MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019

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It is time once again to do my annual favourite films of the year list which allows for late 2019 American releases to reach Australian shores. What was a little interesting for me this year is I saw less films on the big screen or through their streaming services. From a total of 57 last year I went down to only 45 this year.

There were a lot of good films I saw, and it was no struggle to think of a top five but I did find it difficult to fill out a list of 10 films for the Honourable Mentions. Maybe the depth of quality wasn’t there this year or maybe as in every other year I missed a lot of good ones.

I hear good things about Waves and Honey Boy, I’m intrigued by The Peanut Butter Falcon and I have just seen on DVD Best Picture winner Parasite. I really want to see Apollo 11, Ad Astra, Booksmart, The Lighthouse, Richard Jewell, Pain and Glory, For Sama and The Farewell. Just a random observation, some of the best films I saw this year centred around men in crisis.

With the close of the fourth decade I have lived through I got thinking about an end of decade list which also got me thinking about how certain films are lauded in their year of release but you don’t often go back and think on them. If anyone is interested I couldn’t imagine Warrior and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy not featuring on that decade list. I think Black Swan, The Tree of Life, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dunkirk would all stand a good chance of making it. 20th Century Women I think too and maybe Nocturnal Animals. Films like Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, Ladies in Black and In The Aisles have stayed with me. But high fliers like First Man, In This Corner of the World, Eye in the Sky, A Star Is Born, Blade Runner 2049 would not be a given but I sure like to think they’d be in that list.  It is interesting how time redefines classics.

Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.

 

Alita: Battle Angel Published at Scenestr 12FEB19 ***

Captain Marvel Published at Scenestr 06MAR19 ***

Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Published at Scenestr 20MAR19 ***

The Trouble With You Not Reviewed **

Shazam Not Reviewed ***

Hellboy Published at Scenestr 11APR19 **1/2

Red Joan Published at X-Press Magazine 06JUN19 ***

Godzilla II: King of the Monsters Published at Scenestr 31MAY19 **1/2

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Not Reviewed *1/2

Men in Black: International Not Reviewed **1/2

Toy Story 4 Not Reviewed **1/2

Always Be My Maybe Not Reviewed ***

Late Night Not Reviewed **1/2

Shaft Not Reviewed **1/2

IT: Chapter 2 Not Reviewed **1/2

Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark Published at Scenestr 29SEP19 ***

Little MonstersPublished at Weekend Notes 13OCT19 ***

Chained for Life Not Reviewed **1/2

Zombieland: Double Tap Not Reviewed **

Terminator: Dark Fate Published at Scenestr 01NOV19 **

El Camino Not Reviewed **1/2

Dolemite Is My Name Not Reviewed ***

Knives Out Not Reviewed ***

The Rise of Skywalker Not Reviewed *1/2

Jojo Rabbit Not Reviewed **1/2

 

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Published at Scenestr 01AUG19 ***

Hobbs and Shaw is fine perfectly fine fun entertainment. There is no real sense of stakes even though apparently the world needs saving, there’s no real characters here but just the established personalities of Statham and The Rock that we enjoy hanging with and seeing playing off of each other.

I was surprised after seeing how crazy cool Idris Elba was as Luther that he did not make much of a compelling nor threatening bad guy. Even winning a fist fight in an early scene doesn’t make him a threat because our heroes always manage to get away from him. Early Terminator films managed this while still maintaining the villain was a threat.

For a series that has done a lot of things practically the Fast and Furious series is really embracing the CGI these days and it just makes the action scenes have less impact. Still Vanessa Kirby knows the value of a good stare down the lens, there is still wit in the dialogue, two great cameos and some fun with the action choreography.

Alita: Battle Angel almost made the grade instead, for all that film’s flaws I think I cared more about the characters in it but Hobbs & Shaw is a more streamlined product. The fact this film made the list reflects poorly on the list rather than well on Hobbs & Shaw but it was fun to watch.

The ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is one of those Hollywood fairytales they tell little studio execs to help them drift off to sleep when they’re worried about the changing nature of the global box office.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home Not Reviewed ***

Another perfectly fine blockbuster, this one a sequel and a comic book film. What director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers still get right is the teenage stuff. The previous Spider-Man film worked as a high school comedy and this one suffers from a couple of issues, first a lot has happened in the MCU since the last film and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is suffering a loss and needing guidance as he matures but the metaphor doesn’t land as well as it did in the last film.

Jake Gyllenhaal is kind of the older cool kid who betrays you? Whatever. Still there are some cool sequences, great laughs and at least here the filmmakers invest in giving their character a real arc and growth compared to most other 2019 blockbusters.

Sadly the MJ (Zendaya) love story had a lot of beats we’re become familiar with after two decades and three iterations of the couple on screen. I’m hoping the filmmakers can right the ship for the trilogy closer and get back to bringing something new to the screen that is still true to Peter Parker. But a perfectly enjoyable comic book movie.

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Memory: The Origins of Alien Published at Weekend Notes 13OCT19 ***

This documentary which I caught at the Brisbane International Film Festival 2019 worked best when telling the life of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. It was interesting to look at such a celebrated film as Alien and analyse how its themes are still relevant and hear some of the stories behind the scenes.

We learn a lot about the importance of H.R. Giger’s design, the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and the steely determination and creative sensibilities of Scott just one feature into his career. We also reflect on how ground-breaking the ideas of Alien were and how much the film stands up decades on where others may have dated.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Published at X-Press Magazine 16MAY19 ***

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat, John Wick 3 isn’t even the best John Wick movie, I’m not particularly excited at the prospect of a John Wick 4. There are a million things I could complain about in this film. Yes it is an example of style of substance but God damnit could we please have some substance. Atomic Blonde is cut from the same cloth and is a better film.

And yet… and yet I think about the fight with the library or in the knife museum and my heart just swells to know there are still people prepared to put this much thought and wit and inventiveness and craft into their action scenes. If they could do the same to the rest of their filmmaking we’d really have something on our hands here but for now this film will nonetheless be talked about 10 years from now for the fight scenes. There is a lot to enjoy here.

The evergreen Keanu Reeves is back as the titular assassin John Wick and he’s all out of the bubblegum he was chewing in Speed, so now he’s just kicking butt. In the original film, there was the first act’s slow burn observation of Wick retired and grieving his wife. If the sequels have lacked this mystery and heart, Reeves has continued to give it his all.

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Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound Not Reviewed ***

As a fan of cinema this documentary was quite interesting, it give a brief summation of the history of sound effects in film and how much it adds to the cinematic experience.

There was a heavy focus on films from the 1970s and the genius of Walter Murch and Ben Burtt who added so much to classics from that era and revolutionised the industry.

However there were some great stories of trailblazing women in the industry like Barbara Streisand and Cecilia Hall and I wondered what other stories there are to tell form more recent times.

Ford vs. Ferrari Not Reviewed ***

My Uncle raced cars and bikes and God knows what else. A mechanic by trade he ended up becoming an Engineer. I hear my Grandfather when he got his first car as a middle aged father was a bit of a boy racer. My father was not a boy racer and yet when I mentioned this film to him he told me all about Le Mans in the 1960s and the showdown between two legendary car companies and families.

The trailers will have you believe this is a racing car movie and I suppose that is fair. There is racing in it quite a bit and it is done well. Yet in telling a real life story director James Mangold does not skirt some harsh realities that transpired here.

This is really about the passing of a time where great individuals could do great things but they had to navigate the corporate world to do it. Company boards and stocks were becoming a thing and visionaries couldn’t just build the fastest car in the world in their garage. If the film is to be believed they could still sure as hell rip apart the engine in the shop with a wrench and hammer and figure out how to make it go faster than a computer. But that time was coming to an end and this film is about how to navigate the new world with an old dreamer’s ambition.

It’s funny then to finding ourselves rooting for the designer/former racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver/mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) working for the car company Ford that made its name on the innovation of the factory production line going up against Enzo Ferrari who truly loved cars and racing and whose company today still makes their cars “by hand”.

In Shelby’s struggle to get the GT40 made and to have Ken Miles race it at Le Mans, James Mangold and his team have obviously seen similarities to their own struggles to realise visions in storytelling within the workings of a major film studio. Miles is the best racer for the job and that is not a good enough reason for Ford to have him behind the wheel though it should be the ONLY reason.

A wonderful tale about pursuing excellence in your life and the possible costs that come with it, this is a film that strives to solidify the legacy of Miles and Shelby and does no favours for Ford Junior.

At one point this was film to be shot by Michael Mann with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. I sure would have loved to have seen that film. Yet it should be said that Damon and Bale are great in this as are the rest of the cast.

The film is shot naturalistic without the film colourisation of other recent period pieces. There are obvious CGI additions which is disappointing and stand out in the trailers but during the film the editing and sound come together well to get you caught up in the moment.

It’s easy to mock this as the Dad movie of 2019, a tale boomers will recall and can share with their GenX kids however there is a message here for all dreamers to take note of.

There’s a point at 7,000 RPM… where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless. Just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. 7,000 RPM. That’s where you meet it. You feel it coming. It creeps up on you, close in your ear. Asks you a question. The only question that matters. Who are you?.”

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Rocketman Reviewed at Scenestr 29MAY19 ***

There are moments in this Elton John biopic directed by Derek Fletcher starring Taron Egerton and Jaimie Bell, Richard Madden and Gemma Jones that are transcendent.

The moment when the song Rocketman arrives in the film’s narrative is sheer perfection in terms of visual storytelling and emotional resonance. If all the film was at that level it would easily make the top 10 but for me that is not what happened here. Whole scores of scenes and songs felt dreary, uninventive and unnecessary. Maybe that’s just me but there is too much to recommend here to not say you should see it.

As an exercise in capturing what we have loved about this extraordinarily talented, passionate, big hearted, temperamental and damaged man and his music this film hits its target and reminds even rock stars were just once little boys who want love and we all want love don’t we?

Stepfathers, soccer, the fans that fill those stadiums and even the Piano Man’s deep love of all music is glossed over, but a little household in 1950s Pinner looms large…But Pinner is the key. It explains the drugs, the straight marriage and why Taupin is a brother and not just a best friend.

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Long Shot Published at Scenestr 23APR19 ***

A romantic comedy for the 21st century with the star power of Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen.

There is a lot of delving into privacy, political campaigns and male/female dynamics in this film and not just surface references but actual thoughts about these subjects. Yet it retains a light touch (okay it gets a little gross but overall), gets big laughs and has a sweet heart and a smart brain.

It’s not the best film of the year but it shows the romantic comedy is far from played out and why we enjoy them.

Charlize, who has made a career out of playing strong women, gets to flex her comedic muscles again and shows once more she is at the height of her powers. There is a moment where she just stands wearing a pair of sunglasses and it may be the funniest bit in the whole movie. This is star-driven in the oldest sense, the stars coast through the film and, conversely, the film coasts off them, neither gives away just how hard it all is.

 

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Danger Close Not Reviewed ***

Kriv Stenders is one of the best directors working in Australia right now having made the excellent Australia Day and the even better The Go-Betweens: Right Here both in 2017. So it was good news to hear he was doing a film adaptation of the Battle of Long Tan. In a rubber plantation in Vietnam in 1966 an Australian infantry company held off an attack of a numerically superior force. It’s the kind of against the odd battles that make for great storytelling and there are many important stories about Long Tan. Sad stories, touching stories and inspiring stories like there are from all of the Vietnam war.

Danger Close can’t do them all justice and Stenders seems to have been stuck in the middle of waiting to be honest about the nature of soldiers, the futility of war, the politics of the military and telling an exciting rip roaring yarn. He is not without ambition and if he doesn’t quite pull it all together in a consistent and affecting masterpiece he certainly honours certain individuals who were there on the day and maintains some technical fidelity to history and military practice.

Where he fails is in finding a character to follow through the battle and display an affective arc. Even though the film is based on real life, it amazingly stays true to certain war film clichés of rebels who will make good, guys with gals at home who may not be long for this world and hard nosed leaders who will soften around their men and harden even more around the enemy.

Students of the battle will recognise the crucial points are conveyed more or less for what they were and heroic acts and the heroes who carried them out are remembered. Not a perfect film it is an admirable attempt at doing justice to the story of Delta Company, 6RAR on that that day.

The greatest feat Stenders can hang his hat on is how he gets the blood pumping in the lead up to significant actions, he knows how to stage a battle scene and Hollywood should take note, this was one of the most exciting action films of the year.

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Avengers: Endgame Not Reviewed ***

What does it matter what I think about the highest grossing film of all time? I preferred Infinity War to be honest, that was a story told on the run, banking on a cinematic history to fill in the gaps of characterisation and earn emotional buy in.

It was fun though and Endgame to the Russo brothers credit actually wants this to be less fun. They want this to have resonance, to have impact and to matter and they accept that happy endings are not a given, some things can’t be magically reversed. There is a finality to this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I hope they stick with rather than go for the cheap cash grab.

I’m sure smarter minds could unpack about how this is not cinema. Sorry, but I had to because I get it, why he said it and I understand why some people disagree and that’s fine too. Yet compare this to say The Return of the King, that is better storytelling more organically unfolding and building towards a climax and yes also a blockbuster.

On the other hand Star Wars and Game of Thrones both ended in 2019 like this iteration of The Avengers and there was a lot more dissatisfaction with those wrap-ups. It’s hard to stick the landing for something that taps into the zeitgeist so much and in a world of increasing split fanbases, identity politics, disparate audiences and general disconnect, it’s kind of nice to have these blockbusters that most people enjoy and share together and are all relatively happy with.

Looking back over the film it feels like a string of moments rather than a story but when I think about where some of these characters ended up at the end of this and how it made us all feel I do smile. It’s almost one of relief but it is one of satisfaction.

We haven’t really talked about the effects, the story or the performances. But why bother, you saw it, I liked all the same things you did. Seeing Peggy through the window, getting a little girl all the cheeseburgers in the world, Rene Russo inspiring fat Thor, oh yeah-fat Thor!, the Avengers assembling and Tony Stark being Iron Man one last time. I love you 3,000 and finally seeing a girl about that dance.

 

 

THE TEN

 

 

10. Bombshell Not Reviewed ***1/2

I was surprised to find how emotionally affecting I found Bombshell which may come as a surprise given the harrowing subject matter. I thought maybe the film would get the cliff notes and be about the actors transforming into people we know from the media world. I had watched and had a lot to recommend from The Loudest Voice which told the story of Ailes and Greta Carlson.

Russell Crowe played him as a fascinating and terrifying figure in that mini-series. A man who changed the media and political landscape of the United States of America granting him power and wealth which would be terrifying to take on if you suffered abuse from it.

I had heard that story and I was not sure if I wanted to revisit it, but the focus here is different. Ailes was a giant in The Loudest Voice, here he is a boss in a workplace that is about to have a reckoning with its culture, excesses and injustices.

At the centre of it are three women and something that Bombshell does well is understand the nuances and complexity of us as individuals in a workplace with ambition, competitiveness and alliances. I knew Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie would be brilliant with it, I did not know the latter would move me to tears after knowing what Ailes was capable of but she did – she’s that good.

Director Jay Roach probably does not get enough credit given his stellar cast who double as producers taking reign about the kind of stories they want to work on but he should. He’s made some good HBO films about Presidential campaigns that feature stars looking exactly like the real life figures they play. His choices aren’t flashy but they are in support of the story and the point of the story being told. This is more than just the movie where Charlize Theron nailed her portrayal of Megyn Kelly, this is good movie and you should see it.

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9. Uncut Gems Not Reviewed ***1/2

I don’t know if I’m recommending this movie for you to see.

When we meet Howard Ratner, New York jeweller, we get the sense of unease almost from the get go. Not just from him but from the people that surround him. His store seems to be full of customers and staff who can’t quite be trusted, they push hard for their own needs, take up the space in the room, shuffle their feet and lean forward, they’ve got friends with them, their clothes are good but not well maintained and they’re sweating in the North Atlantic.

They’re sharks and Howard is right at home with them, because in his mind he is a shark too. There are people in his life who would not disagree. Then we see quite clearly that Howard is a gambler. Life is a hustle and he is a hustler, life has been pretty good to him so he probably has come to the conclusion to keep hustling. The film is an examination of how he might be right but maybe not quite.

Life is a gamble, we’re all gambling in that sense and that is fine but Howard IS a gambler and that is not living a life. That is ruining one and all the lives that circle it. The difference between us and a gambler is not about when they say no and when we do. Everybody makes bad calls and has to deal with bad luck. The difference is the gambler never says no – they can’t.

The fact that Sandler makes you care about the outcome of a man who is self-destructing at maximum warp is kind of a miracle. Maybe, we like Howard, like the thrill of seeing if a bad bet will pay off? Well researched, the film captures a certain New York energy I thought the city had lost with all the foreign capital put into it (albeit this is set a few years ago).

Watch out for clothing designer/model/photographer/director and actress Julia Fox who yes is sexy as hell in this film but brings a lot to the role of Howard’s mistress and fellow hustler Julia. Are they playing each other or is there real affection there? What is she hoping to achieve for herself? Eric Bogosian is in this too and he’s always good. Directors the Safdie Brothers have arrived.

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8. Joker Not Reviewed ***1/2

Joker is a good example of how sometimes when a film is released there wis a lot of conversation around it that may have nothing to do with what you think of the film. To be fair I think director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix intended the film to be ambivalent of what it was saying to a degree that what audiences get out of it will depend on what they put in.

Men’s Right Activists, Feminists, the left, the right, mental health advocates, the rich, the poor, civic responsibility, crime, fake news, anarchy, the Fourth Estate, corruption. If these things are near and dear to your heart the film may well be a rallying cry for them, I think it’s more thoughtful than that.

Maybe, just maybe it’s a call to reflect on all of these things and how we’re all a little lost and need to help each other and see things from other perspectives. Or maybe that’s just my agenda.

In any event Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely mesmerising in this film, vulnerable and terrifying in equal measure. I often remark how Charlize Theron is currently at the height of her powers, well I think Joaquin belongs in that group too.

The film is well lit, not a single frame does not seem to have been meticulously planned out in location, set dressing and lighting. I think the period setting of the film is even deliberate criticising nostalgia and the rose coloured glasses that get applied to history which is full of injustices and calling on historical references.

There’s symbolism galore and neat touches throughout, notice how we see Arthur repeatedly banging his head against walls while he is also trying to free his thinking and socially break through barriers. The way Arthur metamorphoses before our eyes has become instantly iconic too.

I also think the filmmakers are very direct in what they think of murder and violence and how where the Joker ends up is not a happy ending but a cautionary tale. The Joker is not a fantasy for me, not a defiant rebel chant either but a sad reflection that we need to do better.

7. Good Boys Published at Scenestr 10SEP19 ***1/2

Good Boys is one of the funniest and best gross out mainstream comedies in years. In fact I’d say the good ones are in short supply and this is one of the great ones. There’s real depth and insight into it and a lot of thought and care has gone into it as a visual piece of entertainment as well as a story that strings together a series of jokes.

But at the end of the day what you need to know about it is it will make you laugh, often and hard.

The script from Lee Eisenberg and director Gene Stupnitsky is smart, filthy, and full of heart. It understands the roles that these three boys play in each other’s lives and how their loyalty can become frayed but never compromised. Note in particular how Max is the leader but often when they are discussing a course of action the camera frames him centre with Lucas and Thor on each of his shoulders coaxing him towards riskier or safer choices reflective of their personalities.

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6. Marriage Story Not Reviewed ****

Marriage Story is, yes, about a divorce but it is also about also about marriage and being a parent. I’m painfully aware there are a lot of men right now suffering because they have lost their families and try as they might they can’t find a way to get them back in the current system. Marriage Story might speak to them but it might also speak to a whole lot of women who feel unheard and unappreciated by their husbands who find their voice and independence when they leave them.

What I liked about this film maybe most of all is that I understood both Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole and Adam Driver’s Charlie. The film opens with a sequence that shows how each views the other in a good way. Everything that follows reflects this, they may not work as a couple but they understand the other person very well.

There are cutaways we as the audience see but the other spouse does not and we wish that maybe they had found a way of communicating better and if there is hope to be found in the ending it is that maybe they have.

Noah Baumbach makes impressive films with performances that comes across as natural in the moment but are more likely painfully rehearsed to get to this point. One absolute stand-out moment is when Nicole unpacks why she has left Charlie prompted on by lawyer played by Laura Dern. It feels so off the cuff and yet it is perfect. I would have been more than happy if Driver or Johansson had walked with Oscars for their respective performances. This is a grown-up film for grown-ups and I hope they continue to get made and find audiences.

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5. 1917 Review Published at Scenestr 10JAN20 ****

One of the great films of the year 1917 at one point appeared to be the frontrunner for Best Picture. Mythic in its technique and singular and everyday in its focus. Lots will be made about Roger Deakins cinematography in service to making the film appear as one long continuous take but the film is also a master class in acting. Exciting, moving and personal for director Sam Mendes it cracks the Top Five with a bullet. Simply a must-see.

More than a harrowing and kinetic tale, ‘1917’ repeatedly reminds of both how humanity is lost in war and how it touchingly endures. There was nothing natural, colourful or human in those trenches except the men left breathing. They cracked wise, held each other close and laid down their lives for their fellow man. ‘1917’ remembers this and asks us to never forget.

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4. Midnight Family Review Published at Weekend Notes 10OCT19 ****

In Mexico City there is a family of ambulance paramedics named the Ochoas. Director Luke Lorentzen has made a documentary about their lives in this work and in a city of nine million people that has 45 official ambulance vans and crews.

The Ochoas are effectively small business owners trying to survive in a market and corrupt system that makes them have to hustle. They’re also saving lives on a daily basis. As someone who worked in hospitals I was quite touched by this movie and the people in it. I also enjoy seeing a city at night in the way only an ambo sees it. A great documentary to check out.

Many patients remain off-screen as we observe the ambulance crew going to work while loved ones or bystanders look on. It’s haunting stuff as you still hear them cry out in pain, see mothers tear up or the paramedics stare off in the distance after a hard job. …The documentary film is not for the fainthearted but perhaps that is fitting given that neither is the job of a paramedic.

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3. The Irishman Not Reviewed ****

The Irishman is a film about what is coming for us all eventually. Some of us won’t have time to reflect in that moment but all of us reflect throughout our lives about how we are living them. Whole years can become a series of fleeting memories that fell away in short order while small moments loom large.

Frank Sheeran tells us the story of his life and it’s pretty sad to think that of his big moments are conversation in bars with middle aged men and the people he shot dead for them. Not even most of those murders register for him but one does. The narrative of the film opens up and closes like an accordion. The closer we get to a day in the 1970s the more the film slows down and before and after the narrative kicks into a faster gear. This is how Frank remembers his life.

Sheeran wanted to be a good father but what does he really remember about his time with his children? It is fascinating to have the man who made Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino and The Gangs of New York make this film at his current age with his fellow contemporaries including most of the people he made those films with.

The CGI used to make this cast appear younger is not always effective but there is a weight lent to the cast portraying a whole life of a character having lived much of one themselves. Joe Pesci who often has played motor mouths and physical guys here is deafeningly quiet as a different type of mobster and in a certain way the real partner of Sheeran’s life Russell Bufalino.

There is a scene in this film that is almost like a proposal even though Scorsese wisely plays it straight. In the end Sheeran is looking for absolution and love from his family but he gave up his soul and love to two giants in his life and one made him choose between them and its haunted him ever since.

I love a lot about this movie. I love the shots that frame putting a watch on like you would every morning and how that watch would mean a lot to you and yet these are things you can’t take with you. About how a certain way something was cooked at a certain place that you ate on a given day will be front and centre in your memory as much as the events of that day.

Some love has been given to Al Pacino and Joe Pesci but Robert De Niro is really good in this movie. I think we sadly take him for granted a little bit and this film reminds us he’s still got the chops. It’s kind of small miracle that his film got made and that it is this good. Scorsese has remained a great artist long into his eighth decade, others have given the game away or lost their edge but Scorsese is still one of the all time greats and this film can only grow in stature as time goes on. I saw this at New Farm Cinemas on my 39th birthday and it was a great present.

2. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Not Reviewed

If The Irishman was about looking back over a whole life then Quentin Tarantino’s film is a love letter to a time and place. Or maybe more accurately how we remember a time and place in our mind. Tarantino is 56 years old, its fair to say the kid who made Reservoir Dogs has matured as a filmmaker and gone through different phrases over the years. He is now one of a handful of auteurs left in a Hollywood where a corporation like Disney owns a third of the market share.

I can’t say I’ve always been a fan but with nine films to his belt I’d care to wager most are outright classics. Up until now I’d liked his earlier films more so than each successive one that followed while finding a lot to recommend about them all. That has all changed now.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood may be my favourite Quentin Tarantino movie!

Sure it holds a nostalgia for a time and place that I have an interest in but the lesson of the film is it is all so beautiful and fleeting, as your time passes be open to the idea of moving with it and enjoying the next stage. Set in 1969 this is a Hollywood in upheaval with Easy Riders taking over from the old moguls, a society reckoning with old prejudices and new opportunities.

Actor Rick Dalton is not doing too well in this new world, he’s a square jawed face with a haircut with no interest in method acting and the type of realism that the new breed of filmmakers want. He’s also a man on the wrong side of 40 who might have missed his chance. Think Steve McQueen if he hadn’t done The Magnificent Seven and suddenly everybody wants to make Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson (of course McQueen, Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman all made the transition through this era but they were stars already and often classic trained actors too). Understandably Dalton wishes it was 1961 again and he was cool and they were no Goddamn hippies about and he was still on the rise.

His only friend in the world is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who was his stunt double but is now more his Batman. Like a lot of Batmen, he’s more capable and reliant than the one he serves. Both are loyal to each other though and have that kind of friendship you develop sometimes where you’re a buttress of support for the other one. The film for the most part follows a day in their life that will provide important lessons for Dalton and see Booth meet some unsavoury characters. Then months later we come to the night of the Manson murders.

I won’t spoil the plot but I like the way Tarantino paces this film. There is a scene where Booth feeds his dogs and it shows a lot about his life and circumstances. The period details are nicely done and there are some great set-ups and pay offs throughout. I like the things alluded to but never answered and the repetition of themes.

There is also meta commentary on Tarantino and his career and influences as well. It feels like the kind of film you make late in your career when you’re at the height of your powers. With this Tarantino proves he is.

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1. Blinded By The Light Review Published at Scenestr 22OCT19 ****

This was my favourite film of 2019, the little seen Blinded By The Light. Whenever I bring it up with people they ask about if it’s Yesterday? No it’s not Yesterday, it’s a lot better than that.

It’s about Javed Khan, a teenage son of Pakistani immigrants coming of age in Luton in 1987. He becomes inspired and finds direction in his life through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Yesterday is a love story with two lead characters in it who don’t know what they want and banks on the nostalgia we have for Beatles tunes. There is a big difference.

The film does delve into racism and economic downturns and is more authentic and affecting for it but this film made my heart soar. It’s about love and family and following your dreams. This was the most emotionally moving film I saw all year and I dare you not to be moved.

‘Blinded By The Light’ is the most feel-good and first real good film of 2019. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, who pulled off a similar feat in 2002 with ‘Bend It Like Beckham’.

Well that is it for another year, I hope you enjoyed reading this list. I would love to hear what your favourite films of the year are. Any that you would recommend, some you are surprised didn’t make the list and any that you think are overrated?

Until next time, take care, we are in the midst of interesting times but we will get through them together. Stay safe.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2019 PART III

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2019 PART II – ‘MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN’ AND ‘LITTLE MONSTERS’ REVIEW AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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I went into the final weekend of the Brisbane International Film Festival 2019 having seen the excellent documentary Midnight Family about a Mexico City ambulance crew.

MEMORY: THE ORIGIN OF ALIENS: Then on Friday night I went to Reading Cinemas at Newmarket to see a 6:15pm session of Memory: The Origins of Alien. I film A found interesting for the stories of the film I was unfamiliar with like the involvement of screenwriter of Dan O’Bannon.

 

It was an interesting film even if it seemed a little underfunded and dwelled on some points too long. I’ve been lucky to have a review published over at Weekend Notes that you can check out here https://www.weekendnotes.com/memory-the-origins-of-alien-film-review/

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Exiting Reading, I hopped in the car and drove over to New Farm cinemas who long term readers will recognise is an establishment I have some affection for. Catching a mocha with a mate over at the nearby 24 hour café Death by Decaf frequented by emergency personnel, hipsters, shift workers and young people out on the town. They make a damn fine mocha.

 

LITTLE MONSTERS: Then it was time to take in the late night 9:30pm screening of Aussie zombie comedy Little Monsters starring Lupita Nyongo’o. It was the kind of screening great for a film like this, close to full and with a Friday night crowd who wanted to be there and enjoy themselves. At a point when Neil Diamond’s classic Sweet Caroline featured somebody in the crowd voiced the bassline much to the delight of everyone else.

You can my review that was published on Weekend Notes as well here https://www.weekendnotes.com/little-monsters-film-review/

Weekend Notes 17

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

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2019 PART I – ‘MIDNIGHT FAMILY’ REVIEW AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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BIFF IS BACK! The Brisbane International Film Festival is back for another year and long term readers will recall my affection for it. I volunteered at BIFF in 2004, 2005 and 2007. In 2008 I was down to see over 20 movies and met my future wife on the steps of the Palace Cinema on James Street. We lost a BIFF for a while there but it returned in 2017 where I attended with Karen for the first time Opening Night. I was also on assignment with Scenestr magazine to review Australia Day and then last year I was on assignment for Scenestr on opening night.

This year I was wrapping up a work secondment writing for the Queensland College of Teachers so missed Opening Night and ended up sitting out the first few days of the festival.

 

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New Farm Cinemas foyer after seeing ‘Midnight Family’. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

Yet on Wednesday 09OCT2019 at New Farm Cinemas Karen and I attended a 6:15pm session of Midnight Family missing the first few minutes. All up, I have bought tickets to see five films at BIFF 2019 with three of them being docos. I can’t wait to see them all and share with you.

 

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Midnight Family was a great documentary about private ambulance crews in Mexico City. I was lucky enough to have my review published at Weekend Notes which continues on from my first reviews published with them last year being reviews for films I saw BIFF. You can read my review here https://www.weekendnotes.com/midnight-family-film-review-brisbane-international-film-festival-2019/

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

 

100 POSTS PUBLISHED WITH SCENESTR

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The night of my first assignment for Scenestr magazine 21MAR207. Copyright Karen Marken.

Last Friday I reached a milestone with Scenestr magazine, I have now had 100 posts published with them online or in their printed copies on the street. This all started with a review I submitted to them of Hidden Figures that Karen had won tickets to see. The review was published 23 February, 2017.

Within a couple of months I realised if I wanted to make the most of my opportunities there I would have to put my hand up to do interviews. Despite having done this in the past at university I was still quite nervous when I did my first interview with the stars of Grease: The Arena Spectacular Meghan O’Shea and Drew Weston almost two years ago. Knowing it scared me made me confident it would be truly rewarding and that turned out to be true.

In 2018 there were 50 posts published online of my work, it is doubtful I will match that output moving forward, there are things I am currently pursuing away from Scenestr but I am grateful to continue my work for the biggest street press magazine in the country.

The opportunity Scenestr gives writers and how that flows onto the rest of the print industry is extraordinary. I hope to be working for them for a long time yet.

Of the 100 posts published, 10% were reviews of stand-up comedians and their shows, 29% were theatre reviews, 28% were film reviews, 32% were interviews and 1% were reviews of Cher concerts.

Allow me to indulge in pointing out some personal highlights such as interviewing DeAnne Smith, Ali McGregor, Palace Cinemas CEO Benjamin Zeccola, Gravity and Other Myths circus performer Jascha Boyce, theatre director Row Blackshaw, Cassie George, talking to director Clare Watson about Our Town, an interview with comedian Sammy J, and my cover story with SNL star Michael Che.

Going to the Young Australian Filmmakers Programme at Byron Bay Film Festival and talking to young director Cody-Cameron Brown about Don Ritchie, OAM, introducing my wife to the cast of Aladdin backstage, a dinner with Lauren Weisberger where my friend Karen B was also in attendance at the Brisbane Writers Festival, slugging back premium blended whisky and sliders at the Kingsman: The Golden Circle preview screening, attending the opening nights of the 2017 Cine Latino Film Festival, the 2018 Italian Film Festival, Brisbane International Film Festival 2018, taking Karen to see Cher last year in concert, having stand-up Tom Gleeson share my review of his show on Facebook.

Some of the best shows I saw were Circa’s Humans, seeing Love/Hate Actually debut at Wonderland 2017England by Tim Crouch at Metro Arts, seeing The Duke by Shon Dale-Jones, Randy Writes A Novel by Randy Feltface, Tim Ferguson’s A Fast Life On Wheels and my first assignment with Scenestr reviewing Queensland Ballet’s Raw.

If you’re been along with me for part of the journey I hope you have enjoyed the ride, I thank you for your support and I hope to continue with you by my side. Two years ago this milestone seemed very distant if even possible and it has been one of the great joys of my life to have had this happen to me at 36 when I was feeling that life was kind of passing me by. I feel very grateful to my editors for their support and knowledge and to all our readers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

http://scenestr.com.au/blog/Lloyd-Marken

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

 

MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2018

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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 TalkBlacKkKlansman, 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.

 

Finding Your Feet Not Reviewed ***

Last Flag Flying Not Reviewed **1/2

I Feel Pretty Not Reviewed ***

Ellipsis Published at X-Press Magazine 15FEB18 ***

We Don’t Need A Map Published at X-Press Magazine 22FEB18 ***

The Death of Stalin Not Reviewed ***

Deadpool 2 Not Reviewed ***

12 Strong Published at Scenestr Magazine 07MAR18 **1/2

In The Fade Published at X-Press Magazine 08MAR18 ***

Ant-Man and The Wasp Not Reviewed ***

Border Politics Published at X-Press Magazine 18JUL2018 **

The Spy Who Dumped Me Not Reviewed **1/2

Solo Not Reviewed **1/2

The Wife Not Reviewed ***

The Happytime Murders Published at Scenestr Magazine 24AUG18 **

Book Club Not Reviewed **1/2

The Flipside Not Reviewed **1/2

The Predator Not Reviewed *1/2

Loro Published at Scenestr Magazine 21SEP18 ***

A Simple Favour Not Reviewed ***

Celeste Published at Scenestr Magazine 15OCT18 **1/2

Terra Nullus Not Reviewed 1/2

My Generation Not Reviewed **1/2

Halloween Not Reviewed ***

King of Thieves Not Reviewed **

Bohemian Rhapsody Not Reviewed ***

Loveling Not Reviewed **

Spitfire Published at X-Press Magazine 15NOV18 ***

Colette Published at X-Press Magazine 20DEC18 **1/2

Creed II Not Reviewed **1/2

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Not Reviewed **1/2

Aquaman Published 10JAN19 9 Likes – 46 Views ***

Bumblebee Not Reviewed **1/2

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Not Reviewed **1/2

Stan & Ollie Not Reviewed ***

The Mule Not Reviewed ***

On The Basis of Sex Published at Weekend Notes 07FEB19 ***

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

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Mission Impossible: Fallout Not Reviewed ***

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.

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Tully Published at X-Press Magazine 10MAY18 ***

Tully sank like a stone at the box office but I enjoyed this film, aided in no small part by the work of Charlize Theron. This film deals with the “reality” of being a parent, that sense of losing yourself and your future. It can be gloomy but it taps into a certain feeling that is only part of the parenting experience but it is a part and one that should be acknowledged. “She’s also in that time and place where everybody sees her as a Mum first and foremost including even herself and she’s wondering what the hell happened to me? All except Tully, Tully wants to know who Marlo is and acts like there’s more to her than being a Mum while telling her that is the most amazing thing about her.

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Black Panther Published at Buzz Magazine 22JUN18 ***

Black Panther was a cultural milestone for a lot of people and I am happy for all that were touched so much by this movie. I cannot share that same level of enthusiasm but I find a lot to recommend. I am often drawn back to my favourite scene where the villain Killmonger is reunited with his father in their apartment in Oakland. The vistas of  heavenly African plains seen outside through the blinds are out of their reach. Their forebears no where to be seen, just a son and the father he lost when he was too young. The depth of what director Ryan Coogler was saying in this moment and how it would resonate with audiences immediately touched me. In Killmonger, Coogler gave one of the most compelling Marvel villains ever by reuniting with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. The finale becomes too much of a CGI fest, other character motivations feel wrong and purely there for plot convenience but there are rich themes here, a fantastic roster of supporting characters, a great action sequence set in Korea and a rousing score. “All of the above characters are effectively sounding boards for T’Challa to hear a different point of view. You can’t help but wonder if an amicable chat couldn’t have solved most of the problems the characters face but then again maybe that’s the point. T’Challa’s character arc is to learn how to be a good leader and he learns this from engaging with his mirror image found in Killmonger.” It’s just too bad they wasted Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker and that’s something I can’t forgive.

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Roma Not Reviewed ***

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?

Vice Published at Scenestr Magazine 19DEC18 ***

Vice is not as entertaining as director Adam McKay’s previous “serious” film The Big Short but it is more ambitious in intent and scope which is saying something. I was disappointed that Christian Bale did not get more acknowledgment for the strength of his performance which is more than just make-up effects. Amy Adams and Steve Carrell are also good, this stirred up a lot of old feelings from my youth and I hope the film resonates and gets us thinking about what type of a world we want to leave our kids. Yet it also feels like a film that will play one way to one audience and another way to the other. The Big Short was more clear cut and an easier story to connect to I believe. “In the end the man famous for his heart problems is seen losing his heart both metaphorically and physically in the quest for prolonged life both politically and literally. Meanwhile the rest of us have to live in the aftermath of his decisions. Is that a criticism of unbridled power or just proof you either have it or you don’t?“.

The Breaker Upperers Published at Scenestr Magazine 27JUL18 ***

The Breaker Upperers highlights the talents of writer/directors and stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami and New Zealand comedy in general. It plays as a broad comedy in the first half and then it swerves into a more testing second half where it surprises with some of the characters choices and dealing with them. I’ll admit I found the second half more troublesome but it still remains one of my favourite films of the year with jokes and performances I continue to revel in. “As directors, the pair balance conflicting emotions in any given scene, one example is a slow-mo sequence that plays up the awkwardness of an enforced striptease while also taking in the realisation of betrayal on someone’s face at the same time. They show a deft hand for portraying how perspectives and truths can be different for each character, reserving judgement of most to allow each cinemagoer to come to their own conclusions“.

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Woman at War Published at Weekend Notes 18OCT18 ***1/2

Woman at War from Iceland has rich themes and is centred around the engaging character of Halla played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, a middle aged choir conductor secretly conducting a one woman war against corporate greed and environmental destruction. The film has something to say but maintains a quirky sense of humour throughout and features some wonderful Icelandic landscape. “The film has a wonderful subtle underline about the way women of a certain age are viewed and the choices they have to navigate. She is in a job that is artistic and nurturing and in her spare time she carries out rebellious and dangerous acts. She appears to have no social group outside of work besides her twin sister. In a telling dichotomy, she releases information to the masses of her actions unseen and hidden and yet shows openly the child she is set to adopt with pride to her small choir. The reactions are telling too.

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Ash Is Purest White Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Ash Is Purest White is a time spanning crime film that showcases the changing prosperity of China by focussing on one character, a female criminal with more integrity than any of the men who surround her on screen. I loved the small details in this film, the way director Jia Zhangke lets moments breathe and observes human behaviour and the extraordinary performance by star Zhao Tao. “It’s a love story first and foremost, but not in a romantic way – it’s about the imprint of a man onto a woman of his strength and value system, even though he seldom proves capable of living up to it himself.

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Green Book Not Reviewed ***1/2

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 Gun Not 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.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Avengers: Infinity War Published at Buzz Magazine 01JUL18 ***1/2

This definitely feels like the first part of a two part season finale for a TV show. If you’re not watching the show it’s going to play very differently for you than a fan but a fan… I am. Plot delivered on the run, characterisation in singular moments built off the backs of previous films, by any standard metric this film cannot be judged. Yet for what it is, it is wholly satisfying, epic, exciting and moving. We could take for granted what Marvel Studies have pulled off here but we won’t. “Knowledge of previous films certainly helps but you have it to the Russo brothers as directors, they seem to know what to do with these characters. Nordic God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in five minutes here seems to be more consistently and thoughtfully fleshed out here then he was in his three solo movies. The introduction of the bantering mixed bag of space mercenaries, the Guardians of the Galaxy is so in keeping with the tone of their movies that you imagine their director/writer James Gunn was brought into consult but no it seems the Russos just get it.

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9. Arctic Published at Weekend Notes 19OCT18 ***1/2

Much like A Quiet Place, Arctic‘s strengths is knowing what type of film it is and leaning into that rather than looking externally. The central character performed here by the ever effective Mads Mikkelsen remains sparingly outlined, he’s a man lost in the icy wilderness trying to stay alive his actions saying more about him than any dialogue could, how he treats a hill to climb as much a revelation as any mention of his father. There’s hints here and there but the situation and how he navigates it remains the most compelling part of the tale and from it a spiritual musing on the meaning of life and death comes forth. “There are no sweeping vistas either of the landscape – if our hero can’t fly away over the next horizon then neither should the camera, further allowing the audience to share his perspective. There is a spare and matter of fact observance of what is happening which makes everything as a result far more dramatic, including for example a reveal of frostbite. In this film, actions speak louder than words and slowly we understand very clearly what this man is risking and what he will potentially gain.

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8. Annihilation Not Reviewed ***1/2

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.

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7. The Endless Published at X-Press Magazine 29MAR18 ***1/2

The Endless is cut from the same cloth as Annihilation, a site of strange going-ons with a central mystery entered by our heroes who have their own complicated histories. Shot on a much more low budget the writer/director/leads Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have made a great movie that has a bigger heart and more satisfying resolution than the Natalie Portman star vehicle. See it with as little foreknowledge and expectations as possible. “The Endless works best the less you know about the story, a gradual unfolding of mysteries centered around two brothers who don’t have much more than each other and how that can keep you going but also fill you with resentment. A low budget film that feels very low-key but gradually grows more epic as time goes on. The production values of a B-grade genre film matched with the mindboggling premises of a David Lynch or Alex Garland film.

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6. Lost in Paris Published at X-Press Magazine 24MAY18 ***1/2

Every year there are unexpected gems that come along, I had no expectations for this film but it very quickly grew on me. A light quirky comedy with pathos and romance it makes you fall in love with old slapstick, warm heartedness and yes Paris itself of course. “Yet it is Gordon and Abel so comfortable in their own skin that are a joy to see front and centre in a romantic comedy. Neither looks the conventional idea of a movie star which adds authenticity to their characters and their plight but as the film goes on they become more beautiful to us just for being who they are. At one point Dom is asked “Where is the handsome man?” by Fiona who he is falling in love with. The implication of her question is rife with embarrassment and Dom looks embarrassed. She then looks him in the eye and says “You? No way.” Dom straightens up and says “Yes, way.” Before lighting a cigarette and looking like a cool cat, and I thought how very French and how very charming. Just like the movie.

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5. Ladies in Black Not Reviewed ****

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.

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4. In the Aisles Not 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.

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3. The Favourite Being 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.

2. A Star Is Born Published 26FEB19 7 Likes 21 Views ****

A Star Is Born will stand the test of time, people will remember this film fondly, they’ll become nostalgic about it as one of the great romantic films of their youth, Cooper will go on to become a powerhouse director and Lady Gaga will now shift between art forms and being alternative and mainstream. Because while this is a star vehicle in the very classic sense it is also a moving portrait of addiction and the kind of pain that feeds it and the kind of love that redeems it. Everything seen and heard has been well thought out to the ninth degree but all in service to authenticity, a wonderful balancing act that has been pulled off to create one of the most moving films of the year. “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.

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1. First Man Published at Scenestr Magazine 11OCT18 ****

I’m an surprised as you are following such out of the box choices with Eye in the Sky in 2016 and In This Corner of the World in 2017, I thought In the Aisles might get it but in the end I keep realising how much I loved this movie. How much its singular focus on one man, one marriage and one family better told the story of the whole space program and all involved. How its visceral action scenes were more exciting than any comic book movie and how poorly overlooked the wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy were. Most importantly of all how much my heart aches looking back and thinking of that scene on the moon. “No great thing is done by one great individual alone. ‘First Man’ reveals this by focusing on one individual achieving something great. What drove him and those around him to do the impossible? Up in the heavens, his home planet the size of his thumb and in quiet solitude, the film offers one possible answer with an action taken by Neil Armstrong. Yet the film also reminds that it is the journey not the destination that matters. This is one of the year’s best.

 

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.

-Lloyd Marken

THE YEAR THAT WAS 2018 ON LLOYD MARKEN WORDPRESS

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My sister and I on her wedding day. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

 

Five years on from my very first post and how time flies. I’m very grateful for my blogging community which has grown my confidence and given me an outlet I desperately needed in my life. As is customary I am doing a quick recap at the end of the year. In 2018 a lot of old posts proved more popular than my new posts. The new posts  for the most part act as links to where I am published elsewhere occasionally offering some behind the scenes info in a more informal manner. I will only be listing posts published this year.

America is still No.1 in terms of readership, Australia has retaken No.2 from the UK and Canada remains in fourth place as always. Cracking the Top 5 this year is India with newcomer Hong Kong making a strong showing in the latter half of 2018 and reaching No. 6. Germany which had a grip on N.5 for most of the year slips to No. 7 and Japan, New Zealand and Malaysia leave the Top 10. In No. 8 France returns to the Top 10, the Philippines makes if for the first time in No. 9 and holding on to a Top 10 position is Indonesia as the country with the tenth most views. Overall there were less views from the U.K. and Canada but more views from the rest of the Top 10 countries with all 10 cracking triple digits in number of views. Which I guess makes for a more diverse readership.

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Top 10 Most Views by Country

  1. The United States of America                                                                               9,519 Views
  2. Australia                                                                                                                   1,898 Views
  3. The United Kingdom                                                                                              1,714 Views
  4. Canada                                                                                                                         685 Views
  5. India                                                                                                                             361 Views
  6. Hong Kong SAR China                                                                                               200 Views
  7. Germany                                                                                                                      188 Views
  8. France                                                                                                                          113 Views
  9. Philippines                                                                                                                  108 Views
  10. Indonesia                                                                                                                     106 Views

 

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Out of the 108 posts published for the year the following 25 got the most views. In 2015 the blog started to grow with 1,609 views, 333 visitors, 23 Likes and 30 comments. In 2016 the blog received 5,673 views, 3,206 visitors, 546 Likes and 751 comments. In 2017 this grew to 16,767 views (more than a third of which were for The Founder Review), 11,891 visitors, 1,240 Likes and 1,707 comments. In 2018 much to my surprise we stayed steady at 16,706 views and 12,185 visitors with the site receiving 1,091 likes and 1,046 comments. There has been a slight downtick in liking and commenting of posts which makes sense since my focus is less intense on growing my blogging community and some fellow bloggers have given the game away. One thing about the results strongly supports an idea I have of where to put my energies next. Overall I just want to say again how much it means to me to have my core group and how much I appreciate anybody who reads and enjoys the blog.

 

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Top 25 Most Viewed Posts 2018

 

  1. INTERVIEW WITH GRAVITY AND OTHER MYTHS MEMBER JASCHA BOYCE AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                                                                                        75 Views
  2. ROCKET MAN – PRELUDE                                                                                           58 Views

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    Copyright Lloyd Marken
  3. ROCKET MAN – THE WEDDING OF THE YEAR                                                       57 Views
  4. MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2017                                                                                52 Views
  5. I WAS A NINTH DEGREE BLACK BELT NARCISSIST                                             50 Views
  6. I LIKE PADDINGTON 2 TOO                                                                                       45 Views
  7. THE YEAR THAT WAS 2017 ON LLOYD MARKEN WORDPRESS                        44 Views
  8. CUCKOO FOR COCO                                                                                                     42 Views
  9. BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2008 PART I                                                               40 ViewsBIFF 2008
  10. 100 POSTS PUBLISHED                                                                                               38 Views
  11. ROCKET MAN – THE RETURN COMMUTE                                                               38 Views
  12. A QUIET PLACE REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                                          38 ViewsScenestr77
  13. ‘LORD OF THE FLIES’ BY BEENLEIGH THEATRE GROUP REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                                                                                                                      37 Views
  14. INTERVIEW WITH ALLIANCE FRANCAISE FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL DIRECTOR PHILIPPE PLATEL AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                                                      36 Views
  15. MY NAME IS MAURICE MICKLEWHITE, NOW THERE’S NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT KNOW THAT                                                                                                      35 Views
  16. ‘CHER: HERE WE GO AGAIN’ BRISBANE OPENING NIGHT REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR MAGAZINE                                                                                                34 Views

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    Copyright Lloyd Marken
  17. TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018… SO FAR LIST… AVAILABLE AT X-PRESS MAGAZINE                                                                                                                    34 Views
  18. BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2007 PART II                                                             34 Views
  19. I, TONYA REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                                                      34 Views
  20. COVER STORY ON CHUCK NORRIS AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                         33 Views
  21. ROCKET MAN – AN AUSTRALIAN IN LONDON                                                      33 Views

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    Copyright Lloyd Marken
  22. ROCKET MAN – THE CANTON ROUTE                                                                      33 Views
  23. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                    31 Views
  24. BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2007 PART I                                                               31 Views
  25. INTERVIEW WITH, THE GENIE OF ‘ALADDIN’, GARETH JACOBS AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR                                                                                                                      31 Views
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Karen and I with the cast of Aladdin. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

It has been very nice to see some of the posts that were enjoyed the most were ones that were very personal including about travelling to attend my sister’s wedding overseas and recollections of the Brisbane International Film Festival. I’m also glad that everybody seems to enjoy my list for the best films of the year and look forward to doing another one for 2018 around Oscar time. Also blogging about my first cover story for Scenestr has proven the most popular post on my blog for 2018 which is very gratifying. It was a lot of fun and a real privilege to do the interview with Jascha Boyce.

 

'First Man'

 

For Your Consideration

So here is the point where I urge you to consider some of the posts I’m most proud of. Most are already listed and have proven popular like my Rocket Man posts and review of Cher’s concert.  I would ask you to consider my review for the movie First Man over at Scenestr which is perhaps my favourite of the film reviews I wrote this year. Any of the Scenestr cover stories I would highly recommend which included a profile on Chuck Norris, an interview with outgoing Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director Ali McGregor, with SNL star and stand-up Michael Che and with Jascha Boyce.

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Well that’s it for another year so thank you so much to everybody who reads my humble blog and I would like to take this moment to thank my fellow bloggers for their continued support Pete, Cindy, GP, Don, Vinnie, Jay, Sean, Paul, Allen, John K, Michael, Jet, Eddie, Alex, Paol, Jordon, John R, SJS, DB, Emma, Jersey Dreaming, Robin, Eric and anybody else who takes the time to read these posts. It would be helluva lot less fun without you all.

-Lloyd Marken

BIFF 2018
Rosie and I on Opening Night of BIFF 2018 on assignment for Scenestr magazine.  Copyright of BIFF from their 2018 Facebook site.

 

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2018 PART V

 

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THE CAMERAMAN: I’m not an expert on Buster Keaton, having only seen The General many years ago at BIFF 2005 but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out another one of his films screening at BIFF 2018. Arriving solo on an early Saturday morning 20OCT2018 at the Gallery of Modern Art South Bank I quickly saw a line backed up outside the entrance to the 11am session. Clearly I was not the only who thought this was a good idea. On the 80th anniversary of The General I watched the great organ player Ron West accompany live, and here on the 90th anniversary of The Cameraman I was to see David Bailey play the gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer which came up out of the stage just beneath the screen. The audience was amused by his inventive addition of the iconic Jaws theme amongst other playful choices.

The Cameraman was a crossroads for Keaton, the silent era was fading, he lost creative control in his ventures and his personal life was about to go through an upheaval. In some ways The Cameraman is the last great Buster Keaton film despite him going on for quite some time after. The audience was full of all types of people drawn to the opportunity to see something as unique as a silent film. The print had long been believed lost and the film survives today as a mesh between two old prints. In some ways Keaton’s old movie seems more grand now, in an era of CGI effects I heard one youngster marvel they must have built that whole set for such a short gag, Keaton’s stunt work and balletic grace remains impressive even if it is reported he was not allowed to do them all himself this time around. Some things have dated its true, you can see the construction of how we’re meant to feel but the reason why these films remain timeless is the same reason they had such broad appeal back in the day. The characters were archetypes, the story simple and the gags broad because that is what it makes them universal. Seeing The Cameraman at BIFF 2018 was a treat. Afterwards David Bailey received an ovation.

 

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IN THE AISLES: The next day Karen and I went and saw at 3:45pm at New Farm Cinemas In The Aisles which was in a way a choice made jointly by Karen and I after she got Arctic and I got Ash Is Purest White. From Germany and starring Sandra Huller, Franz Rogowski and Peter Kurth it tells the story of a night shift at a retail store in Germany. A few things came flooding back to me of my time working at BIG W as a young man, the veteran who knew all the good hiding spots, the jittery movements of using a power pallet jack for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect with In The Aisles a romcom that turns dark maybe but instead I got a powerful character piece about three people. There is so much care in every frame and shot of this film from Thomas Stuber that perfectly creates the geography of the store and being out of it. Delicate dialogue that says enough of the characters thoughts but not all of it and the way that the people who knew you at work know you in a way your family never will and vice versa. That they are a family of sorts. I don’t know if it will create the buzz needed but it would be no injustice if this received a nomination for Best Foreign Film at this years’ Oscars. I also noted that seeing a film at an old cinema like the New Farm Cinemas made it feel more like BIFF for me and reminded me the Old Regent Cinemas.

BIFF 2018 for me at least will go down as a particularly rainy BIFF. Also my suggestion would be to move the dates back to the traditional late July Early August run rather than having BIFF running the same time as the Byron Bay Film Festival and I wouldn’t mind seeing Palace as one of the venue partners in future. However I saw some fantastic movies at BIFF 2018 which was a relief since there were so many good ones on offer. I didn’t cover the globe as much but I saw 7 films, two from Australia, three from Europe, an American classic and one from Asia. Only one of them bad. Still have not gotten around to seeing an Iranian film at BIFF yet and there were plenty on offer this year. I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of callbacks to earlier BIFFs and earlier films I had seen there, that is the nature of film festivals I guess. One thing I am very excited about is Artistic Director Amanda Slack-Smith continuing in the role and seeing what she comes up with next year.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2018 PART IV

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TERROR NULLUS: We attended the Gallery of Modern Art at 6pm Wednesday 17OCT2018 to watch a free but sold out screening of Terror Nullius. This “film” made me feel really old, I’ve always slanted a little to the progressive side of things but as I get older I found more and more my tastes, politics and views are more and more out of touch. As a fat middle aged white male I can’t help but sometimes wonder why is there so much negativity attached to those things and feel a little targeted even as I acknowledge the traditional disadvantage of those who were not those things throughout history. Even that sentence feels so little limiting though, I guess I hesitate at the politics of division but want to support new opportunities and new voices to be heard. To that end I’m happy that Terror Nullius exists, I’m happy there are people out there with this viewpoint who put films like this out there. If it is for youth and the fringe dwellers and if I’m neither one of those now then so be it.

Terror Nullius is a cutting together of old archival footage to present a new narrative, it is intended to reinterpret conventions of storytelling, cultural norms and to provoke. It is also meant to entertain I hope. Yet I rarely laughed, I found it one note and while some moments resonated in how they cleverly spliced together things (Mel Gibson’s abusive phone rant cut together with Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road for one), for the most part it felt repetitive and unimaginative. Like a kid thinking they’re a freedom fighter because they wearing a Che t-shirt at uni rather than say fighting and dying in the jungles of Central America for a communist guerilla. As a former arts student who railed against the policies of a conservative Prime Minister it s interesting to reckon with the passing of time and the challenging of norms that come from a culture I grew up in that has evolved into something new. The makers interviewed at a Q&A afterwards seem like intelligent, thoughtful and hard working people with ideals. If you enjoy their work I am happy for you and I wish them continued success. Yet for me Terror Nullius was boring, disrespectful and for the most part a wank.

-Lloyd Marken

THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2018 PART III – ‘ASH IS PUREST WHITE’ AND ‘ARCTIC’ REVIEWS AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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The Brisbane International Film Festival traditionally opens on a Thursday and runs over two weekends concluding on a Sunday. This invariably creates a hopeful and excited mood going into the first weekend and a reflective and wistful one going into the second.  It was no different this year but as opposed to the films seen at BIFF 2017 Karen and I really enjoyed the ones we saw this year and so our moods were further lifted after the first weekend.

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On Friday night we went to Event Cinemas  at the top of CBD shopping centre the Myer Centre which is always sitting on top of a building shutting down as cinemagoers attend late into the evening. We were there to see the director’s cut of the latest film from Chinese director Jia Zhangke and starring his constant collaborator Zhao Tan – Ash is Purest White. While he is a well known Chinese sixth generation auteur I was unfamiliar with his work and interested to see how I would find the street level modern style he is well known for. I had concerns it would prove as fascinating but also as unstructured as say the Han Jie’s Walking on the Wildside from BIFF 2007. Instead I found a moving movie that reflected the changing economy of a booming nation through the prism of small time criminals and one incredibly strong woman. I was lucky enough to have a review I wrote of the film published at Weekend Notes and you can read it here https://www.weekendnotes.com/ash-is-purest-white-film-review-brisbane-international-film-festival-2018/

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The next day Karen and I went to Reading Cinemas in the northern suburb of Newmarket not far from where Karen once lived with her sister for several years when we were dating. Reading only opened there last year and has quickly established itself as a first rate cinema with comfortable seats, great menus and most importantly large screens and hi-tech sound systems. We were there to watch Arctic from Iceland starring Mads Mikkelsen which almost served as a rebuke to the muddled The Mountain Between Us from last year and showed how you make a great survival yarn. Again I’ve been fortunate enough to have my review published with Weekend Notes which you can check out here https://www.weekendnotes.com/arctic-film-review-brisbane-international-film-festival-2018/ In short the Brisbane International Film Festival 2018 got off to a flying start with it’s first weekend.

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