A STAR DIRECTOR AND A STAR LEADING LADY ARE BORN ANEW

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A Star Is Born is a heartbreaking love story, a torch song for the dream of being a true artist and an intense reflection on the impact those who truly matter have on our lives. On one level this is a sweeping romance between two sexy leads living the dream of being rock stars and on another an indulgent weepy effortlessly evoking strong emotions. General audiences can go along, ship the relationship and cry with the main characters amidst their struggles. Director Bradley Cooper has structured the film to work on this level and work well but it is far more layered than that and I think part of its success has been due to audiences picking up on the nuances too and loving these aspects as well.

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Our two star-crossed lovers are Ally (Lady Gag) a waitress and aspiring singer/songwriter and Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) an established star currently on the wane due to personal suffering more than anything else.  Ally has never had anybody believe in her talent the way Jackson does and Jackson has maybe never had anybody love him so unconditionally as Ally does. There’s a lot of choices made by everybody involved in this production that has come together under Cooper’s drive. Ally and Jackson are artists, they show an interest in each other after they first hear each other sing, they fall in love with each other less as a meeting of the souls and more out of their shared love of their craft. The first night they spend together they barely touch each other, when Jackson tells her how he views his fame and she tells him part of a song she’s working on this is a much deeper connection and shared intimacy for them than sex ever could be. The sex comes, a well choreographed scene that seems to evoke both how sex can be with someone hung over and yet also be passionate and consuming. Yet Cooper knows how important that first night staying up and talking can be more important for the characters and more important for the narrative. After that first night we’re in all the way with Ally and Jack and the rhythm of the film, like it can be in a relationship, never quite gets back what it was like that first night.

Instead the narrative plays out with one star ascending and the other on the wane. The rest of the film isn’t quite as effective as those opening scenes, characters come and go a little bit for narrative purposes, an agent comes in to personify the division between Ally and Jack and later on in and remains a heartless villain but not without some reason. Yet the relationship never stops feeling real and drawing you in. Cooper and Lady Gaga have a nice relaxed chemistry that reads as authentic, their dialogue never feels manufactured and so many of their conversation scenes take place in domestic settings away from the spotlight. Gaga in particular is on point throughout, there’s been a lot of talk of how new she is to this game but she actually trained as an actor, has had roles in other films and television before this. As her first feature film lead role it fits that her performance is natural and not over affected, I do sincerely believe this is part of her talent but also part of the confidence and focus that Cooper has given her on set. His performance is very much across the same lines feeling real and raw but it is not his acting that stands out here.

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This has to be one of the best looking and best sounding films of the year, expertly cut in the editing and meticulously crafted every other way. Small token shots have lights and smoke timed perfectly for maximum effect and yet in the moment reactions are captured. No matter how many takes it took, how many elements were in play or how close the cameras were to the performers’ faces everybody involved makes it appear everything is happening in the moment for the first time and maybe it is. Also it presents the physicality of the bubble of fame that comes around a person as they ascend. Walls of people gather round, fans, staff, groupies and with it a hum of noise. Leaving a concert early on Jackson is surrounded by noise and activity until he crawls into the back of his limo and is met with utter silence and loneliness. One lone driver upfront to make small talk to, who understands part of his job is to be quiet if that is what his employer wants. A high amount of camera work is up close and personal and on the move perfectly evoking the perspective of characters through small intimate scenes to moments at big public venues. The film articulates well the intoxicating elements of fame but also its emptiness and its precariousness. This is a phenomenally well crafted film with a maturity and confidence that is unique for a first time director and could have only come about through a real passion and drive. With this Bradley Cooper does not promise to become a great director – he is one.

The music such an important part of the story reflects the themes of the tale. The central duet ‘Shallow’ has lyrics that reflect an us against them mentality but also an individual about to take flight and reject her fears. The other songs are beautiful, Cooper in particular has a nice country ballad in ‘Maybe It’s Time.’ For a musical the soundscape is on par with any special effects laden film released this year.

Earlier versions of this film were set in a different time when getting help was maybe less discussed. Jackson seeks help in this film, I won’t spoil what happens but it offers a much deeper emotional connection to the ending as a result and maybe raises some conversations. A cutaway perfectly timed that closes the film will have most in tears. This is an old school Hollywood film in the greatest sense, it has big stars, big themes and delivers big emotions. It is one of the year’s best.

-Lloyd Marken

 

‘THE DUKE’ AND ‘ROBIN HOOD & ME’ REVIEWS AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR

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It is a thrill to be back on assignment at the Brisbane Powerhouse for Scenestr magazine. I took Karen to see The Duke to see on Valentines Day 2019 and the next night we attended Robin Hood & Me. Both are one-man shows from the talented artist Shon Dale-Jones of Hoipolloi theatre.

Seeing both shows in close proximity it is hard not to draw comparisons between the two. The Welshman is playing with narrative structure throughout and engaging with his audiences openly commenting on when something gets a laugh or cause silence. At our performance of The Duke a reaction that seemed to suggest an awareness of what was coming prompted him to remark “I see we have some writers in the room.” He creates an intimate atmosphere where you get wrapped up in the story even if he has been upfront about the fact that some of it may just be a story. The Duke featured a dear old Mum from Anglesey and a bit of whimsy. Robin Hood & Me featured more rage and despair in the performance of Shon Dale-Jones and was more upfront about how the narrative could have been a beautiful lie told to comfort ourselves.

Despite the differences in tone and remembrance of different times, each could conceivably relate to the one person and life especially when you consider that some of it is fantasy. As a sentimental soul I can’t deny my preference for the The Duke and my admiration Robin Hood & Me. Both were really good. You can read my review of The Duke here http://scenestr.com.au/arts/the-duke-review-brisbane-powerhouse-20190215 and my review of Robin Hood & Me here http://scenestr.com.au/arts/me-robin-hood-review-brisbane-powerhouse-20190219

After each which touched upon the less fortunate in our society there were buckets present to receive donations for charities that help those in need. I allow for the possibility that this is a Banksian-level commentary on the theatre going public, middle class guilt and the espousal of art but I think something much more sincere is going on. I think Shon is genuine about his concern for his fellow human beings and he writes pieces of theatre that will engage us to think of others, to donate time and money to charities and in our actions to feel a little bit better about the world.

It is fascinating to wonder which parts of his life really happened but what is definitely real is the emotions he stirs up in us and the values that he asserts are important. That’s real enough for me and I happily put some cash in those buckets on my way out.

Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Having started in 1993 they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland every month

-Lloyd Marken

DEATH OF A SALESMAN REVIEW AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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I was 17 when I first read Death of a Salesman in my senior year of English. Our teacher got to crux of the story when she asked a quarter of us to stand up and advised the rest of us would most likely become unhappy with how our lives turned out. At 17 I remember the disappointment and reality of Willy’s story resonating with me and that it was all too real a possibility to not have your life turn out the way you wanted it too. The idea of that has always stayed with me and grows more real every year.

Watching the play again 20 years later I found new things caught my attention. Willy has a house paid off, a wife who adores him and a friend willing to help. Biff his son is less broken by the revelation of his father as he is confused by his priorities. The tragedy has become more complex and more saddening. At 17 I understood Willy’s dreams, at 38 I know all too well his insecurities but I can also see he has more to be grateful for if he can just get out of his own way. I have no doubt I could see it a different way in another few years. This is a very rich text that continues to speak to us.

Karen took me to see the play last week done by Queensland Theatre and I have been fortunate to have a review of it published with Weekend Notes here https://www.weekendnotes.com/death-of-a-salesman-playhouse-qpac/ Let me know what you think.

Weekend Notes are a growing online magazine with a wealth of contributors based out of several cities across the United Kingdom, Australia and New York. Articles are leisure related and can include a wide variety of subjects from rainforest hikes to cultural festivals, from what hot new play is on at your underground theatre to a ultra trendy eatery. Writers are paid for their work based partly on how many views their articles get so please feel free to stop by and show some love.

-Lloyd Marken

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR

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I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of Alita: Battle Angel the other night to review it for Scenestr magazine with a cinema full of people. With the film’s release having been pushed back, middling reviews and a expensive budget has the narrative of being dead on arrival. Yet there is lot to recommend about it even if there are some criticisms I have, I hope it finds an audience. You can read my review here http://scenestr.com.au/movies-and-tv/alita-battle-angel-review-20190212

I’ve been intrigued since the original teaser trailer back in 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gu1vBQXazOQ

Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Celebrating 25 years in 2018 of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and now Victoria! every month too.

-Lloyd Marken

ON THE BASIS OF SEX REVIEW AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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Karen took me to a preview screening of On The Basis of Sex and I was lucky to have a review of it published on Weekend Notes. The film starring Felicity Jones covers the period of Ruth Bader Ginsburg that was particularly formative for her later achievements. The film has not received universal strong reviews but Karen and I enjoyed it quite a bit. As formulaic as the structure may have been I found something admirable in the slow burn nature of the performances and the balance between the domestic and the professional. You can read my review here https://www.weekendnotes.com/on-the-basis-of-sex-film-review/167825/

Weekend Notes are a growing online magazine with a wealth of contributors based out of several cities across the United Kingdom, Australia and New York. Articles are leisure related and can include a wide variety of subjects from rainforest hikes to cultural festivals, from what hot new play is on at your underground theatre to a ultra trendy eatery. Writers are paid for their work based partly on how many views their articles get so please feel free to stop by and show some love.

-Lloyd Marken

INTERVIEW WITH ‘OUR TOWN’ DIRECTOR CLARE WATSON AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR

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I love the play Our Town, I think it captures the essence of life in all its tragedy, beauty and humour so effortlessly that it never surprises that as it ages it remains timeless. The Artistic Director of Black Swan Theatre is a fan too and getting the chance to talk to her about her production of it was one of the most fun interviews I have ever had. The kind of ones where you lament having to put it to a set word limit because it can’t possibly cover the scope of the artists’ passion, thoughts and ideas. Yet you try, because you want to be worthy of the opportunity to speak to such people.

The production sounds like a winner, set outdoors in the theatre courtyard they’re going to have a reflective surface for the stage which will capture the long beautiful Perth sunsets and then the night sky. Those familiar with the play will know what an important part the changing sky can play. There’s going to be a wealth of locals, real Deliveroo drivers and doctors along with three talented actors Ian Michael, Abbie-Lee Lewis and Shari Sebbens who are all First Nation. Sebbens I saw give a particularly strong performance in the film Australia Day (2017) most recently. Given the importance of small town turn of the century America to the story its exciting to think of the possibilities that immediately come up when casting with such a focus on Perth locals and actors whose heritage predate white settlement in Australia. This particular production of Thornton Wilder’s classic shouldn’t be one to miss for fans old and new. You can read my interview with the delightful and talented Ms Watson here http://scenestr.com.au/arts/our-town-seeing-beauty-in-the-ordinary-in-perth-20190124

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Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Having started in 1993 they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland every month. This interview was published in print on page 19 of the 38 page first WA issue for 2019. You can read a digital version of the printed Western Australia edition here http://scenestr.com.au/read/WA/2019/23-WA/scenestr-WA-23.html#p=18

-Lloyd Marken

OVER 2,500 VIEWS FOR EXTRAS WHO ADD A LITTLE SOMETHING – JOHN B. DESTRY

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In the early months of 2017 I did a series of monthly posts that focussed on small speaking parts, minor characters who had major affects on narrative and character actors who became famous in their own right. I have long been meaning go back and expand on the idea of these posts which mostly collated information from IMDB, my own reflections and quick searches throughout the internet. Hopefully 2019 will see some movement in this regard. In the meantime I am encouraged by the fact that these post continue to get more views than any of my other ones for the most part. Most popular of these is the post about John B. Destry’s appearance in the 1990s Adam Sandler comedy hit Happy Gilmore.

A few stats for those who love stats, yes this post hit 2,5000 views this month having been originally published 18JUN2017.

A few stats just cause stats, the post published 18JUN2017 had 28 views in the month of June and had accumulated 112 views by the end of that year. A year after publication in the month of June 2018 it garnered 74 views, about the monthly average at that point. The next month the post peaked with 703 views and an average per day of 22 views. While there has been a decline since the post is still getting a monthly amount of views in the triple digits. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing posts like these, it seems fairly redundant and self-congratulatory. It is nice though to think people are out there enjoying my posts and such milestones don’t happen often.

Thank you once again to all my readers far and wide and to John B. Destry for living the dream and giving such a memorable performance in Happy Gilmore.

-Lloyd Marken