Rose-tinted spectacle : Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

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Like the handsome go-getter that I am, I dedicate a lot of time to reading film sites, forums and the like. It’s a good way to get the lay of the cinematic land and see what people are responding to and what they aren’t. One topic that keeps coming up is this year’s Ghostbusters film and how many people are straight-up willing it to fail. I’ve talked in depth about the Fembusters thing before in this piece- click – I wrote when it was first announced. You may read that piece and think- “Ben, you absolutely fucking nailed it last time, what more could you possibly add?” Well, this isn’t specifically about Ghostbusters, although it definitely includes it. I’m here to talk about the nostalgia business, fandoms and the weird vitriol that surrounds both things.

Nostalgia is money. It always has been, but I’d argue it’s been ramped up considerably in the last fifteen years or so when it comes to media. You can’t move for nostalgia nowadays. It seems every other week some supposedly iconic film is celebrating an arbitrary anniversary. There are people already nostalgic for the Harry Potter films, a series that ended a mere five years ago. That’s insane.

Our culture of pining for shit has led to the current box office climate. The Transformers films cashed in on ’80s kids who never quite grew up and became a huge franchise. The Force Awakens was marketed almost entirely on nostalgia. Jurassic World made a embarrassing amount of cash by leaning on fond memories of Jurassic Park. Superhero films are banking on nerdy ex-children to buy a ticket to see their favourite hero on the big screen. If you loved something in the current “golden era” of the 1980s/1990s, chances are it’ll make a comeback if it hasn’t already. Whilst there are missteps like the recent flop Jem and the Holograms movie, the reason behind it being made in the first place is clear. Nostalgia sells and everyone wants a piece.

The screenshotted comment above, taken from the official Ghostbusters Facebook page, is a sentiment I’ve seen repeated a lot. I first became aware of people claiming something had “ruined” or “raped” their childhood during the Star Wars prequel backlash. People seem to hold childhood memories of Saturday morning cartoons and the like incredibly close to their hearts. Not only that, they seem to want to defend and protect those things from the big bads out there. They internalise it and take it personally when said thing is criticised. I even have the same urge occasionally. If someone was to say to me that Bucky O’Hare was a pile of wank, my first reaction would be one of righteous indignation, because I remember watching it as a kid and playing with the toys. I’ve not watched it since and I’m sure it’s not aged well, or was even any good in the first place. However, because I have good memories associated with that cartoon, I feel I should not only remember it, but rejoice in that fact.

So, why is this? As far as I can see, it’s a combination of things. It’s partly down to the general infantilization of society. We’re encouraged not to grow up. I suspect marketing has had a huge hand in this. As an example, look at the insurance ads we have in the UK (and I suspect worldwide). They tend to consist of CGI characters dicking about and the promise of a toy of said character if you sign up with them. They’ve turned one of the more responsible and adult things you can do into fucking Happy Meal sort of deal. Still though, isn’t that one loan company advert with the singing satsuma funny? Yeah, probably won’t be as amusing when you can’t keep up the payments, face crippling debt and bailiffs come to take all of your shit, you goop-brained twat.

Then there’s the goddamn internet itself. Apart from providing more devious ways for the slimy claws of marketing to rake across our brains, there’s also the polarising nature of it all. You have to love or hate something as the hyperbolic voices are the ones that get heard the most. It’s why Buzzfeed has headlines like “33 Beyonce Gifs To Complete Your Life” or “20 times John Virgo Was Literally Perfect”. On sites like Tumblr and on social media, it’s almost the law to pick a fandom/several fandoms and then defend it/them to the hilt. Marvel or DC? Supernatural or Teen WolfHunger Games or Divergent? One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer? Lines in the sand must be drawn, motherfucker! Define yourself with your fandom! What you like is literally a part of you and you’re not a true fan unless you make a monochrome gif of that one moment when you couldn’t even.

I used to post on the now-defunct Empire magazine forums and I would often get hostile responses to my plainly stated viewpoints. I’ve had my fair share of poison here too. I rarely get TPB comments but when I do, about 70% of them have been angry diatribes as to how I’ve misunderstood my own opinion. The linked Ghostbusters article I did was a toxic wasteland. To date, it’s my most commented-on article and I couldn’t show any of them to my mum. I put the most memorable one below. You know what the search term was that led at least one of them to this very site?: “I hate female Ghostbusters”. That just says it all, doesn’t it? Once you’ve picked your side, the Internet is there to nurture and cultivate that opinion, connecting you with other people who share your views. At that point, it becomes a hugbox and it’s easy to switch from being a two-way receiver to broadcast only.

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This thirst for the good old days is affecting how films themselves are constructed. When done right, a sense of nostalgia can be really effective. Look at Back to the Future‘s intentionally idealistic portrayal of the 1950s. More recently, you’ve got Super 8‘s attempt to evoke early ’80s Spielbergian magic. On the other end of the scale, we have Jurassic World, which constantly felt the need to nod its head towards the original film and which only ended up reminding me of all the ways that it wasn’t as good as Jurassic Park. Terminator: Genisys was even worse- cutting up the iconic moments of the only two good films and pasting them together haphazardly using jizz and a Pritt Stick.  The Force Awakens was playing the same dangerous game, but there was enough narrative and character meat in there to just about get away with it. Neat little homages and references are one thing, but building an entire film around fan service is an ultimately hollow experience.

Back to the “ruining your childhood” thing (which, as we’ve established is a notion created by both marketing and internet culture, keep up). How does a new, subpar film do that exactly? I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan and if the new film is awful, I’ll be disappointed. However, it doesn’t mean its lack of quality erases the original from existence. The negatives aren’t going to burst into flames. I can still pop the Blu-ray in and watch it to my heart’s content. Nothing changes. I’ve been a James Bond fan for almost as long as I can remember and the franchise is littered with duds. It’s not like you’ve grown up and found out that your comfort blanket movie has been arrested for touching kids. Fuck- even if that was possible it’d be a case of separating the art from the artist.

In fact, nostalgia almost separates the art entirely. Most things we watch as kids are shite, let’s be honest. Very few of my childhood favourites have held up to adult eyes. However, because I remember watching several crappy kids’ films on VHS with my grandmother, they’ll always have warm feelings attached. The thing is, “I watched it with my nan a few times” isn’t a conversation about the art. It’s not a review. Nostalgia shuts down that avenue of analysis and it becomes more a part of someone’s personal history. This is probably why people seem so personally offended when I say Tim Burton’s Batman isn’t very good. Which it fucking isn’t.

It’s due to society getting nostalgic about everything that the whole thing will be devalued somewhat. Nostalgia can be awesome in small doses. I love it when it reminds you of something you just don’t have the think space for any more. I saw a Boglin the other day. I hadn’t thought about Boglins in the longest time and it was like someone had blown the dust off a part of my brain and plugged it back in.

Boglins, in case you weren’t aware.                                                               Source: nothingbutnostalgia.com

So, try not to get too upset when Thing You Like gets resurrected and shoved into cinemas. If it’s good, you’ll get a sweet hit of nostalgia and if it sucks, you can ignore it, safe in the knowledge it doesn’t change a damn thing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get into my superhero pyjamas, curl up on my beanbag and eat a bowl of Frosties whilst watching The Rocketeer. Standard Thursday, really.

Pissing in the wind – why “Paint Drying” is pointless

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Ha, those crazy people on the Internet! You’ll never guess what they’ve gone and done now, the mentalists! They only Kickstarted a 10 hour film of paint drying, actually called Paint Drying, that the stuffy old British film censors have to watch. They, like, HAVE to watch it. Haha, what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when they do! I want to buy them all drinks, the absolute legends. Teehee!

You may have heard of the whole Paint Drying thing this week. Some douchebag crowdfunded a 1o hour long film of nothing but paint drying to protest the fact that every film that goes on sale in the UK has to pay for a mandatory classification given by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). This includes a submission fee and a per minute rate. Say your film is an average 90 minutes long, that would run you around £740 all in. Plus, to release something on DVD/Blu-ray, everything on the disc including featurettes and commentaries have to be similarly vetted, incurring additional costs. There’s also a bit about protesting the BBFC banning and censoring stuff on the Kickstarter page, but I’ll get back that in a minute.

The thing is, I half agree with the core principle of the matter. A submission fee and a per minute rate is fuck all to most studios, but it may harm smaller independent filmmakers from getting their stuff seen. It’s restrictive and rather exclusive.

However, that’s only if you want to be able to show it in cinemas and sell it nationwide. You can release it digitally for next to nothing (there will undoubtedly be server costs an’ shit, but they’ll be nowhere near the classification fee). If you’re a fan of physical media, you can get DVDs/Blu-rays printed yourself and also sell them via several sites. I could make a 70 hour film called Paint Drying 2: I Like The Colour, But I’m Not Sure I Want It In The Hall, host it on this here site and charge you poor suckers to download it right now if I wanted to. No BBFC involvement required. From what I understand, whether or not something can be shown in cinemas is down to the local authority anyway, like how Monty Python’s Life of Brian was technically banned in Aberystwyth until 2009.

I get that the campaign was to spread awareness, but what did it actually help? Most sites that picked up the story weren’t sure what the protest was actually about with this one saying that it’s anti-censorship and this one focusing on the prohibitive fees. Both of which have that sort of fuckawful “check this guy out!” tone exemplified by the opening of this article. It’s been largely written about as a kerr-azy prank and the original meaning, as confused as it may have been, was buried under how fucking “random” it was. Plus, the BBFC people got paid to do their job, just like they are every day. I’m sure that fucking stung ’em. I’ve sat through some crusty toss as a reviewer, I’m sure they’re completely battle-hardened by now.

What about all that talk of banning and censoring? Well, here’s a list of films banned in the United Kingdom. I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty small list. Now, whilst I’m against censorship in all forms and I believe that adults should be able to watch My Daughter’s a Cocksucker if they want, I really don’t think it’s that much of a deal. The BBFC is one of the most transparent and reasonable film boards going. For starters, they’re a hell of a lot better than America’s MPAA, who still seem to bump up ratings if there’s even a hint of homosexuality. If you haven’t seen the eye-opening documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, I urge you to do so.

The BBFC haven’t always been as decent. There were the infamous “video nasties” in the ’80s and they had a proper moral crusade going right up until around ten years ago. In the early 2000s they had an especially weird issue with headbutts. Star Wars shitquel Attack of the Clones risked being pushed from a PG to a 12 purely because of one scene where bounty hunter Jango Fett gave Obi Wan Kenobi a Glaswegian kiss. They’ve thankfully knocked that shit off since and fictional people can headbutt each other without fear of the censor’s scissors.

If I have any problem with the BBFC, it’s how studios use them. There’s a fairly recent trend of studios asking the BBFC for advice on how to get a desired rating for their films. The Hunger Games films, Spectre, The Maze Runner films, A Good Day to Die Hard, The DUFF and countless others have all been rated something higher than the broadest audience, money-making 12A certificate and have gone to the BBFC for help trimming their shit down. Like you needed any more proof that artistic integrity was the rarest thing in Hollywood. Their BBFC entries all say the same thing: “During post-production, the distributor sought and was given advice on how to secure the desired classification. Following this advice, certain changes were made prior to submission”.

I’m fine with these things being cut for cinemas in certain cases. It would have been dumb to release of version of The Hunger Games into cinemas which the built-in preteen fans of the books couldn’t see. It makes sense for certain films to have a lower rating for their theatrical release.

What it all comes down to is choice. When it comes time to release your film on shiny disc, give us options. The Hunger Games had 12 and 15 rated editions, as did The Maze Runner. A Good Day to Die Hard also had a harder, extended cut when disc time rolled around. However, this is not the case across the board. Spectre will not have a meatier cut on DVD/Blu-ray when it’s released in late February. Now, granted it would take a lot more than a few nastier action sequences to make that fucking facepalm work, but it would be a start.

So yeah, to return to my original point- fuck Paint Drying. Just think- the money raised could have put at least five proper films through certification. Right, I’m off to set up a Kickstarter to paint my arse blue and wave it around Pinewood Studios to protest the lack of an uncut version of Spectre on Blu-ray. See you on The LAD Bible. Wahey!

Oscars 2016: It’ll be all white on the night

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If you’ve been away from glowing screens for the past week, you should know that a media shitstorm has rolled through town since the Oscar nominations were announced. For the second year in a row, all the acting nominees were white and only one non-white director was given the nod. People got pissed at the lack of diversity and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending soon after. Then, Jada Pinkett-Smith, her much more famous and likeable husband Will and Spike Lee announced their intentions to boycott the ceremony. The Academy has since responded and has released a statement about the Board “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020” as well as reviewing their lifetime membership policies.

Much like most of the Academy voters, I haven’t seen half the films nominated. I’m going on basic critical consensus and “my mate said it was good” anecdotal evidence. Should Creed and Straight Outta Compton have got more nominations? Almost certainly. From what I’ve heard, both are equally as decent as some of the other contenders with more noms. You’d have thought the Academy would have realised that only nominating the white people involved in predominantly black films would raise eyebrows at the very least, if not a few torches and pitchforks.  I can’t believe Beasts of No Nation got completely snubbed. Despite being a Netflix film, it played in LA cinemas making it eligible for consideration. It’s complete and actual bollocks (the non-inclusion that is, the film is great, if emotionally draining). I’m saving the actual film for a Blu-ray viewing, but I’m already pre-scandalised that Benicio Del Toro didn’t get a nod for his role in Sicario.

The issue isn’t black and white in all senses of the phrase. The whitewashed nominee list is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Unfortunately, it’s not one that the Academy booting a few dusty old farts out of their comfy lifetime board seats is going to fix. Diversity is a problem in media full stop. Women and people of all ethnic backgrounds, disabilities and sexualities need better representation. The Oscars are just a reflection of how things are at the moment. Most films are still stories about white dudes doing white dude things. That needs to change and the only sure way it will is by people and wallet power. The sole thing we can do this side of the screen is to continue to support the kind of films we want to see more of.

I’ve not cared about the Oscars for a long time. It’s been nice when someone or something I liked got the nod, but I haven’t given a thimbleful of spunk about the results for years now. I’ve mostly used the winners list as recommendations for what to see at some point and even then, when I’ve sat down to watch one, the record is patchy. Hopefully, the Academy’s new recruiting policies will send ripples through the industry. It won’t happen overnight, but admitting you have a problem is an important first step in fixing it.

Perhaps this added diversity will mean relevance once again. Maybe it’ll mean an end to bland, sort-of inspiring period dramas or films about how bloody brilliant cinema is being dead certs for Best Picture. The fact that there’s a “type” of film that usually wins the big awards is fucking embarrassing. The only thing that should unite them is quality.

Actually, whilst I’m on that subject of quality, let’s start to break down the dumb two-tier system between “serious” and “pop” movies when it comes to showing some award love. Last year, Vin Diesel said that Fast and Furious 7 was going to win Best Picture. That’s charmingly optimistic, but there’s no real reason why something as popular and crowd-pleasing as one of the F&F films couldn’t be considered if the quality was high enough. “Blockbuster” is not necessarily a synonym for something that’s artistically worthless. Guardians of the Galaxy was excellent and wouldn’t, in my awesome opinion, have been out of place amongst 2014’s Best Picture nominees, especially if it bumped American Hustle out. Guardians even had the superior Bradley Cooper performance.

Still- one step at a time for the Academy. They’ve only just discovered that there are other flavours besides vanilla out there.

The Hateful Eight (2016)

I’ve been a Tarantino fan for many years. I feel it’s necessary to qualify that bias straight of of the gate. Sometimes Tarantino fans can get carried away stumbling over themselves to call his latest film a masterpiece or something similar, whilst ignoring any legitimate flaws. As loath as I am to use the word, it happens with most “fandoms”, but Tarantino disciples can be pretty bullheaded in their defence of their chosen one. This may explain the mixed critical reaction to QT’s latest, The Hateful Eight, which is both the most Tarantino-ist film that ever Quentined, but also the least like his usual work.

The Hateful Eight follows a bounty hunter, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as they travel through a blizzard so that Ruth can claim the bounty on Domergue’s head. They take refuge in a remote cabin to wait out the storm and find it occupied with several more colourful and likely untrustworthy characters.

As opposed to the roaring rampages of revenge we’ve been used to, The Hateful Eight is like an extended Agatha Christie mystery. The film spends most of the runtime in the same cold looking cabin  and uses the interplay between the characters as the set dressing. There’s a wonderful creeping tension as allegiances are made and broken based on new information coming to light about the characters. It also reminded me strongly of The Thing, another Kurt Russell film. One of the criticisms (that I can’t disagree with) of Tarantino is that he stitches films together out of stand-alone scenes and sequences. Hateful Eight is a lot more like a conventional, logical story played out in front of us. It would make a fantastic stage play, something which Tarantino says he’s working on.

The Hateful Eight is in no rush to tell its story. Clocking in at just over three hours, the pace is leisurely and may frustrate some. The whole thing is rather indulgent and I can see how people have been turned off by the trudging pace. However, I must admit that I was absorbed by the whole thing. I’m a mark for Tarantino’s writing and to hear quality dialogue spoken by actors I respect and admire like Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell was a treat. As the story progresses, we do move into vintage violent territory, but by that point, I feel it has been earned. The film has been amping the tension up and it’s rather satisfying to see the balloons burst after a long time inflating.

The film is split into chapters and I agree with the detractors that one entire chapter could have been taken out and the story would have still made sense. However, I feel it makes it more of an experience, considering you’ve been in the same seat for three hours. I am aware that I’m in the minority on this one. I watch deleted scenes and director’s cuts. The Hateful Eight feels like an extended director’s cut of a film I’ve never seen the theatrical version of. It’s a little baggy narratively, but it contains more juicy dialogue and character beats for me to gorge myself on.

Do I really need to comment on the cast? They’re all seasoned actors, most of which have appeared in previous QT films, and they’re all brilliant. The title isn’t wrong either – all the characters are terrible, loathsome human beings and the cruelty on display may be too much for some people. To a twisted husk like me, it was magic. This kind of Sam L. Jackson is my favourite kind of Sam L. Jackson – quiet and reserved, but a hat drop away from being all bulgy eyed and intense. Also, the film serves as a great reminder of how good Tim Roth is. His character, Oswaldo Mobray, was easily my favourite, coming off like a cross between Christoph Waltz and Tim Curry. Newcomers to Tarantino’s collection like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum also do stellar work. I really hope to see them in future projects.

The Hateful Eight is perhaps not as fun or as accessible as previous films like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. However, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It felt like a proper cinema experience. I loved the fact that Hateful Eight had an intermission built into the film itself. It’s little old-school touches such as that that makes me a fan of the man and his work.  I’m not sure where it fits in with the other seven QT titles just yet, but I’m looking forward to repeat viewings to find out.

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My favourite Alan Rickman roles

I know. Fuck, I didn’t want to have to write this for a good long while yet. I loved Alan Rickman. Tons of people did. He was an amazing actor who just seemed to be an agreed-upon thing. Being the type of person to seek out or instigate discussion about films and/or actors, I’ve heard some surprisingly vitriolic spiels about who I thought to be universally beloved people. It says a lot that I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about Rickman.

So, again, I feel I must celebrate the man’s work in my own dumb way. I rewatched Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply to remind myself of a subtler turn by Rickman before I realised the folly of doing so. I definitely recommend the film and his performance in it, but that’s not who Alan Rickman was to me. The fact that I could barely remember anything about it was a clue. Let every other site dogmatically talk about “The Definitive Rickman Performances” or “Every Rickman Movie- Ranked!”, I’m not confident or arrogant enough to do that shite. Instead, all the roles listed below are straight from memory- no rewatching or research required. These are all films I’ve seen countless times and all occupy special places in my brain.

Die Hard – Hans Gruber

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Die Hard has a huge legacy. It’s been imitated but rarely, if ever, improved upon and it gets better with age. It’s a fucking masterpiece in my eyes and I don’t think I’m overstating things. A good chunk of the film working can be attributed to the villainous Hans Gruber. Pre Die Hard, there had of course been Euro villains. There had been raving psychopaths who couldn’t give a squirt of piss about human life too. Gruber was a newer, smarter breed of baddie that incorporated those qualities and more. His role required actual acting. That sounds like a knock against most action movie baddies, but Gruber’s whole thing was deception. He and his goons take over Nakatomi Plaza under the pretense of some lofty political statement, but their motivations boil down to a bog standard down and dirty cash grab.  Rickman is masterful in the role. He took lines that would have more than likely clunked out of other actors’ mouths and made them quotable brilliance. His casual quip about the recently murdered Mr. Takagi not joining them “for the rest of his life” is superb.

Defining moment: When Gruber gets caught sneaking around by McClane, affects an American drawl and pleads for his life. McClane, only having heard Gruber’s Germanic tones over the walkie-talkie believes him and advises that they stick together- the tension always building as to when Gruber was going to reveal his true self, especially when McClane hands him a pistol for protection.

Galaxy Quest – Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus

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Never will you find a warmer spoof than Galaxy Quest. It’s a smart, incisive and affectionate parody of Star Trek. Rickman plays serious theatre luvvie Alexander Dane, who in a take-off of Leonard Nimoy’s “I Am Not Spock” phase, hates the fact he’s known as Dr. Lazarus, a part he considers well beneath him. Rickman’s dry humour is perfect for the role and Dane’s hatred of the part and his “stupid line”. His flat, eye-rolling delivery of “By Grabthar’s hammer…what a savings!” at a low key superstore opening fucking slays me every time.

Defining moment: When Dane realises that his “stupid line” is more than just about him and speaks it to a fallen friend as a comfort. It’s genuine, earned and rather touching.

Dogma – The Metatron

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In a bit of inspired casting thanks to his instantly recognisable tones, Rickman was tapped to play the Metatron, an angel tasked with being the voice of God, in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Dogma is my favourite of Smith’s movies and to my mind, the best written. Many of the characters get extended monologues and they’re golden. The Metatron is no different. I love his fiery entrance and opening speech which gets interrupted by Bethany dousing him with an extinguisher. After things calm down slightly, we get this great exchange, delivered in the way only Rickman could do:

BETHANY: What are you?

METATRON: I’m pissed off is what I am! Do you go around drenching everybody that comes into your room with flame-retardant chemicals? No wonder you’re single.

Defining moment:  A revelation hits home the enormity of Bethany’s holy mission and she ends up in on a riverbank- cold, wet and defeated. The Metatron appears, walking on water towards her and explains the situation. She sobs that she doesn’t want any of it and that the task is too big, to which the Metatron replies that Jesus said the same thing. He tells her about coming down to Earth to tell a scared child he’s the son of God and will be persecuted and crucified by the very people he’s trying to help. It’s a beautifully written moment and both Linda Fiorentino and Rickman sell it perfectly.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – The Sheriff of Nottingham

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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is pretty mediocre. It’s inoffensive enough, but having the supposedly rakish and dashing Robin Hood being played with bland indifference by Kevin Costner puts a cap on the fun you can have with it somewhat. Thankfully, Rickman is playing the Sheriff of Nottingham like he’s in a different film altogether, chewing on scenery and snarling out genuinely funny one-liners. He and Morgan Freeman seem to be the only people actually having fun. Rickman’s so great, his performance elevates the entire film. He ends up walking away with the whole film tucked under one arm and I love him for that.

Defining moment: A lot to choose from, but dictating the following to a scribe is pretty fucking delicious:  “Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings and call off Christmas” As is this bit below:

SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM: [to a wench] You. My room. 10:30 tonight! [to another wench] You. 10:45… And bring a friend.

The Harry Potter series – Severus Snape

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Yeah, there was no way this wasn’t going to appear on this list. The Harry Potter films were massive and Rickman’s portrayal of ostensibly evil Potions master Severus Snape is genuinely great. He appeared in all eight films and was a fantastic presence throughout. Casting career baddie Rickman as the not-quite-what-he-seems teacher was a masterstroke. I’m happy that he played a role that would impress on children how awesome he was. I saw a lot of snark online the day he died, calling out kids for only knowing him as Snape. So fucking what? If they enjoyed him as youths, they may be open to exploring his back catalogue as they get older. They may stumble across some of the films detailed above and like them as much as I do. Who even cares anyway? Snape is the definitive role for Rickman and it’s what he’ll be mostly remembered for. To be honest, it’s a hell of a legacy to leave behind.

Defining moments: As there are eight films, I allowed myself two moments. One is the end of series flashback that you all must know by now.

DUMBLEDORE: “After all this time?”

SNAPE: “Always.”

Secondly, it’s his flamboyant and angry entrance to his Potions class in Prisoner of Azkaban. He strides past the class, slamming the window shutters closed with his wand, pulls down a screen and says “Turn to page 394!”. I’ll admit that it’s not the most amazing line to justify an entrance like that, but that’s what I love about it. Snape could be an intimidating bastard, but also had some camp value to him, making him a character that played to Rickman’s strengths.

Cheers Alan. Thank you.

My favourite David Bowie soundtrack appearances

I’m sure you’ve all heard the sad news that David Bowie passed away yesterday. I’m not a Bowie superfan who has listened to every album he’s put out or anything, but I love his songs as well as respect him as a fine actor in his own right. He was and will continue to be such a huge part of pop culture, I felt I had to write something to commemorate the man and his legacy in my own very small way. A collection and analysis of his film appearances seemed the most logical choice until I realised I’d only seen about half of them and would have to rely on writing an embarrassing amount about his short cameo in Zoolander to make up for it.

Whilst rewatching Inglourious Basterds to get mad hype for seeing The Hateful Eight this week, I was reminded of the babe how awesome film scenes can be made with a little sprinkling of Bowie. Looking at his IMDB page, the man has hundreds of credits for movies, games and tv shows. So, I decided to revisit and list my personal favourite times films borrowed a bit of magic from the great man himself.

1. Inglourious Basterds – “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”

Eager film remixer that he is, Quentin Tarantino used Bowie’s title track from Paul Schrader’s 1982 erotic horror film Cat People for his tale of revenge and Nazi scalpings. As with all Tarantino soundtrack choices, the song fits perfectly as the backing to Shosanna’s (Mélanie Laurent) preparations for her long-gestating ultimate payback plan.  Never at a loss for words, Tarantino explained the inclusion:

“I’ve always loved that song and I was always disappointed at how Paul Schrader used it in Cat People because he didn’t use it — he just threw it in the closing credits…And I remember back then, when Cat People came out, going, ‘Man, if I had that song, I’d build a 20-minute scene around it. I wouldn’t throw it away in the closing credits.’ So I did.”

Can’t argue with that.

2.  The Martian- “Starman”

As you may have gathered by it appearing in both my Scenes of the Year list and this one, I liked The Martian very much. I was enjoying the shit out of it anyway, but when “Starman” started playing, I knew this love was for real. I’m glad they didn’t go for the obvious choice of “Life on Mars?”. It’d have been too on-the-nose and wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. It’s hard to pick, but I think “Starman” may be my favourite Bowie track. I’m going to be vague here as the film isn’t even out on DVD yet, but it’s used to great uplifting effect in The Martian, playing over a montage of people deciding how to deal with Watney’s situation.

3. A Knight’s Tale – “Golden Years”

I feel A Knight’s Tale doesn’t get enough love in general. It seems to be one of those films people have seen, but only the once when they were younger. If they do remember the film, it’s usually for the anachronistic soundtrack which folded the likes of Queen and Thin Lizzy into a medieval setting. One of the best examples of this is the use of Bowie’s “Golden Years” when Heath Ledger’s bluffing fake knight is asked by the scowling Rufus Sewell to show everyone a traditional dance from his home of Gelderland. Ledger struggles before Shannyn Sossamon’s Jocelyn steps in and takes the lead. I love the slow build up to the track and the familiar “Angelll!” in the background before the song kicks off properly.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy – “Moonage Daydream”

If you make a throwback space opera with a prominent ’70s/’80s soundtrack, it makes all kinds of sense to include a bit of Ziggy Stardust. Luckily, director James Gunn thought so too and used “Moonage Daydream” to soundtrack our heroes arriving at Knowhere- a busy mining colony located inside the floating severed head of a gigantic ancient godlike being known as a Celestial. It’s a short scene, but the trippy quality of the track really establishes the setting well. Fuck, that soundtrack is great.

5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – “Life on Mars?”

Bowie features heavily on the Steve Zissou soundtrack. Brazilian musician Seu Jorge’s character translates and performs many of Bowie’s hits like “Rebel Rebel” and “Space Oddity” in Portuguese throughout the film. It’s all wonderful, but my favourite use is of the original “Life on Mars?” to score Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) meeting Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a man who may be his son. He chats for a while before the realisation sets in and he makes his excuses. He strides to the prow as the song swells before getting there and sparking up a much-needed, head-fugging joint. It’s such an oddball choice, but then that’s both Wes Anderson and David Bowie all over.

6. Labyrinth – “Magic Dance”

There was no way I couldn’t include this one in the list, considering Bowie performs it too. Labyrinth is such a fun and weird slice of ’80s fantasy. Bowie is fantastic as Jareth the Goblin King and every time I watch the film I always look forward to “Magic Dance”. It takes a talented performer to not look lost in a room full of puppets and a baby and Bowie pulls it off with style.

Right, I’ve made myself a bit sad now. Still, whenever anyone dies, we should try to concentrate on celebrating their life rather than mourning their death. Rest in peace Mr. Bowie. Thanks.

Scenes of the Year 2015

As 2015 shambles over the horizon and we cautiously snuggle up to 2016, it’s time for me to do my annual concession to how clickbait-y bullshit film sites operate and list my scenes of the year with nice big titles and pictures so as to not freak out the normies. Once again, a few caveats before we start. Firstly, I haven’t seen every film 2015 had to offer. If you think there are some unforgivable omissions- click “email” in the info box at the top right of the page and tell me how I got my own opinions wrong. Secondly, some of these entries concern what some would consider spoilers, so proceed with caution. With all that in mind, here are my picks for the filmic moments of 2015:

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – Chain gang

Fury Road is probably my favourite film of the year. I loved every demented second of it. I knew that it would feature on my list in some capacity but, considering the film was basically one long action sequence, which bit to pick? I decided that the brutal chain fight involving Max, Furiosa and an unconscious Nux was the one for me. It’s not the most impressive sequence in the film, nor the one with the biggest bangs, but it was a great piece of physical storytelling. Few words are spoken, but we learn truckloads about the characters involved. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is a fucking beast who will do anything to protect her women and, on the other side, Hardy’s Max is a survivalist who will do anything to ensure that he keeps ticking. It’s a brilliantly choreographed sequence that has the confidence not to bombard us with rapid editing to make the fight seem more chaotic. Max finally bests Furiosa with the help of Nux, but it’s clear that the two are equals who could do a lot worse than work together.

2) Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Kylo’s Sith fit

I really enjoyed The Force Awakens. It’s not a perfect film as there are many instances of narrative corner-cutting present, but none of that ended up mattering. Star Wars is back and I couldn’t be happier. New villain Kylo Ren was the highlight for me. Initially, Ren is every bit the Vader-like badass. He’s legitimately intimidating and clearly powerful. However, as the film goes along, the mask slips and we see that Kylo Ren is a petulant youth who freaks out when things don’t go according to plan. My favourite bit was when Ren is given some particularly bad news. He proceeds to lose his mind and hacks the shit out of a control console with his lightsaber, fueled by pure rage. Two stormtroopers round the corner, see the carnage and wisely decide to back off, providing a big audience laugh. There are other scenes later on in the film that are more than worthy of a place here, but I pulled a muscle even thinking of the linguistic gymnastics I’d have to execute to avoid describing who the main players were.

3) Kingsman: The Secret Service – God Hates Firths

I was primed to completely love Kingsman. It was sold as a Bond pastiche done by the team behind Kick-Ass. I enjoyed it, but not to the breathless excitement levels I expected. However, one scene clearly stood out as a pick for this list. Colin Firth’s Galahad finds himself in a Deep South church full of the sadly non-fictional racist, homophobic and odious end of the Christian faith. After making his excuses and attempting to leave, Samuel L. Jackson’s villain activates his mind-altering app that causes murderous rage and violence in anyone close to an electronic device. What follows is an extended, bloody and ludicrously over-the-top sequence where Colin Firth unleashes the fury and takes out the rioting masses to the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. It’s the perfect accompaniment as the scene is just as awesomely indulgent as the song itself. The main thing I loved was that fact that it was Colin Fucking Firth in the centre of the ruckus looking every bit the hard-bitten action hero. Fantastic.

4) The Martian – Hot Stuff

I don’t think The Martian would have worked quite as well without Matt Damon grounding the whole thing. We have to spend a lot of time in his company and he’s insanely watchable. His character, Mark Watney, is stranded on Mars and he starts to make plans to survive long-term, documenting his progress with the numerous cameras left behind by the NASA mission. Watney realises he needs the rover to go long distances and hatches a dangerous plan to keep himself from freezing at night. He digs up a decaying plutonium radioactive isotope to keep himself warm and stows it in the rover. He takes his mind off the potential nuclear disaster in the backseat by going through the absent Commander Lewis’ music collection and picking the “least disco” track possible: Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”. It’s Damon’s withering look to camera that got me, but I couldn’t help but smile when he started dancing and stomping to the beat. I didn’t think a film could equal The Full Monty‘s inspired use of the song, but The Martian did just that.

5) Fantastic Four – Heads you lose

Fantastic Four was shite- no two ways about it. However, this list is about calling out the good when I see it. FF would never make any best of list, but Scenes of the Year? Sure. Y’see this scene summed up the film for me. It was a glimmer of something shiny in amongst the sewage runoff that trickled into cinemas. There’s one scene that concerns the awakening of Toby Kebbell’s Dr. Doom, who is restrained and examined after being rescued from an alternate dimension. Doom is bitter and resentful about his initial abandonment and uses newfound telekinetic powers to exact revenge on some innocent guards and scientists. He breaks his bonds and slowly walks down a hallway, exploding peoples’ heads with his mind. It’s a dark scene that reminded me more of Scanners than anything else. I’m a sucker for Frankenstein’s monster style breakout scenes, hence its inclusion here.  It was a hint at a darker and more interesting take on the tale. I’m not saying that I would want to see a grittier take on the Fantastic Four- far from it. I would have just liked to have seen how far they would have taken it had the studio not got scared and sanded off 90% of the edges.

6) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation –  Puccini pummelling

I’m happy for the Mission: Impossible series to go on for as long as it wants to. Whilst Rogue Nation didn’t quite hit the highs of Ghost Protocol for me, it was still a sodding blast. The stand out scene was a sequence set at the Vienna State Opera during a performance of Turandot. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are desperately trying to foil an assassination attempt. Hunt creeps around, exploring the precarious rigging hung high above the stage before confronting a would-be sniper. Hunt battles with the big man in a sequence that reminded me of the sort of old school Bond scraps that happened between Roger Moore’s 007 and Jaws. The sequence cuts between techie Benji, Hunt and Rebecca Ferguson’s morally grey Ilsa Faust who, rather memorably, rests an arm on one of her fine, elegant legs as she lines up her shot with a custom rifle. All of this action is beautifully edited in time to Puccini’s music and everything comes together to become a great scene as well as a real series highpoint.

7) Avengers: Age of Ultron – Vision expresses

I know it probably seems like I’m being deliberately contrarian at this point in the list. I dug Age of Ultron a lot and so picking out a sequence for important cataloguing purposes was tough. The obvious answer was the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster scrap, but when it came down to it, it was the final confrontation between Ultron (James Spader) and Vision (Paul Bettany) that encapsulated the strengths of the film. Despite a massive CGI filled finale, the film came down to two complete opposites talking in a forest. Both parts are perfectly cast and I thought Joss Whedon’s dialogue fucking sang at this point. Broken and defeated, Ultron is confronted by the god-like Vision. Vision calmly explains how he’s come to support humanity’s plight. Ultron dismisses this out of hand and calls him “unbearably naive” to which Vision replies, quite truthfully, “Well, I was born yesterday.” Bettany’s delivery is perfect and it sells the moment wonderfully.  I can’t wait to see more of him in future Marvel films.

8) John Wick – Dinner reservations

If you like your action, John Wick is a must see. It’s an admirably pared down film about a retired hitman who unretires himself after thugs kill his dog and take his car. The film’s directed by stuntman Chad Stahelski, so the fight choreography is understandably top drawer. All the action scenes could go on here, but it’s the home invasion scene that takes the prize. In it, Keanu Reeves’ titular hero takes on armed goons and -spoiler alert- fucking destroys them. The action is slick and impactful. Wick pops off headshots like he’s using an aimbot and the scene unfolds at an insane pace. After an amusing interlude with a cop coming to the door, the cherry on top is when Wick dials a special number to confirm a “dinner reservation for twelve” as he looks round his corpse-strewn house.

9) Ant-Man – Train set-piece

Marvel’s now-standard “risky” prospect Ant-Man charmed me. No pun intended, but the smaller-scale focus on fathers reconnecting with daughters as well as action sequences revolving around shrinking powers convinced me that a film based around a C-list Marvel hero was no bad thing . The big (small) set pieces were all fun and inventive, but it’s the final battle between Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) that gets the nod. They fight in Rudd’s daughter’s room, with her train set becoming the main battleground. Zoomed in, the fight is just as epic, loud and violent as most blockbuster end sequences, but director Peyton Reed occasionally gives us a real world view of a tiny lightshow happening around a toy train going round a track. It feels fresh and funny, which are two of the film’s main strengths as a whole. Hats off to whomever came up with the idea for a Thomas the Tank Engine cameo too.

10) Ex Machina – Dance floored

2015 was undoubtedly the year of Oscar Isaac. Whilst I didn’t like A Most Violent Year as much as everyone else, he was definitely the best thing in it. With the one-two punch of portraying tech genius Nathan and roguish ace pilot Poe Dameron, he cemented his place as one of my new favourite actors. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is an insidious bastard that preys on your unease. You feel something’s not on the level with the eccentric Nathan but you’re not sure what. When Domhnall Gleeson’s nervy programmer Caleb confronts assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) for some answers and a drunk Nathan walks in, you know something’s going to go down, but a disco dancing scene probably isn’t first on your list of possible outcomes. Both Isaac and Mizuno display some sweet moves and the scene manages to be both fun and unsettling in equal measures. An impressive feat.

11) Furious 7 – The last ride

Few series are as unapologetically cheesy and stupid as the Fast & Furious franchise. I mean none of that negatively. The series delivers ludicrously fun action and I love it for that. However, real world shit impacted on F&F‘s dumb party when main cast member Paul Walker was tragically killed in a car crash. As a result, Furious 7 became tinged with a palpable sadness and it became the entry that hammered home the series theme of family. The ending was handled perfectly. Our gang watch Walker’s Brian laughing on the beach with his family and realise that this is where they must part ways. We get a montage of moments from previous films with Vin Diesel’s almost fourth-wall breaking voiceover. We cut to Toretto, driving his Charger around a winding road before Brian pulls up next to him in his signature Supra- “Thought you could leave without saying goodbye?” O’ Conner smiles.  The two race for a stretch before hitting a fork in the road and taking different paths. It’s a genuinely touching and honest tribute and easily worth a place on this list.