Following on from catching Memory: The Origins of Alien and Little Monsters on Friday night, the next day I set off to Dendy cinemas in the inner Eastern suburb of Brisbane Coorparoo to check out two more films at BIFF 2019. At 1pm I saw my first film up in Cinema 8.
MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND: For any film buff this is a great introduction in the history of sound in cinema. I would struggle to explain what foley, sound editing and sound mixing all mean? I do know sound is layered in film and that it is a creative aspect like anything else in filmmaking. Such differences are explained and shown clearly in this documentary which for the most part is well paced.
Also director Midge Costin and his team have done a fantastic job cutting together sequences that showcase the power of good sound being added to an image and building up to some wonderful examples of where sound was so important to great cinematic moments.
It features lots of baby boomers and fixates a little too much on the 1970s but this was a pivotal era. Central figures of the American film renaissance like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and David Lynch are all on hand and along with their sound guys Walter Murch (The Conversation, Apocalypse Now) and Ben Burtt (Star Wars).
There are also efforts made to go over the change from the silent era to the advent of sound. However stuff I had been unaware of proved the most fascinating and it was mostly centred around pioneering women. Although I enjoyed hearing about the full scope of Walter Murch’s work in THX 1138. How many sound guys are also credited screenwriters?
For example you can thank Barbara Streisand for Dolby Stereo Sound in cinemas of the modern era. When reinventing herself and stepping into producing with A Star Is Born in 1976 she fought for the new technology to roll out in cinemas for her film to try to capture the energy of stadium concerts in the film.
Babs put her money where her mouth was too, insisting on a dramatically increased post production schedule for the sound mixing and editing out of her own pocket. When the film was a hit, Warner Bros paid her the money – history had been made.
Taking a leaf out of Ben Burtt’s book, Cecelia Hall added distorted animal sounds to the jetfighter plane sound effects for Top Gun and subsequently became the first woman to become nominated for Best Sound Effects Editing. She won four years later for The Hunt for the Red October. I enjoyed the stories of these pioneers and salute them all for their creativity.
The snack bar at Dendy Coorparoo, not actually where I ate, that was upstairs in the premium area. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Despite the banner this corridor is where Cinemas 1-7 are located. Again 8 is upstairs. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
My next film ran in the same cinema interestingly almost an hour later after I left cinema 8. I did talk to the one of the BIFF Vollys sporting a snazzy coloured T-shirt and advised me I had once done work as a Volly and was happy to see them back.
I asked if they still had the practice of letting Vollys sit in on films at the back after they had started and he told me they did. In fact they get passes to 4 screenings which is fantastic!
I took a seat and ordered a cheese platter, I highly recommend the chutney paste and some orange cheddar cheese that hit the spot. Nearby I could hear young people hanging around between sessions, working on creative projects on their laptops and discussing themes and the creative process. This was the joy of going to BIFF for the first time in 2004 and it made me happy to see evidence that some things never change.
CHAINED FOR LIFE: At 3:30pm I went back into Cinema 8 and saw my last film of the 2019 Brisbane International Film Festival. Following on from an American/Mexican doco, two American documentaries and an Australian/U.K./U.S. zombie comedy I closed out the festival with an American film with a very unique British leading man.
Chained for Life is a satire about how we define desirability and disability in our culture and on film. Starring Jess Weixler and Adam Pearson as two actors on a film set for a horror movie. Interestingly child actor Charlie Korsmo makes a return to our screens as the eccentric “German” film director of the piece.
Weixler is the beautiful actress and the central focus of the film, and the film within the film. Pearson has been cast for his disfigured appearance as the monster of the piece that has a lot of passing references to Frankenstein. Also on board is Stephen Plunkett absolutely nailing it as a absolute wanker of a leading man who thinks he’s so cool and nice to everybody as they’re rolling their eyes at him. One scene with him and Pearson made me exclaim at the screen which just goes to show how good the film is.
There is also a lot of playing around the narrative and I will come clean and say at times the film may be went over my head and stopped resonating a bit but for the most part I was really enjoying what was being depicted and poked fun at.
Pearson with his gentle clear voice is an effortless star and this is the kind of role that lets him play beyond just how he looks while clearly addressing it. Check out an interview below that shows off how much of a pro the guy is.
The film reminded me of the personalities and dynamics of a small film set and not for the first time am I grateful for my older sister and how she gave me an insight and an understanding that others have to search for. A really good and interesting film to check out.
Well that’s it for another year at BIFF, gone too soon. Congratulations to Artistic Director Amanda Slack-Smith for another great programme and to the entire team. If I had to pick a favourite out of the films I saw it would easily be Midnight Family but I enjoyed all the films for different reasons and once again thank you for sharing in the journey.
A little later than usual this year but here is my third annual favorite films of the year list. I was fortunate with my freelance work, Karen winning comps and just being in a general a regular cinemagoer to see 58 films either in cinemas, via screeners or released via Netflix. This includes films that were 2018 American releases but reached Australian cinemas early 2019 hence why this list is always a little delayed. I’ve also been part of end of year lists for X-Press Magazine and put together an end of year list for HEAVY magazine which includes disappointments and surprises for the year in cinema.
There were some films I’m sad to say I haven’t got around to seeing yet that I think might have made the list if I had, Sorry To Bother You, If Beale Street Could Talk, BlacKkKlansman, Cold War, Isle of Dogs and most of all You Were Never Really Here and Won’t You Be My Neighbour? So that tradition continues for another year but this is a list of the ones I did see below. I had a good run of films at the Brisbane International Film Festival this year and some screeners for my work for X-Press magazine turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding films of the year. Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.
It is just as well this list is called My Favourite Films of the Year rather than the Best of. It’s hard to remember the distinction sometimes and to make peace with those that end up in the Top 10 and those that don’t even rate a mention. The Mission Impossible films are style over substance, nothing has quite matched the 1996 original and yet in director/scribe Christopher McQuarrie they have found something new that works. They’re all set up and payoff for mind blowing action but cleverly staged with tongue firmly in cheek. In briefing rooms characters murmur about their past and stare off into the distance but the best performers are those who convey much with little. Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby I’m looking at you. My father once told me the James Bond books by Ian Fleming were light fare but the character of Bond became more whole and nuanced as you read more of them and that is the case with Ethan Hunt and his movies and to a lesser extent his team. McQuarrie plays with the history finally and gets some good results. There was a moment with a sweeping shot of Tom Cruise running across a rooftop with a panoramic view of London and I just thought who the hell else is making movies like this anymore with a movie star. Barring Christopher Nolan, the answer is no one and Nolan doesn’t shoot action like this.
For a while there, Roma was the frontrunner for Best Picture and I would’ve been perfectly happy if it had won. Roma is gorgeous, spiritual, moving and audacious. For the first time in my life I saw a film on my television and I thought it really needed to be seen on the big screen. The fact that it was Netflix release is beyond ironic. Things seem to be happening in the foreground that are missed way too often. I admire the approach of director Alfonso Cuaron demanding that we pay attention, meditate on what is being shown and consider our own lives and what is truly important. There are scenes that I still think about now that exemplify his skills as a master storyteller. The central performance by Yalitza Aparicio is one for the ages. Yet some things, passed me by, some things dragged on too long and some things were hard to take in on the TV. I really wonder if seeing it on the big screen really would’ve rendered a completely different experience?
Brushing aside Oscar controversies, the behaviour of Spike Lee who if he was white would have been called a sore loser, I’d ask you to reflect on this film on its own merits. Maybe you will find it lacking and if you do that’s fine and valid. Me? Well I liked it, the audience I saw it with liked it, they laughed and cried in all the right places. Just like they had in Hidden Figures or Darkest Hour or any other number of mainstream history films where filmmakers seek to evoke emotions and play things as broadly as possible. Maybe you wanted something more incendiary or original and I hear you but I liked this movie. I liked the central relationship, I liked how it made me feel and I liked what happened to the characters along the way and how they could be honest about where they started. This was definitely one of the best films I saw last year.
The Old Man and The GunNot Reviewed ***1/2
Seldom is a film star alllowed to retire with grace in a bookend project that recognises all that comes before but stands on its own. It would have been nice to have Gene Hackman or Sean Connery awarded a similar swansong but at least Robert Redford got this film. Filmed to look the time period of the early 1980s it is set in, it follows Redford as an ageing bank robber Forrest Tucker but the one last heist angle is given a twist here. Redford imbues Tucker with all his weathered charm yet one of the most admirable aspects of the film is the way it subtly reveals the cost of a career in crime. Tucker may appear a gentleman but that does not mean there has been no collateral damage from his activities and being a charming isn’t the same as being there. Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck support him well in their own performances. It’s simple tale well told, dripping with nostalgia and charm but also a little edge.
Annihilation is not a fun movie but it will become a modern sci-fi classic. A mystery at the centre of it is genuinely thought provoking and the film proves unsettling with no real easy answers and horrifying images. The complex characters don’t ask for your sympathy either. This may be the scariest film of the year. The lack of success for the film and its distribution by Netflix worldwide speaks to the changing nature of blockbusters in Hollywood but as long as people like Alex Garland get to tell stories we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
7.The EndlessPublished at X-Press Magazine 29MAR18 ***1/2
Cracking the Top 5 is Ladies in Black, an Australian film from director Bruce Beresford about a young girl Lisa (Angourie Rice) coming of age in post-war Australia. There were times I thought of my own parents and the households they grew up in and the friendships they made during this movie. It’s true the film is gentle and broad and comforting in a way that it could have chosen not to be but in looking back it is a reminder that change has always been present and always navigated by the young and old. There is a moment when a young couple talk about their past lives while looking out over a mountain range. In the end while they’re honest about the past they choose to not dwell on it but to move forward and it is one of my favourite scenes.
4.In the AislesNot Reviewed But Mentioned in Our BIFF 2018 Coverage ****
Seen at BIFF 2018, In The Aisles is a film I hope many others discover in time. Set around a night shift of retail workers it is meticulously constructed and moving. We get to know these people but only gradually outside of the prism of who they are at work. The film understands the landscape of the shelves, the grace of the pallet jacks, the secrets of the back rooms, the tensions of the work parties and the longings created by a staff member not showing up. It is aware that while not all of who we are is what we do at work it is where most of our waking hours are spent and how much purpose and identity the roles and relationships we have there give us. Just a fantastic movie.
3.The FavouriteBeing Edited ****
A perfectly rendered period film with a little bit of edge to it. Forget all the talk about historical accuracy, the film is a character piece about three fascinating women and the changing nature of their relationship. The three leads Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revel in the opportunity to sink their teeth into such meaty parts too. There is some very clever choices made visually which harken back to different periods and commentary on gender tropes throughout. “We begin with Queen Anne guided by Lady Churchill almost maternally. Weisz cuts a figure often in men’s clothes, constantly shooting off rifles in the field and meeting the gaze and remarks of the men of parliament as she runs the country. Queen Anne relies on her a great deal for confidence and affection and Lady Churchill never lies to her about anything. Enter the younger impoverished cousin of Sarah Churchill, Abigail Hill. She needs work and patronage and we find out quickly that she is a survivor.“
Well that’s it for another year, hope you enjoyed and please feel free to share your own thoughts and feelings about your favourite films from 2018. I’m also sharing Honest Trailers Oscar 2019 from the team at Screen Junkies or as they are now called Fandom Entertainment.
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.
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.
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.
New Year’s Eve I was scrambling to get a submission in for HEAVY Magazine which I have been contributor for since April 2017. I’m not always able to be as prolific as I would like but a chance to contribute as one of their film reviewers to a recap of the year’s films was too good to miss out on. Similar to how I feel honoured to contribute to end of year countdowns for X-Press magazine. I’ll of course be putting together my annual Favourite Films of the Year later on in 2019 but this will give you an idea of who is in the running at the moment for a Top 10 entry. You can find the post here https://heavymag.com.au/a-re-cap-of-the-films-of-2018/
I hope you enjoy and feel free to comment or give any social media love.
Heavy is an independent magazine and website that is all about the music and specifically heavy music and supporting the Australian music scene in general. Fortunately for me they do cover film as well and I have been fortunate to have a few things published there.
This list has got me thinking about how my own Top 10 for 2018 is shaping up. Please note my Top 10 to feature here on this blog next year around Oscar time will go off films released in 2018 in the U.S. This list done by X-Press Magazine was based on films that were released in Australia in 2018 and do include some films from 2017. Heck I reviewed a delightful 2016 film from France for this year.
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.