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 indulge my now annual tradition of picking my favourite bits from what 2015 had to offer. As always, 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 fits

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. Later on, Kylo unleashes the beast on a conspicuously empty chair. 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.