simply not the case, they supply a range of sex education, and reproductive and sexual health services, and for poorer women, there is often no other option in terms of reproductive health care because of cost of health insurance in America (even post Obama care). These are just some of the examples I could cite but on the place of women in society, the divide between Hollywood and Washington DC in attitudes becomes overwhelming clear and you need to ask is it reconcilable and how does America as a world leader meaningfully move forward on this.

To add I hope these shows, which were both popular in Australia, also serve as a wake up clear on women's issues (oh for a better term) and in particular issues of violence and sexual assault back home, and also everywhere else.

That is my question with regards the two shows that owned the night. Just to add in conclusion on them to the performance by Elisabeth Moss (always a favourite of mine) as Offred, Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia, and Alexis Bledel as Ofglen (especially Bledel though she was in limited episodes) in The Handmaid's Tale  were incredible and that is before you also turn to the amazing Samira Wiley as Moira who was beaten by Dowd in the supporting actor category- it was a powerhouse of amazing performances by amazing actors. The same goes for Nicole Kidman as Celeste and the outstanding Laura Dern as Renata in Big Little Lies, as well as Reese Whitherspoon as Madelaine and Shailene Woodley as Jane who Kidman and Dern respectively beat in their categories. Let's hope that this is the year that begins year after year of beautifully written, substantial roles for female actors out there to really develop and thrive in.

I do have questions raised by the shows that took out the male miniseries and comedy lead acting categories but unfortunately they are limited by my not seeing any or not seeing all of the shows in question so being unable to summarise them in a meaningful way so bear with me with for patchy descriptions.

To start with anyone else amused by the actors who took out both of these also being rappers who are about to/or just did appear in Star Wars film, or is that just me?

The Night Of for which Riz Ahmed won best actor in a miniseries or movie made for TV (the more I see him in the more I love his work (for example he was outstanding in Rogue One) and when he is not acting but rapping, he performed on my favourite song of 2016, "Immigrants We Get the Job Done" from the Hamilton mix-tape- also randomly discovered fact just now, he is almost exactly the same age as me how about that). I have seen the first episode, and own the DVD but unfortunately for me, I moved house not long after starting it and the DVD went into a box that went into my storage unit back in Sydney so I didn't get to see the rest of it. What I did see was really, really good, and I do very much want to see the rest of it. So plot summary so far as I can do one for The Night Of. A student of Pakstani descent borrows his father's cab one night to go to a party (he doesn't have other transport) and a young woman hops in thinking he is working (he is having issues turning the light off on the cab). He and the young woman get to talking. Soon enough the party is forgotten and he ends up back at her place where they drop some drugs and have sex. The next morning he wakes up in the girl's bed with limited memory of the night before, and then discovers that she has been stabbed repeatedly and is dead. He is quickly identified as having been at her flat and is arrested for her murder. He ends up with the lowest rent cheapest possible lawyer as his family cannot afford more for him.

Atlanta  for which Donald Glover won best actor in a comedy (loved him in Community and looking forward to him as a young Lando in the Han Solo film). Atlanta has been on my to watch list for AGES but I'm yet to see it. As a show, it follows a young black man who wants to be a rapper, and his daily life in Atlanta- sorry brief but even that I had to double check on Wikipedia having not seen the show.

What questions do these shows raise? Well common theme in both is race and the treatment of people of colour in America. The Night Of adds to this, the life of immigrants in America and the treatment of people of colour in the US prison system. In addition, though it didn't win in the acting categories, neck and neck with Atlanta (in my opinion) was the amazing (yes this one I've seen) Master of None which took out the writing in a comedy gong (I thought Donald Glover would win bast actor based on the buzz about Atlanta but I love Aziz Ansari so part of me wanted them to share the acting award), and it also speaks about the idea of race in the US and the place of the children of immigrants. As you can see all the more questions. The events at Charlottesville are still fresh in a lot of people's minds as is the Trump government essentially giving carte blanche (pun unintended) to the white supremacists and Neo Nazis. The US Justice system is currently looking at changing Obama era regulations about arrests on minor offenses that will certainly lead to increases in arrests and gaol time for people of colour. Trump's personal barely coded campaign rhetoric about areas with high populations of people of colour and his not at all coded, recent speech to police in New York that essentially endorsed violence against suspects were both horrifying. The recent proposed roll back of DACA (an act that protects those whose parents illegally immigrated when they were children in order to give these children paths to citizenship once they reach adulthood) and the continued discussion about border walls and what the Trump government sees as the negative impacts of immigration, only heighten the fear of current undocumented immigrants in the US, their families, and any future immigrants to that country. Once again these are just some of the examples I could cite but on race and immigration, again the divide between Hollywood and Washington DC in attitudes becomes overwhelming clear and you need to ask is it reconcilable and how does America as a world leader meaningfully move forward on this.

Unlike The Handmaid's Tale or Big Little Lies, I don't think either The Night Of or Atlanta had a huge audience in Australia (odd as Atlanta and The Handmaid's Tale are both on SBS, and Big Little Lies and The Night Of were both on Foxtel so they are on the same services). Master of None has a slightly larger audience. Needless to say, as on woman's issues, the question of race is just as big a question in Australia so I hope more people see these and I also hope the government starts to take action soon- especially as racism in Australia is so worryingly second nature to so many people that it could be argued that it is more ingrained than it is in the States. The same again is true and many other developed countries.

Finally the other comedy winners and the talk show winners at the Emmy's bring the questions to a head and slap you with them. Veep is about the most biting political satire out there- for those not familiar with it, it is about the first US female vice president and the characters are all deeply flawed and horrible, rife with egotism, amorality, and incompetence in varying mixes, but in the most hilariously delightful way. Listening to podcasts with input from those who have worked or work in government in the US (I need to start listening to Australian version of this as clearly I'm too deep in US politics at the minute but that is another issue), they say that Veep with its cutting satire is the closest of all political shows to the real Washington DC which is terrifying. Saturday Night Live's political views have in the past year become such a hot button with the US administration that Trump has openly attacked it especially in terms of its portrayal of him (Alec Baldwin was such a deserving winner) and it has been suggested that its portrayal of Sean Spicer (great work, Melissa McCarthy) played a tiny role in him losing the role of White House press secretary which is insane- you remember when Hilary Clinton was so polite about Kate McKinnon's brilliant portrayal of her that she appeared opposite her on the show, oh for the good ol' times of less than a year ago. In terms of variety and talk show awards with the exception of the winners in the variety special categories, notice the fact that John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, and Stephen Colbert were nominated in most every category with Jimmy Fallon nowhere to be seen, and John Oliver winning most all of the categories. Those nominated represented the harshest late night critics of the Trump administration in my option it is a tight race between Oliver, Bee, and Meyers for who is the most critical- I watch all four of them but Oliver most regularly so maybe he wins in my books too. Hollywood appears to boldly declare its disagreement with the US administration in the winner of the comedy category, the winners of the best female actors in comedy (lead and supporting) and male actor (supporting) in comedy, and all the nominations and winners in the talk show and variety categories. In fact it goes further than disagreement, it laughs and mocks.

Now I have no issue with questioning those in power (it is at the root of democracy) and I do stand with Hollywood on these matters, but as someone looking in from the outside, it is a little worrying to see just how deep the political divide in the US has become (as indeed it also deepens around the developed world but currently the US is a big flashing warning light). As an outsider, I struggle to see a way forward so all I can do is hope and pray that the activists in the States won't give up the fight and that someone in power in the right offices finally listens, and that people can actually still seek to approach those they know from across the divide with some modicum of civility and seek to build bridges personally.

Anyhow enough on another country's politics from me...I really need to move back to focusing on Australian politics when I speak politics, not that I'm getting much of it in UK.

Just to say, make sure and watch the shows mentioned above as they are really worth it, or in the case of Atlanta, I hear they are.

As a better way to end this, have my best dressed from the Emmy's. The mad style of the male kids from Stranger Things won that hands down...

Image result for stranger things kids emmys 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

We need to speak about Bev...

Hello people of internet land...not from sunny Sydney (or I assume it is still sunny) but from just outside a very rain soaked Inverness! Or not so rain soaked at the minute though the mist on the Loch that I can see from my window is very ominously hinting that the rain might return soon. What am I doing in the Scottish highlands you may ask? Did I push an Outlander obsession a wee bit too way? I may grant you an answer in due course but suffice to say it isn't the latter as I was considering running away for a time to an even more remote patch of Scotland long before I saw Outlander.

Today's post is not remotely about the Scottish highlands but is instead about a small fictional (I think) town in Maine in the US and the power of the books we make movie adaptations of. If you cannot think of what movie I might be referencing, I am speaking about the recent remake of It based on the Stephen King novel of the same name but heavily drawing on the 1990 miniseries adaptation of it at times in place of the original source material.

I don't want to spoil the film for anyone so I will offer a brief synopsis and review from my point of view, because I get to the more spoiler-y bits and I will warn before I get there. Here we go...

In the late 1980s in the small town of Derry in Maine, it is raining and a small boy and his slightly elder brother are trying to build a paper boat to float in the rain waters. The elder boy, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), has a cold so cannot go out with his little brother, Georgie, to test the boat. Georgie falls behind the boat and it goes down the sewer. Reaching in to grab the boat, Georgie sees two bright eyes and a clown appears behind the sewer grate and introduces himself as Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgard). The clown seems harmless, as far as a sewer dwelling clown can be, until he broadly grins showing many rows of teeth (like a shark) bites Georgie arm off and then drags him through the grate. Skip to six months later and many more kids have disappeared. Bill who suffers from a stutter is determined to discover what happened to Georgie as the body was never found. Bill ropes in his friends to help with the task- Richie (Finn Wolfhard) a fast talking smart alec; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) a severe hypochondriac thanks to his over protective extreme hypochondriac mother; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) the cautious son of the local rabbi. After they save him from the town's sadistic gang of teen bullies, their group is joined by Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the overweight new kid in town, and Ben brings with him, his only friend, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a girl who is being abused by her father and about whom sexually charged rumours have circulated. The kids embarks on some normal 13 year old summer time bonding like swimming at the local quarry and riding their bikes around, with occasional run in with the two years older group of bullies, from whom they also rescue Mike (Chosen Jacobs) an orphaned black boy who is homeschooled by his grandfather. However at the same time as all this summer time bonding is going on, something dark is lurking in Derry, and Ben shares with the other kids the research he has been doing on mysteries murders and disappearances in the town dating back to its founding and currently manifesting in the child disappearances. The kids all start to see manifestations of Pennywise who they surmise is just one manifestations of mysterious being that they christen "It". Mainly spurred on by Bill's quest for closure with regards Georgie's disappearance, the group of kids (themselves now known as the Losers' Club thanks to Richie) start to think of how to stop It.

I have a bit of an odd history with It. When I was 11, I went to a friend's party which was to be a slumber party but my parents were of the overly protective (no judgement on them for this) type and I was just allowed to go for the afternoon and evening and was to be picked up before the whole slumber part (or lack of slumber part) of the party. Like many slumber parties of kids aged from upper primary up, the aim of the party was it seems to be scare the hell out of us and then not sleep at all- that said a future slumber party at the same friend's house where I did stay resulted in my seeing the original version of Total Recall (in parts very scary for a sheltered 11/12 year old but generally I was OK with that one likely because it was and is an awesome (if in parts awesomely bad) film) and two Police Academy films and part of a third (that is a horror of another kind and I'd like those hours back please). Anyhow so at the party where I didn't stay, we had just put the 1990 miniseries of It into the VCR when my folks showed up to collect me. I think we got as far as Georgie's death when I left and that was enough for me especially as clowns...never been a fan, and find them mighty creepy. Also this brief glimpse of the miniseries confused me with the new production as I thought adults featured more heavily- no spoilers really, but the novel of It is set in two time periods, the 50s and the 80s with the Losers' Club being young teens in the 50s and adults in the 80s, the miniseries started briefly in the later timeline and then flashed back to Georgie's death, whereas the new film shifted the earlier timeline to the 80s and only covered that part of the novel, the second half of the novel shifted to occur in around 2016/7 will be covered in a sequel that is currently being made. That history and confusion aside, in a spoiler free way, what did I think of the new version of It?

As a horror film, I wasn't hugely scared but that maybe because of how I like my horror films, namely I like them B-grade (or worse) and cheesy whereas I look to suspense based thrillers if I want to be scared. My dislike of clowns did mean that I was quite creeped out by the film as a whole but never would I have said scared. Others in the cinema who I overheard speaking after the film indicated that my not feeling scared was maybe a me thing and that they themselves were quite scared by the film. If you rate on creep factor instead of sheer fear and dread, Pennywise/It is a very off putting figure as primarily a clown but also in other manifestations as the image of the person seeing Its phobia or fear- the closest I got to scared was when It manifested as version of Georgie to target Bill because creepy kids are high on the terror bar for me (probably just above clowns). I have never seen Bill Skarsgard in anything before as far as I can recall- I'm a big fan of his father and especially his elder brother- and as quite a young guy, he had big shoes to fill what with the incomparable Tim Curry having played the Pennywise manifestation of It in the 1990 miniseries. Much like Heath Ledger playing the Joker after Jack Nicholson, he succeeds in making the character his own by making Pennywise as different to the Tim Curry performance as he could within the range of the plot. From my hazy memories and the clips I've seen subsequently (I've still not seen the miniseries the whole way through), Tim Curry's Pennywise was a creepy in understated way with joy to his creepiness, whereas Skarsgard's Pennywise angles straight at malevolence. By aiming for a more obvious evil in the portrayal, Skarsgard achieves the impossible and delivers a performance nearing Curry (from what I've seen of Curry's performance).

However Pennywise is at times somewhat of an unwanted intrusion for the viewer because the heart and soul of the film is the Losers' Club, and this may be why I was less scared by the film than the makers maybe wanted me to be. These kids also had big shoes to full- the miniseries Losers' Club included Seth Green and Jonathan Brandis (if you don't know who he was, sadly he is no longer with us, but he was a 90s heartthrob whose career stalled in the late 90s when it should have exploded, and he was year 7 me's favourite teen actor- if you can, go and find the early/mid 90s TV series Seaquest and watch it). Oddly the Losers' Club member with the arguably biggest shoes to fill (those of Seth Green) is also the most well known of the new crop of losers. Whilst Stranger Things did not have a wise arse kid in the mix, Finn Wolfhard seems quite at home moving from Mike Wheeler to Richie- a new type of character in the genre he is now at home with (that of 80s coming of age film/TV series featuring creepiness and bicycles). The smart mouthed Richie was possibly my favourite of the kids but there is no less praise for the rest of them. I assume Jaeden Lieberher does not naturally have a stutter and he very convincing puts on one as Bill, which is no small achievement. Sophia Lillis's Molly Ringwald-isque looks (which Richie comments on at one point so you know the makers of the film welcomed the association) highlight the 80s time period of the film but that it is not to detract from the fact she is outstanding in her vulnerability in the scenes where Beverly is at home with her abusive father. I could praise each of the seven Losers' Club members but suffice to say that they are all amazing and the chemistry between them really works. My favourite line of the film I will not spoil but is delivered by Eddie about his medication when he discovers they are placebos, so watch out for that one. The film when it focuses on the relationship between the kids and their emergent adulthood is at its best- such the scene where Beverly sunbaths in front of the boys in her underwear after swimming in the quarry, and she seems innocently naive of the fact they are staring at her, and they all seem uncomfortably aware of her and that they are staring and even it seems maybe unsure why they are staring, but they do not look away.

So all in all, to paraphrase a review I saw elsewhere and in part agree with, It is a delightful coming of age film interrupted at times by a clown.

Maybe not for the faint hearted or the those who dislike horror and blood (there is lot of it in some scenes) but definitely worth seeing. Also though, who are these kids who in any day and age follow clowns down sewers?!?!? Sewers dangerous and gross, clowns creepy, where is the appeal?

OK and now to the spoilers...if you have not seen the film and don't want to hear anymore detail about the film or the miniseries or the book before seeing it, look away. If you seen the film or are familiar with the plot already or have no desire to see the film but are reading this for some reason, continue.

Just to scare off those in the first group have a picture of Pennywise...

Image result for pennywise

Are they gone?

Just in case have the older version...
Image result for pennywise

 So clowns terrifying and hopefully they scared away the people who hate spoilers...

Now to the point of this post which wasn't to review It but was more to ask whether we should be concerned about the original source material for adaptations and whilst It has a few glaring cliches, the cautious Jewish kid and the segregated misunderstood black kid for example, there is big issue with the original story that needs to be discussed and that is the treatment of the character of Beverly.

As a habit, I tend to either commit to reading the source material for adapted texts or at least investigating the quality of the adaptation if the source is something I'm unlike to read. For example, I just finished the first Outlander book after watching seasons 1 and 2 of the show- short review, good holiday reading but prefer the show- and only read Harry Potter after friends said they would make me watch the films- prefer the books but some of the films are good too. Now I've tried to bring myself to read Stephen King novels, I even own a few, but I'm yet to crack the cover on one. I don't even watch King adaptations as a rule- I saw some of the miniseries of The Shining (not the film, the late 1990s miniseries), saw the X-Files episode he wrote, and I've seen (and love) Running Man (but to all opinions, it is solid cheesy film which is nothing like the book)- yes I've not seen the Kubrick version of The Shining nor have I seen The Shawshank Redemption. For some unknown reason, he isn't my cup of tea as rule and that is odd because I'm not adverse of a good horror film (prison films though not a fan which explains the not seeing Shawshank). This meant that for all my good intentions I'm unlike to ever read It and so I just read a synopsis online and one thing that is deeply troubling jumped out at me.

Beverly is the only significant female character in It and even in the film, there are questions about her characterisation. She is cruelly victimised by bullies for her rumoured sexual activity (by her own declaration all falsified gossip) but at the same time, is clearly victim to abuse possibly sexual in nature (that is strongly hinted) at the hands of her father. She is seen purchasing tampons and It's initial manifestation to her is to spray her entire bathroom with blood, as if a girl's only thing to grapple with in her early teens is getting her period and this being known to others is therefore also her greatest fear. She is clearly set up as primarily victim only and for a minute I was worried there was a Barb from Stranger Things vibe going on and she might just disappear, especially after she is kidnapped by Pennywise late in the film. Ultimately it turns out that the horror of her life enable her to be the one who It cannot kill because unlike the boys she does not fear him as she has experienced worse at the hands of her school mates and particularly her father. Beverly is also the one who has the vision that makes them realise that they may need to return and fight It again in 27 years. Therefore though they are issues, she does not end the film as victim only.

In the miniseries, Beverly had a similar arc to the film from the synopsis I read online of that. The miniseries did venture more into the weird who is It vibe than the film which didn't really touch on this at all but Beverly still was key to initial defeat of It.

Now to the novel, which as I said I have not read and reading the synopsis now definitely don't plan on reading. It was the 22nd Stephen King novel to be published, and he weirdly seemed to need a character to strongly identify with as Bill who is the main character, if there were one, grows up to be a horror author. Also Stephen King has a weird over arching mythology to his horror stories which I will not go into because as not a reader of his work, I don't fully get it but needless to say, it plays into who It is in the book.

The characters in It from what I read in the synopsis and in reviews of the film are, as they were in the miniseries, fairly neatly and accurately adapted. This means that in the original text, Beverly is an abused young teen girl who is bullied by her class mates. In the book, the Losers' Club discovers who It is and how he plays into the over arching mythology of the world, and their battle with him he disorients their reality so much that after defeating It in the sewers they cannot find their own way out. Now in the film, Beverly is the one who figures out that in order to defeat It, the Losers need to work together and that unity is their strongest weapon, and this manifests as the seven of them attacking Pennywise together simultaneously which results in his defeat (for the time being) and it seems they have no issue getting out of the sewers. In the original book, they figure out that they need unity as a group to clear their minds and find their ways out of the sewer not to initial defeat Pennywise and how do they resolve it??? If you guessed, all six of the boys has sex with Beverly in turn...you'd be right. Now if you are the kind of person to whom that doesn't appear remotely logically and suddenly you are very horrified, welcome to my world. Both the miniseries and the film got rid of this event which is possibly the most salacious part of the novel (a novel about a clown that kills children, let's not forget that), and that is wise for many reasons not least of which nothing kills box office like a thirteen year old girl with a history of being abused having, hazy line here, semi (at best) consensual sex with six thirteen year old boys as a way to solve a problem. To me, this female character whose anatomy exists to solve a problem tips this pretty squarely into a zone of gang rape and that is flat out sickening and this book won awards how?!?! This to me solidifies my possibly reading some of his books, into a wish to not read Stephen King's work ever because this is terrifying treatment of women, but it also makes me worry about the kind of books that score adaptations.

As I said, both adaptations removed this section but what happens when a film adaptation is released and gets good box office (as the new version of It has)? That's right sales of the original text soar. Now I know in the past I know I've spoken about artistic license in the other direction, e.g. when adaptations add to the original (see my comments on the negative aspects of season 5 of Game of Thrones), but does tidying things up a good novel with bad bits make it something we should be adapting? Or more accurately with not just bad but atrocious bits? I would argue that maybe Hollywood needs to be more careful in that space.

I would say to parents with kids in their teens who see the film of It (which as I said is quite good on its own) and want to read the book, or anyone who sees it and hasn't read the book, give the book a hard pass based on the above scene alone. Stephen King doesn't need the money (he is getting some from the film in any case) and as small message in total book sales as it might make (likely not a noticeable one), it is worth sending the message that having an already abused teen girl have group sex as a plot point is not something anyone wants to read.

Justice for Bev!






Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016...it 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 TFA...it 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...

Carol


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.