The Best Music Video of 2018

Now that’s an impossible headline. How can any one music video be the best of a year? Most views? Most shares?

And do I mean the best video interpretation of a song? Or the best song, and any video would be okay? Or do I mean, like the image above, The Best Video With The Best Bling Ever.

Many years ago, in many lands not far away, the annual “Best Of” lists meant something.

They meant bona fide critics, academics and, dare I say it, experts, had thoughtfully compared and considered a fair sampling of contenders, and had put their stamp on the top 5 or top 10.

But they were easier times. Hundreds of new releases a month, rather than thousands. Dozens of new music videos a month, rather than millions.

Look at what we have now. Rolling Stone tells us it has collected “The 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time”. What? How is that possible? And Paste tells us it has the “The 100 Best Romantic Comedies of All Time”. What?

They are not “The 100 Best …” of anything. They are click-bait. Headlines pretending to herald great content. Then when you have a look, you disagree with many and almost always object strongly to the Top 5.

But let’s press on.

Best VIDEO Interpretation of a Song 2018

What does “video” mean any more? And how Virtual or Augmented do you want to be?

Well, the best music video of 2018, with the emphasis on video, is

Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over” (featuring FKA Twigs)

Which is also HomePod — “Welcome Home” by Spike Jonze — for Apple

And you get a fantastic Music Video with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality very much centre stage.

With this video, the future is now! There’s a foundation of old-school MTV with heaps of new-school musical sensibilities rising to the peaks, overlaid with the tricksiest video CGIs you can find.

You can see more here:

But that still leaves us with the question. Is that the best song with the best video to go with? No! The best song with a watchable video is …

The Best MUSIC Video of 2018

And that goes to

Blackpink, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du”

Because this is what “international” music is all about today. You take vast helpings of Spice Girls (and all the other pop and hip-hop girl groups) and weave in the latest American black music styles, and, lo, you have Blackpink!

Massive production values – like every top black American music star – for both the music and the video are not enough, however. What you also need, to cut through the bass-drone of hip-hop and r’n’b and rap, are some bright, crystal voices singing in harmony.

Which BLACKPINK deliver, along with all the current STYLE and FASHION tips you could ever wish for. All in 3 minutes and 35 seconds!

But you already know that, cos you’ve been one of the 500 or 600 or 700 million views!

Jessica Jones and the two sides of Emo

Emotional Hardcore or Emocore emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement. And what’s that got to do with Jessica Jones?

First, if we take it that there’s an emphasis on hardcore emotional expression in the music, we have hard rock and/or alternative rock and/or punk rock and/or grunge all touching on the emo vibe.

Second, emo subculture is stereotyped with emotion, sensitivity, misanthropy, shyness, introversion and angst, as well as depression, self-harm and suicide.

And third, emo also signifies a specific relationship between fans and artists and certain aspects of fashion, culture and behaviour – skinny jeans, tight t-shirts with band names, studded belts, and flat, straight, jet-black hair with long bangs. 

So there’s Jessica right in the middle, and even more so if we take the trailer for Season Two as a guide. She’s got the angst, in spades, she’s got the hardcore aggression, and she’s certainly stayed true to emo style.

And for those of us who like touches of gothic and noir in our entertainment, did I mention LOTS of the scenes are dark!

And season two has just started. Go watch! Or, if you prefer, binge watch! On Netflix, of course.


The Guardian review of Red Sparrow as a “perverse Jennifer Lawrence thriller” highlights mainstream media’s failings

The Guardian review of Red Sparrow starts with an error in the first line: “a seductive assassin”. Not so. A reluctant spy, maybe, but even that is overstating 90% of the movie.

There are spoilers below, but every fan of the Lawrences will have seen the movie by now.

Jennifer Lawrence filled the screen with Dominika’s evolution

And the third line of the review says there’s “surprisingly extreme sex and violence”. Again, not so. There is sexual aggression and attempted rape, but the violence is not comic-book. The redeeming aspect throughout the film is showing the effects of such extreme violence.

The film doesn’t go off into the over-done detective mastermind scenario, nor the weepy soap scenario. Instead, the film stays with Jennifer Lawrence’s character, masterfully showing the effects of such sexuality and violence on a person who grew up in a family where power is always tinged with violence.

The review also says, “throughout, there’s a shocking willingness to go to the very edge of what’s acceptable in a contemporary studio movie.” Compared to what? Mostly what’s acceptable in contemporary studio movies is a level of violence which is both extremely graphic (but only as CGI) and extremely stupid. The average studio movie hero is tortured by ‘experts’ for hours and yet is never impeded in subsequently killing or neutralising a dozen supposed trained soldiers or guards or bodybuilders or thugs. Single-handedly and, apparently, avoiding all 60,000 rounds of ammunition fired in the process.

Continue reading “The Guardian review of Red Sparrow as a “perverse Jennifer Lawrence thriller” highlights mainstream media’s failings”

The Post – heavy lifting for its era!

If you want to tell a serious story with film, but still have plenty of people come see it, you could be hard pressed to do better than Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as your stars. But then, director Stephen Spielberg probably has the necessary weight to make that happen.

And much of The Post is about who has the weight. Hanks portrays a man of solidity, of guts and folly, pushing the boundaries and yet mindful of consequences. His granite features – yes, I am talking about former babyface Hanks – carry much of the weight behind his actions and demeanour, a stark contrast to the quite timid role that Streep plays for much of the film.

The big hitters included the New York Times butting heads with the Nixon administration and various strong-arm players in the departments of state and defence, plus the White House attorneys, while The Washington Post, at that time, was a minnow.

Gradually, however, the weight of the story carried everyone before the Supreme Court, but not before we all got a wonderful portrayal of life back in the days of ink-on-paper, of manual typewriters clattering across acres of office, and printing presses the size of a few warehouses. No computers, no mobile phones, no internet. If you wanted something – a person, a document, a meeting – you ran or drove or flew. And the deadlines had the weight of mountains. They could not be moved.

And, at times, there was the oppressive weight of the rooms full of men, who had ‘earned’ their right to be there and to uphold their elite positions and elite arrangements with the administration – and those buttresses of power had been gridlocked from one president to the next.

There is drama and tension, and Spielberg drew great performances from the cast. At the end, however, it’s impossible to pack The Post away into its corner – its era – of history. It’s a historical dramatisation of issues that weigh just as heavy today as they did then.

“The role of the press is to serve the governed, not the governors” was apt for its time, and we must hope it’s a legal ruling that has the weight to withstand the belligerent tantrums and attacks of the current president and his administration.

Trance – to meditate or dance?

What we now call classical music was, in its time of composition, also popular music. The primary decisions may have been by a benefactor and the immediate entourage, but certain pieces of music, and certain composers and musicians, were the beneficiaries of being popular.

So, whether chamber music or opera, solo instrument or choir, different styles appealed to different times and different countries.

And much the same is true of what we call folk music, whether that’s bagpipes, blues, country & western or Irish lullabies.

Within all styles of music, there are always extensive repetitions and refinements. No matter whether long pieces like Concierto de Aranjuez or Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, or Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley jamming for 20 minutes, or a whole album by Bob Dylan or Ed Sheehan, the key to popularity is often a large element of repetition.

frankie-remixes-500pxAnd so disco rhythms and Bee Gees harmonies and progressive rock’s whole side of an album would revolve around emphasising a style with, at times, incidental creative embellishments. And some of those would become exemplars of the style/genre. Nile Rodgers, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Prince – and many others anyone could name – would be instantly recognisable. Just as Chopin may sound instantly distinct from Beethoven, so Frankie Goes to Hollywood sounded unique, even in the 3 or 6 or 9 remixes of their songs.

In simplistic terms, trance evolved out of the dance genre, especially the Ibiza ‘sound’ that filled huge clubs with thousands of fans eager to experience the highly curated sets from the dj/producer/ensemble.

More technically, trance is characterized by a tempo lying between 125 and 150 beats per minute with repeating melodic phrases, but with a musical form that distinctly builds tension and elements throughout a track. There are usually one or two peaks (also known as drops) where instruments or melody will fade out, only to return stronger after the drop. Although trance is a genre of its own, it liberally incorporates influences from other musical styles such as techno, house, pop, chill-out, classical, tech house, ambient, and film scores.

above-and-beyong-podcast-600pxPodcasts proved to be perfect vehicles for trance djs and producers, enabling worldwide distribution of 30-minute and 60-minute and 2-hour episodes – and on a regular basis. Each week, fortnight or month, fans of a trance podcast would be delivered the new episode, capturing and refining a style that includes fresh tunes built on a melodic and repetitive approach. And no matter whether via the podcast, or at a live show, the music is at times like a mantra or meditation, yet experienced and enjoyed, simultaneously, by thousands.

Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy and Shane 54’s International Departures are two highly recommended examples of excellent trance podcasts.

And let us know your favourites.

Altered Carbon is a rip-off!

We have nine episodes in Altered Carbon that, at times, really feel like an honest attempt to inject pace and well-thought futurism into a cops-n-robbers-in-space thriller.

You’ll see lots of references to Blade Runner style and Matrix cyberpunk and the like. All of which is sort of true. And there’s plenty of cruelty, especially against women, that is the stock-in-trade of most crime thrillers, no matter whether set in the past, present or future.

To offset that misogyny, there are four strong female characters, played by Dichen Lachman, Martha Higareda, Kristin Lehman and Renée Elise Goldsberry (pictured with showrunner Laeta Kalogridis). And the lead man is played with a great deal of gritty realism by Joel Kinnaman (he was also impressively taciturn in The Killing series from 2014).

Like many Netflix series, there’s a cookie-cutter approach to the plot and sub-plots. Hero(es) just about get a win but then the carpet is pulled out from under them. All very Hero’s Journey but rather too formulaic now that we’ve seen it in, oh, about 14 Netflix series so far!

In keeping with ‘the future’ there’s plenty of bleak darkness – the dark, rainy streets, the glaring neon, the dark alleys, the stark white labs and the dark settings when hero(es) are in a bind and trapped.

The story? Well, we’ve got galaxy-spanning capabilities and intergalactic stormtroopers and rich people who can live forever (more or less – give or take the odd ‘refresh’). And lots of cops-n-robbers street-level stuff, which is a long way below the super-rich living in their spacescrapers.

And, of course, there’s a sort of fate-of-personkind thing and the revolutionaries (good guys?) versus the establishment (bad guys?).

But, and it’s a big BUT, the whole fin de siècle turns out to be completely prosaic when we reach the finale and the underlying reason for a huge percentage of the story.

Spoiler alert: I’m sorry, but the people who are supposed to have lived for a few hundred years would have sorted out the petty insecurities that supposedly set off the main ‘bad deed’.

It’s like we’ve just watched nine episodes of Twin Peaks and the tenth episode (and ‘resolution’) is a weak sub-plot from Dallas.

The Frozen Dead outwit the living dead

If ever there was a gong for a TV series with pointless sub-plots, this would get the award. The Frozen Dead, from Gaumont and Metropole, is supposed to be a psychological thriller. Fortunately, it’s only six episodes long (currently screening on Netflix).

There’s the boss detective repeatedly running over beautiful clean, white snow – in a bright red jacket! With his gun out and chasing “baddies” who also have guns. So he should have been dead by episode two.

And he would certainly be the dead dummy cop in any American or UK thriller, as he also goes running alone into warehouses and hydro stations – dark, echoing chambers so every footstep can be heard – without calling for backup. That is, without calling for backup before or during his John Wayne lone-sheriff dumbness.

And he’s got a drinking problem – of course – and smokes too much – of course – and frequently suffers nosebleeds. And he has “issues” from the past. And may or may not know what the hell he’s doing most of the time.

So there’s four paragraphs telling you about the series and none of that is spoiler, because none of it relates to the main story. Nor, by the way, do most of the secondary characters know what they’re doing or why.

The real story is that incompetence and corruption existed in the police force years ago, and still does. Ho hum. And the tedious drawing out of that corruption and incompetence spans six very long episodes that could have been soooo much better if they’d had left the tropes behind and concentrated on making interesting new character types over the top of a real psychological thriller story arc. 1 star for scenery!

Writing Retreat begins

A two-week writing retreat has great appeal. And that’s just what I’m doing for the next fortnight!

But more, I’m at a beautiful lakeside location in New Zealand, and have a stunning view to assist with inspiration.

What’s that? What am I writing?
That’s simple. I’m ‘polishing’ the first book in a planned trilogy. I’ve written most of book one and half of book two and one-quarter of book three.
But, of course, all three books are meticulously planned and researched, so it will be a simple job to finish them.
*Hysterical laughs interrupt …. *

Charlotte Gainsbourg explores the sharp edges of grief

Known for her famous family and collaborations with other artists, the singer is finally speaking for herself

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG is full of nervous energy, switching from sitting on the sofa to the floor, pouring streams of green tea. It has been nearly eight years since the release of her last studio album, the critically acclaimed “IRM”, and her long hair has since been lopped off into a bob. She will release “Rest”, her new album, on November 17th, and is starring in two upcoming films—“The Snowman”, an English-language crime drama, and “Promise at Dawn”, a French adaptation of a novel by Romain Gary.

Notoriously shy, she is still no stranger to exposure. Her parents—Serge Gainsbourg, France’s most revered musician, and Jane Birkin, an English actress and singer—courted the tabloid obsession with their scandalously chic family. Ms Gainsbourg began her music career aged 12 with “Lemon Incest”, a duet with her father (the sort of thing which would make less avant-garde tweenagers combust with embarrassment). Even now, at 46, she appreciates her father’s attentions as an artistic collaborator. “I like touchy subjects and things that make you uncomfortable,” she says. She remembers being in the spotlight with him fondly. “The way for my father to tell me that he loved me was through the media. He wasn’t very outgoing in private; he disguised his feelings much more.”

Continue reading “Charlotte Gainsbourg explores the sharp edges of grief”

Netflix Discovery Portal

Just when you thought it was safe to retire from binge-viewing on Netflix, up they come with another raft of interesting, intriguing and often excellent series.

Of course, Netflix is also essential for major historical catch-ups. Those episodes you missed when you were travelling, or even whole series that didn’t work when they were broadcast on networks at weird times, or even networks you didn’t like.

Or you were in a country that didn’t have the series playing while you were there. But now, often, Netflix fills in the gaps. Plus introduces a lot of opportunities to discover new actors, actresses, directors, producers, etc.

For example, Hotel Beau Sejour and its quirky, supernatural theme. And its peculiar combination of ordinary soap tropes (pregnant teenager, reconstituted families, step-sibling rivalry, etc) and the occasional hammy acting.

But then one story arc or one character stands out. And, in this case, it’s not the main actors/actresses – who in many cases are purely playing ciphers. Thankfully, though, Charlotte Timmers brought every scene alive with her convincing and expressive portrayal, from the slightest twitch of a muscle to the full beam of her smile.

Charlotte Timmers

Two-thirds of the way through the series the story arcs got bogged down – not unlike many novels – and then the final few episodes raced all over the place to tie up the threads. If they’d stayed more on track as a supernatural thriller, rather than trying to create an episodic soap, this could have been a stand-out series. 3/5

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc (Giramondo Publishing)

Selected comments by author Ali Alizadeh at a panel discussion at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2017

Iran and France were close and Napoleon used Iran as a pawn against the British. Jeanne’s role, gender and age surprised me at first. I later discovered that in late mediaeval France women were often in such positions of power.

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc by Ali Alizadeh

France needed a saviour at that time. There were prophesies that a young woman would come and save the country. There were other similar prophecies, especially re a virgin, and about a people’s heroine. The peasantry has been very important in many cultural revolutions, despite being downtrodden. Jeanne was initially dismissed by royalty and the powerful Flemish merchants of the time. And, as part of the misogyny the English, Jeanne was seen as a witch.

It’s worth noting that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, which began with a women’s day march. Revolutions are by definition for the whole nation. Jeanne united a very divided people. France’s population declined by about a third during the Hundred Years War. So Jeanne took it personally and understood the need for the ordinary people to bring about change. And only someone likeJeanne could rise within the context of that time.

Continue reading “The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc”

An Audience with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh was one of the special guests at Word Cafe Raglan 2017, a Writers & Readers Festival in New Zealand.

In a very full hour, Nalini discussed many issues facing authors today along with background on her own writing journey and the genesis of her series of novels.

“I wrote six books for Harlequin. At the time they were the only ones taking submissions from authors without an agent. But I had been through a number of changes of editors and didn’t get on with the new one. So I sat down and started writing the start of my whole Psy/Changeling series. I wrote the first draft of book one in three weeks, eating peanut butter toast for dinner each night.”

Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling series and Guild Hunter series

When asked about her Breakthrough point, Nalini explained how she became a full time writer. 

“I needed an agent so I went online and made a list of agencies who were working with the writers and publishers that I wanted to work with. I condensed my pitch down to three simple paragraphs:
Para 1 = about me
Para 2 = brief book synopsis
Para 3 – why I wanted work with that agency

Continue reading “An Audience with Nalini Singh”

The State of Music re Glastonbury 2017

Thoughts on the current state of the music industry, in part inspired by the standard of talent on display at Glastonbury 2017.
Chris Cornell 2017
Foo Fighters
The recent death of Chris Cornell brings much of what has been described as grunge into sharp focus. If Soundgarden were central and Audio Slave were heavy rock then Foo Fighters are often thrash. And their 2017 set proved to be a meandering, unfocussed thrash that continues my belief that Grohl lacks the musical creativity of most of the grunge leaders.
The Pretty Reckless 2017
The Pretty Reckless
In stark contrast is the power and authenticity of Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless, who provided one of the most heartfelt tributes to Cornell in their live performance of Like A Stone. It was interesting to note, however, the majority of lady-led bands at Glastonbury 2017 were way back down the road compared to the energy, variety and professionalism of Momsen & Co.

Continue reading “The State of Music re Glastonbury 2017”

The Sparkling Ghost in the Shell Extravaganza

I have no idea what all the complaints are about. Authors and Filmmakers appropriate storylines and characters from all of history and all countries. Charlton Heston shouldn’t be in a Roman epic? Mel Gibson shouldn’t be in a Western? And Scarlett Johansson shouldn’t be in Anime?

This is all political and/or cultural and/or censorship correctness gone mad.

Is Ghost in the Shell a great movie? Yes! Is Scarlett a great actress? Yes! Does she do a great job in Ghost? Yes!

Meanwhile, back at the purpose of the movie: entertainment. Ghost is a colourful, exciting and skillful rendition of anime into movie. In other words, job done.

I’d put it in the top 10 of Hollywood adaptations. 5 stars.

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