THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2019 PART III

Image result for brisbane international film festival 2019

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.

 

Image result for making waves the art of cinematic sound

MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUNDFor 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.

 

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.

 

Image result for chained for life

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.

-Lloyd Marken

Advertisements

THE SEVEN AGES OF HARRISON FORD

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

-William Shakespeare

Related image

Hello and welcome to the second edition of The Seven Ages of.

A few things to keep in mind, inspired by Shakespeare’s words I am endeavouring to relate the trajectory of a career and lifetime of an artist through these seven ages. Whether it is where the actor was in their career and where the character was in their life will be the criteria.

Effectively for the purposes of these posts the Seven Ages will refer to these criteria.

  1. Infant – This could be an early role of little note when the actor just got their foot in the door or their first starring role.
  2. Schoolboy – Yearning for freedom and adventure but still reliant on the protection of their elders. Perhaps where the actor shows raw talent or does a terrible film or still works under a more esteemed mentor. If not fresh faced and young then still a relatively new quantity to the audience.
  3. Lover- I think Shakespeare intended this age to reflect lust, hot air and a lack of awareness that comes with youth. For the sake of this I might consider that or just put it down to their most romantic role.
  4. The Soldier – Essentially the age while still relatively young somebody decides on their code and goes out into the world to conquer it and being highly competitive to do it too. For an actor this maybe the moment where they truly define a persona for themselves that will stick. If they’re already a star it might be where they re-invent themselves and perhaps not without controversy.
  5. The Justice – maybe the height of someone’s stardom where they’re aged but established. Powerful even if coasting on their achievements from when they were the age of the soldier. Reflection comes to them too now and with it wisdom.
  6. Pantalone – Now the inevitable decline begins. Still in the world but it is passing them by. For a star who is smart this will often see them partnered with a new up and comer or Lover or Schoolboy if you will.
  7. Old Age – For most actors this may be a pitiful last appearance which only embarrasses old memories or it may be a performance of a character at this stage of life. At death’s door what will be their parting wisdom, their learned lesson?

This hopefully will be an ongoing series and I fully intend to do Gene Hackman (as soon as I see Night Moves and I Never Sang for My Father, c’mon Netflix Australia!), stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood like Stewart, Gable, Davis, Bogie, Hepburn, Tracey, and actresses who often struggle to find relevant work post 40. It is proving difficult to track down all classic films of bygone eras even from my community’s libraries so some will have to wait. Baby boomers are proving easier but the scope will hopefully expand to a Jack Lemmon or a Deborah Kerr in time. Harrison Ford is chosen this month because I’ve seen most of his films. When I was a teenager Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were my two favourite movie stars and their movies informed me on the standard of being a man onscreen even if I rarely set the ambition of living up to it. The hope is I pick the film that represents the age and not a personal favourite but take a look and see if you have to keep me honest. If you think other ones will be a better pick for an age feel free to chime in. Do you have a landmark role for each decade Harrison Ford has been on the big screen? Let’s dig in.

SPOILER ALERT – There will be spoilers in this post!!!!!!

Image result for harrison ford AMERICAN GRAFFITI

1. Infant – American Graffiti (1973)

Harrison Ford first film appearance was as a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in 1966. That could be arguably be the infant age but if we’re talking about the first film where he made an impact it was American Graffiti. A teen film, the perpetually always younger looking Ford played a drag racer at the age of 31. He only has two scenes, talking smack with racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and then actually racing. He serves as an antagonist to be defeated but Ford already adds layers. He seems all business with a female passenger at the start of the race but is that because he’s hiding fear that he’s about to lose or something else? Either way it’s that shit eating grin and good looking face under that cowboy hat in his first scene that made the impression and what an impression it was. For a more matured and nuanced performance you can’t go past his role in The Conversation a year later. Effectively a well-dressed polite heavy, Ford decided he would make the character gay and at no point does he telegraph it because the script does not require it. It was an early example of Ford being his own man and adding layers to a performance so that nothing was lazy or by the numbers. Still I think Bob Falfa got everybody’s attention before Martin Stett.

Runner Ups: Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, The Conversation.

Image result for harrison ford STAR WARS

2. Schoolboy – Star Wars (1977)

The Conversation could fit here as an actor starting to get good work but still learning a lot from a talented director in the form of Francis Ford Coppola. As a man his career didn’t take off until he was nearing middle age and as an actor he has always shown an independence of thought and maturity in his choices. Yet if there is one final moment where Ford was not yet a movie star and still naturally brought the charisma of such a being it is in his first go around as Han Solo. Every little boy wanted to be Luke Skywalker, then they grew up and they wanted to be Han Solo. George Lucas with script polishes from Gloria Katz and Wilard Huyck can take some credit but it is Ford who made Solo the rogue so lovable. Effortlessly cool slouched in a seat at gunpoint, slyly grinning as boys act tough and Princesses remain uninterested. Those who think Ford can’t act should compare Solo to Jack Ryan and think again. Ford apparently doesn’t like to watch his old acting performances – with Solo he’s got no idea what he’s missing out on.

Runner Ups: Heroes, Force 10 from Navarone, Apocalypse Now, Raiders of the Lost Art, Blade Runner

Related image

3. Lover – Presumed Innocent (1990)

Cheating once again with the rules of the seven ages, instead of covering a character full of hot air and enthusiasm or a part of an actor’s career where he resembles this we’re going to refer to the sexiest role Ford ever did. There’s a few to choose from, World War II love story Hanover Street, his great chemistry with Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his born again husband in Regarding Henry, his cuckolded cop in Random Hearts getting it on with Kristen Scott Thomas, his socially awkward Linus swept off his feet from Julia Ormond’s Sabrina. His most successful romantic comedy remains the 80s yuppie career film Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. Wasn’t even sci-fi Blade Runner at heart all about love and what one can truly feel explored in some part by Ford and Sean Penn? Yet they all pale next to Kelly McGillis and Ford’s stare downs in Witness. Scenes that were made for the term “tension you can cut with a knife” but Witness is to feature somewhere else so that leaves Presumed Innocent. This is not a romantic role, Ford plays a husband who cheats on his wife with a power hungry woman but lawyer Rusty Sabich is haunted by his former colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi in fine form) in the way only a lover can be. Drawn into investigating her murder and then potentially seen as guilty of it the one thing that is never in doubt is that Ford is obsessed with her. In one scene his wife is seen off-screen asking why she matters so much and Ford breaks down in tears. It may not be love but it is certainly the passion of a lover and it remains one of Ford’s most unique and brilliant performances.

Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Random Hearts, Sabrina, Regarding Henry, Six Day, Seven Nights, Working Girl, Hanover Street.

Image result for harrison ford WITNESS

4. Soldier – Witness (1985)

The 1980s is a rich era for Harrison Ford, it begins with the greatest sequel of all time in The Empire Strikes Back, Ford’s first turn as a cop in Blade Runner, gives us the classic Indiana Jones trilogy, his tortured performance in The Mosquito Coast, Frantic hints at the Ryan persona of the 1990s with a middle aged doctor caught up in a thriller but dares to show Ford get beat up and pretend to be naked with girls half his age (Jack Ryan thrillers wouldn’t dare). These are real characters each with their own tics and foibles, they play like something more authentic and complicated than the mainstream hits from the 90s. Smack bang in the middle of the decade though is the closest thing to a prototype of the 90s star persona of them all in Detective John Book with important distinctions. Ryan is a family man, Kimble a widow, Book is a bachelor and hard edged cop where the others are historians and doctors. Book is dangerous in a way the others aren’t, he’s not a good man driven to violence, he’s a violent man driven to goodness. Which makes it all the more powerful when he is reluctant to fight, or tenderly sits with a boy or he shrinks from the gaze of a topless woman he is falling for hard. The only time Harrison Ford was ever nominated for an Academy Award it remains arguably his greatest performance. Solo and Indy endure, Blade Runner is so much richer because of his Deckard and Presumed Innocent and Working Girl were the successful changes of pace but Witness’s John Book is the Harrison Ford performance to see. John Book fits as a soldier personality too but more importantly this is essentially where Ford in his career established his reputation, proved he didn’t need to do genre work for the rest of his career and created the blueprint for what he would ultimately make a lot of money doing in the 1990s.

Runner Ups: Blade Runner, Frantic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, Presumed Innocent, Patriot Games

5. The Justice – Clear and Present Danger (1994)

There is a wealth of choices for this age from Harrison Ford, the age of the justice was the age that Ford played best and he became in a way the Jimmy Stewart for a new generation. After Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the 80s, Ford gave us the American hero for the 90s. Smart, urban if not urbane and a family man – just don’t fuckin attack him or his country. As a cop in The Devil’s Own he came face to face with Brad Pitt as a terrorist even if the film didn’t play it so cut and dry. Playing the President in Die Hard on Air Force One in… Air Force One almost seems inevitable in retrospect but Ford showed his boredom even before the decade closed pursuing a romcom in Six Days, Seven Nights with Anne Heche. Hey I liked it. With dwindling box office he returned to this type of film in Firewall (2006) but sadly that film was not as good as the 90s output. The Fugitive was the biggest hit and a damn fine film but Dr Jack Ryan has it over Dr Richard Kimble. In Patriot Games, Ford has his best moments when he sees his wife Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer) and child Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital. His line delivery of the word spleen will cause any parent to tear up. His famous finger point is greatly satisfying in the next scene but Clear and Present Danger puts Ryan in a better film and features an equally good performance. Jack Ryan plays many notes here, a middle aged man fearing the death of his father figure (James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer), an analyst out of his depth in the field, and an arc that takes him from nervously advising his President to telling him where to go. For the kids who don’t know Ford was the master of awkward fight scenes, his facial expressions always moving from fear to rage with every punch and he would physically throw his body around. They’re not streamlined like a martial arts fight but they’re spectacular in a regular guy kind of way and probably owe a great deal to Ford doing a lot of work himself. You feel the fights. Conflicting reports range about how involved he was in his stunts but he sure seems to be close to some pyrotechnics in the lauded ambush scene of Clear and Present Danger.

Runner Ups: Patriot Games, The Fugitive, The Devil’s Own, Sabrina, Air Force One, Six Days, Seven Nights, What Lies BeneathK-19: The Widowmaker, Presumed Innocent, Regarding Henry, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Frantic.

Image result for HARRISON FORD MORNING GLORY

6. The Pantalone – Morning Glory (2010)

Ford came to stardom later in life and he was still box office king in his mid-fifties but sooner or later you’ve got to slide into supporting roles and pair yourself up with a younger kid. Ford proved game but as the 21st century dragged on the films he made just weren’t that good or just weren’t successful. After pulling out the old fedora again in 2008 he followed up with two films, the 2009 ensemble piece Crossing Over and the 2010 comedy Morning Glory hoping to capitalise on that momentum. Neither hit gold but he has enjoyed more success with the interesting premise of Ender’s Game and mentoring Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) in 42, both in 2013. Morning Glory was made by some of the same team that only a couple of years earlier had major success with The Devil Wears Prada the film belongs to Rachel McAdams who here didn’t play a love interest but an actual career woman. As a TV producer Becky Fuller she hires Ford’s revered but benched anchor-man Mike Pomeroy. The film belongs to Becky who does have a boyfriend played by Patrick Wilson and interacts with a cast of individuals at their morning program Daybreak. The heart of the film though is her relationship with Pomeroy. The elder newsman doesn’t want to do morning television but is running out of options and coming to terms that after a lifetime of putting career first over family he now has neither. Ford plays proud, stubborn, hurt, funny and most importantly capable of supplying a bran doughnut or perhaps even a frittata for someone special. For years Harrison Ford struggled to get a great role for this age – in 2010 he got one and you should see it.

Runner Ups: Hollywood Homicide, Cowboys & Aliens, Ender’s Game, 42, The Devil’s Own.

Image result for HAN SOLO THE BRIDGE

7. Old Age – The Force Awakens (2015)

I watched The Age of Adaline recently to see if it was Ford’s best work in years as some have said……. I think I’ll leave it there. Ford may not have a great performance for this age just yet. There’s time, we’ve got Blade Runner 2049 coming out later this year which is bound to deal with mortality and then most likely a final Indiana Jones performance. For now though it is Ford returning to a galaxy far, far away from a long time ago in The Force Awakens. It is not great acting; Han Solo has no big lessons to pass on in this story. What Ford does though is show that old men can still be young at heart, that Solo didn’t really grow up but he did become wiser. He passes on some advice to both Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) about life and in the third act he does exactly what Han Solo did all those years before near Yavin IV and the first Death Star. He goes into the danger to rescue someone, to do the right thing and that is why we always loved the scoundrel smuggler. When he confronts his son his last act is to show that he still does and always will love him. Maybe he does have one big lesson left to impart.

Runner Ups: The Age of Adaline, The Expendables 3, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

Well that’s the list; can you believe Indiana Jones isn’t in there? It’s arguably the greatest role he ever played! What’s going on?! Where’s Deckard?! Well let’s discuss and feel free to put forward your own picks in the comments below.

-Lloyd Marken

Related image

YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD KONG DOWN EVEN IF YOU SHOULD

Image result for kong: skull island

The eighth film to feature the monster King Kong is a mess of tones and idiotic character motivations but the titular character has lost none of his appeal and that along with some bright sparks of imagination maybe enough to hold audience interest throughout.

trailer kong skull island

The year is 1973 and American involvement in the Vietnam War is coming to an end. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), agents of government organization Monarch obtain funding to lead an expedition to a newly discovered island in the South Pacific shaped like a skull. They recruit an attack helicopter squadron from the U.S. Army, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), geologists, and for a tracker/hunter James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former Captain in the British Special Air Service. Tooled up with bombs for seismic recording and ammunition galore they plan to fly in, do tests and observe before flying out three days later on the other side of the island. With the island covered in storm clouds fizzling with red lightning they take off in their open door gunships to see what they can find paradoxically armed to the teeth for what should be map drawing and yet completely unprepared for what they do find.

Image result for kong: skull island

What they find is a 100 foot tall bipedal ape who quickly takes them apart after their bomb dropping seemingly awakes the beast in him. Considering these helicopters are more than capable of flying to altitudes well over 10,000 feet it seems a special kind of stupid when these war veterans fail to change tactics in the face of overwhelming force but it ain’t every day you get set upon by a giant monkey. Besides such escapes would not only derail the plot but the set pieces which are the better parts of the film. The monsters and monsters fights never cease to be entertaining and inventive whereas the human characters often are either incredibly stupid or incredibly bland. Given the cast assembled that is a special achievement in itself.

Plenty of these actors you’ve seen do better work in other films, disappointingly Samuel L. Jackson’s Ahab like Lt Col. Preston Packard fails to convince as a leader who wants a winnable war and is prepared to risk losing more men in a personal vendetta against Kong following the initial onslaught. Image result for kong: skull islandBrie Larson fills out a tank top well but besides being one of the more sensible human characters never makes much of an impact. Image result for kong: skull islandTom Hiddleston fills out a tight T-shirt well but fares even worse.

Two performances manage to stand out, one is Shea Whigham as one of Packard’s men Captain Earl Cole who takes everything in his stride like the pragmatic war weary soldier that he is because what else can he do. John C. Reilly is the second in a role that should be thankless but becomes the most memorable. Playing a downed World War II pilot named Hank Marlow (geddit) who crashed on the island twenty eight years earlier he is part exposition and part comic relief but conveys the heartache of these years lost to the world. Image result for kong: skull island nixon bobbleheadThe filmmakers seemed to recognise the impact Reilly’s performance has and give him a credits sequence that satisfies in a very simple way and maybe nails the subtext that often eludes them. A good example of missed character opportunities is Hiddleston’s Captain Conrad (geddit) mentions a father who went missing in World War II but never takes an interest in a man of that generation who went missing from his family too during that same war.

The pacing is good, the first act rushing to get to the island where the action is but taking the time to establish the different characters. The film slows down in between major action scenes too to help us get to know the human characters more but for the most part the dialogue isn’t there and the decisions made by these people cannot enamour us to them. “Kong: Skull Island” suffers from the same fate as stable mate “Godzilla”, they got the monsters right but the humans fail to hold interest for the most part.

In place of the 1933 original’s “Beauty and the Beast” subtext there’s analogies about man’s thirst for war and the environment protecting the ecosystem. For all the fetishizing of 1970s technology and call-backs to “Apocalypse Now” though the best bits are striking new images whether it be Kong slurping squid tentacles like noodles, a Nixon bobble head on the dash of a crashing Huey or a soldier placing a carbine on a prehistoric skull.  Image result for kong: skull islandA bit more of the creative genius that went into these neat images being directed towards the screenplay might have elevated this into a classic. As it is, fans of monster films should find enough here to enjoy and celebrate, for the rest of us the blockbuster season has just begun and there surely must be better films to come.

-Lloyd Marken

Image result for kong: skull island