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 of those who truly matter to us have on our lives. On the one level this is a sweeping romance between two sexy good looking leads living the dream of being rock stars and 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 too.

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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 they’re working on this is a much deeper connection and shared intimacy for them than sex 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 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 later on in and remains a heartless villain but not without some reason. Yet the relationship 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 new to 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 or 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 a great director.

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 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

 

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AQUAMAN FIRMLY HAS ITS TRIDENT IN ITS CHEEK

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I really don’t want to lead you the garden path, Aquaman has a lot of flaws. Amber Heard’s acting for one. Related imageBut also the fact that if it is making a point in its narrative then the ending fails to capitalise on it. Also that the characterisation is weak and inconsistent, I couldn’t tell you who Arthur Curry really is at this point because in any given scene he is whatever the scene requires him to feel. And yet…..and yet God help me I had fun watching this movie. Part of the fun was how bad it was like when a cover a Toto’s Africa played, but part of it was how silly it was and how much it knew that when signifying Italy and burgeoning love they the soundtrack played Roy Orbinson’s Mystery Girl. If Adam McKay does smart dumb comedy then maybe director James Wan is on his way to making smart dumb blockbusters and that’s a good thing.

The plot picks up a little after Justice League, Aquaman goes around the ocean saving the day and beating bad guys up, sculling a beer with his old man and mostly keeping to himself. Then destiny calls and well mostly scenes of exposition interrupted by sudden explosions follows. Thank God they cast big names because I can’t remember the names of the characters just that they were played Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson and Jack the Muss.

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Aquaman is a film that goes to a lot of effort in its world building but is less about what and why something happens and more about how. Plate work ensues, we go to Italy, Africa and Maine and I’m not even sure if they even went to a water tank set let alone left the studio to shoot on location there’s so much green screen on display. Yet the film looks gorgeous, if its a cartoon it is a pretty and inventive one unafraid to have big name actors astride sea horses and sharks.

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Speaking of the cast Dafoe and Lundgren play as you expect, Lundgren actually plays it so straight and earnest it makes the unique kind of straightforward. Wilson, an actor I greatly admire proves game and doesn’t look awkward as his costumes grow more ridiculous but a film like this really deserves a villain who doesn’t bring earnestness but  theatrics. In fact Wilson, who looks like the comic book Arthur Curry and was cast as the villain partly because of this, would have made a good Curry it has to be said. Amber Heard fits into her costume snugly and tries hard, she is stuck in another female sidekick role where she cares more deeply about the plight of the story than the hero and has to prod him into fulfilling his destiny. A thankless role I grant you but Heard fails to bring any nuance and little joy to the role and the chemistry between her and Jason Momoa is non-existent.

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Momoa a man who has the body that leaves many swooning and the smarts to have a sense of humour about his image. The character as written is all over the shop but Momoa clearly has a passion for what he is doing. Its exciting to have an actor of islander heritage cast as an aquatic superhero but beyond that, his attitude, comic sensibilities and physique suit the role too. He also gets to show vulnerability here as a man born of two worlds who feels he belongs to neither and mourns a mother he barely knew. Which brings us to Nicole Kidman who may just be the best thing about the movie, she plays it straight too no matter how weird her costume and she brings real pathos to her role as a Queen, warrior, wife and mother. When they say great actors are slumming it in blockbusters they don’t always have reason to mention how the actor can elevate the production, Kidman here does.

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As for the production itself, the movie moves fast but is too long. Cut a villain here, an action scene there, slow it down and get to the guts of why these people are doing what they’re doing and you might have a great movie. A final epic end battle has really nothing to do with anybody we care about until late in the game and just feels like it is there because you got to go big and Hollywood-you really don’t. Yet the movie zips along and there’s a few jokes here and there and it certainly doesn’t tax your brain as it proves a feast for your eyes. Good looking people, cool looking worlds, big explosions and lasers, crab monsters and mystic tridents. It never bores and that’s a crime too many blockbusters have been guilty of lately. In fact when people square off and thump their trident down and you hear a big brass reverberating sound you can’t help but smile. We’re not the only ones having fun with this.

-Lloyd Marken

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THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2017 PART III

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Some films arrive at Brisbane International Film Festival having won at Cannes or made a splash at Sundance and expectations can be high. Films like Chop Shop or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Most come with some kind of buzz or recognition but you don’t know what film you’re really going to fall in love with until you see it. That was how it was like for me and the formerly mentioned and S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Black Ice and The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess and Away From Her and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

 

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IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD: Again Mike was steering me to good things with his recommendation of Japanese animated films. On a whim I choose to see a Japanese animated film that was screening at BIFF 2017. On a quiet Sunday afternoon 27AUG2017 Karen and I arrived at Palace Barracks for a 12:45pm session and I saw the best film of the year. Set before and during World War II, it followed the story of one young girl’s personal growth into a woman set against the backdrop of Japan’s transformation during those years ending with the agony of defeat and the simple need to rebuild no matter the trauma if there is to be a better tomorrow. A film that took Japan 70 years to make but it is a timely reminder of the true losers in war and the hope that comes from tomorrow. I was later lucky enough to have my review of the film published in the magazine FilmInk but I never see truly happy with the words I use to recommend it. See it for yourself.

 

CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY: Monday night after work Karen and I went to Palace Centro Cinema 7 to see the American documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City at 6pm. Some good documentaries have screened at BIFF and Citizen Jane had a lot to say about rising populations and the urban housing projects of yesteryear. There are many lessons that could be learnt from the showdown between activitst Jane Jacobs and urban planner Robert Moses in mid-20th Century New York that is relevant to today. Yet as the film went on I found myself asking for a different viewpoint, it seemed the film lacked any nuance or alternative argument. It wanted to celebrate Jane and belabour these foolish men who had built buildings but torn down communities. A under-resourced but indomitable spirit and intelligent mind going up against big interest groups is compelling to be sure but I couldn’t help but feel there was more to it than that. That Jane Jacobs had got it right and if not for her efforts we would have lost out more but why she had to fight, whether there were good intentions gone wrong there, what the solutions ultimately are for us now in the 21st century I felt the film could have gotten into a bit more. By not presenting somebody from the other side arguing their case you don’t really have a debate that you win. Just an echo chamber that feeds your narrative. Still maybe I was tired, I think I may have nodded off for a little and it wasn’t a bad film by an means.

 

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THE WAY STATION: Wednesday night 30AUG2017, 6pm we went to Palace Barracks Cinema 1 for The Way Station from Vietnam. Trumpeted it as a seminal moment in the history of the Vietnamese film industry it was a gala screening we attended. Directed by Hong Anh a famous actress in Vietnam it won best film, best actor and best cinematography at the ASEAN film awards. Not bad for her feature debut. It follows the story of a young man who gets work in the kitchen at a small restaurant and starts to learn the secrets of the compound he lives and works in. It was a passion project for Hong Anh and it deals with ideas of gender, sex and family. We had a Q&A afterwards with Hong Anh and 2017 Festival Co-Director Maxine Williamson and something that impressed was her discussion of how to shoot the space of the restaurant.  For me they did a great job of keeping it interesting, maintaining clear sense of geography and also bringing forth such a strong sense of place that it almost becomes another character. In some ways this a tragic story and I can’t deny that it was not one of my favourites but it was shot well, had interesting ideas and took me to another small pocket of the world I had never been in which I what I love best about the films I see at BIFF. Afterwards we came outside to eat food put on by the nearby Libertines which Karen and I both love. These included little bamboo boats with mushrooms dumplings inside them.

-Lloyd Marken

JUSTICE LEAGUE REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

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This review was written a few months back but has only been recently published due to other concerns. I’m happy to have it published with Buzz Magazine and hope you enjoy reading it here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/justice-league-2/ Some of the staff at Buzz have been through a lot over the past year and to have them and the magazine continue means a lot to me and getting to be a part of that is really great. Justice League‘s belated but now accomplished publishing is a turning point for me showing we’re back on track and gathering steam. Next up should be the last belated review for Best Picture Winner The Shape of Water.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

-Lloyd Marken

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018… SO FAR… LIST AVAILABLE AT X-PRESS MAGAZINE

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X-Press Magazine have released a list of the best films given an Australian 2018 release so far as voted by critics of the mag. It is with particular pride and humble gratitude that I have been asked to contribute and that some of my words have been used for three films mentioned. Some of those listed will be films that were released in 2017 elsewhere most prominently Stateside.

You can read the entire list here http://xpressmag.com.au/top-10-films-of-2018-so-far/ which includes great stuff from my fellow writers. Having already written about some of these films with my own Top 10 for 2017 it was a lot of fun to find a new way to discuss these films yet again with original words.

X-Press Magazine was established in 1985 and at one point was Australia’s highest circulating free weekly entertainment publication with over 40,000 copies reaching 1,0000 outlets every week.  On the 24th May, 2016 Issue 1527 hit stands. Like many publications of its ilk X-Press Magazine is now foremost an online magazine engaged globally and making the most of the possibilities that new digital technology offers. It’s roots though are tied to its home city, love of local artists and productions and music which it supports wholeheartedly. Perth a capital city most isolated from all the other capitals is continuing to grow and develop culturally and artistically with its own identity and talent. X-Press has always been there to capture this growth and will continue to do so.

-Lloyd Marken

AVENGERS : INFINITY WAR REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

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I am very lucky to have had my review for Avengers: Infinity War published at Buzz Magazine. I am fortunate enough to have a lot of reviews of big blockbusters published over at Buzz and they don’t come bigger than this. Please feel free to click here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/avengers-infinity-war/ to read my thoughts and offer any of your own. I hope you enjoy.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

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I’m very excited to say that I’ve reached a new milestone with this review at Buzz. This is my tenth review published with them following on from Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last JediBlade Runner 2049, Five Came Back, Atomic Blonde, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Let me know if you had particular favourite.

-Lloyd Marken

 

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

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I’m very fortunate to have had my review of the last Star Wars film published online at Buzz Magazine. Writing a review for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a challenge. I’ve had endless conversations with family and friends debating character motivations and plot points of various significance. It is a film that has stirred up talk about its merits and failures. I’m excited to see what you think and to share my thoughts. Two years ago I wrote a rambling diatribe about my feelings about The Force Awakens, now here I trying to cut the word length and keep my thoughts coherent in a review for an actual online magazine. How things change if you get a little luck.

Check out the review here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/star-wars-the-last-jedi/ and let me know what you think.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

-Lloyd Marken