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.

 

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MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2017

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Last year I sought to do a review of every movie I saw in the cinemas. I decided early on for this year I would not repeat that but I will hopefully list all of the films I saw at the movies and then offer some thoughts on what were my favourites.  This list always come a little later then the end of the year when some American 2017 releases and Oscar hopefuls have reached Australian audiences. I contributed to an end of year list for X-Press Magazine which you can find here http://xpressmag.com.au/the-x-press-top-20-films-of-2017/ I was pretty lucky this year, I saw free screenings courtesy of my wife, went to preview screenings as a reviewer for Scenestr Magazine and attended for the first time the Bryon Bay Film Festival and the triumphant return of the Brisbane International Film Festival.  All up it appears I saw 57 films last year on the big screen and reviewed 27 and counting for various publications. It was a thrill to say the least but plenty were missed, The Florida Project stands out to me as an Oscar contender I would have liked to see along with The Post, Molly’s Game and Call Me By Your Name. Plenty of interesting films have slipped past my radar too like Raw, Happy Death Day, It Comes At Night, Okja, and many more. Most indie and foreign which I am really regretful about but I will get to them in due course hopefully. So as always any list from me is subjective, last year I hadn’t seen Nocturnal Animals and 20th Century Women and I guarantee they would’ve been in that Top 10. None the less it’s always fun to look back and do a summation so here goes. Ratings are based on the classic 4 Star scale as per reviews I read growing up by the great film critic Roger Ebert.

David Stratton: A Cinematic Life Not Reviewed **1/2

Kong: Skull Island Published 15MAR17 18 Likes – 72 Views **1/2

The Dancer Not Reviewed **1/2

The Lego Batman Movie Not Reviewed ***

The Fate of the Furious Published at Scenestr Magazine 12APR17 ***

Get Out Not Reviewed ***

Berlin Syndrome Published at HEAVY Magazine 02MAY17 ***1/2

Going in Style Not Reviewed **1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Published at Buzz Magazine 24MAY17 **1/2

Alien: Convenant Published 22MAY17 15 Likes – 46 Views **1/2

The Mummy Not Reviewed *1/2

Baby Driver Not Reviewed **1/2

Despicable Me 3 Not Reviewed **

Atomic Blonde Published at Buzz Magazine 28JUL17 ***

The War for the Planet of the Apes Not Reviewed ***

The Dark Tower Not Reviewed **

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Published at Scenestr Magazine 10AUG17 ***

Fun Mom Dinner Not Reviewed 1/2

The Party Not Reviewed **

Citizen Jane Not Reviewed **1/2

That’s Not Me Not Reviewed **

The Way Station Not Reviewed ***

Paris Can Wait Not Reviewed **1/2

The Mountain Between Us Not Reviewed **1/2

Victoria and Abdul Not Reviewed **1/2

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Published at Scenestr Magazine 21SEP17 **1/2

Thor: Ragnarok Published 06NOV17 10 Likes – 40 Views ***

Bad Moms 2 Published at Scenestr Magazine 02NOV17 ***

You’re Killing Me Susana Published at Scenestr Magazine 20NOV17 ***

Murder on the Orient Express Published at HEAVY Magazine 22NOV17 ***

Justice League Published at Buzz Magazine 17JUL18 **1/2

Wonder Wheel Published at Scenestr Magazine 07DEC17 ***

Goodbye Christopher Robin Not Reviewed **1/2

Coco Published 10JAN18 13 Likes – 30 Views ***

IT Not Reviewed ***

Lady Bird Published at Heavy Magazine 25JAN18 ***

The Disaster Artist Not Reviewed ***

 

Honourable Mentions

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The Trip To Spain Not Reviewed ***

In lesser hands this could get terribly tedious, two middle aged men travelling around eating to their hearts content and occasionally bedding women considerably younger than them. The Trip remains perhaps the best, following comic performers Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves in a fictional film made to appear like real life as they bickered on a paid trip through a series of eateries in a regional area. My wife who did not care for that movie has thoroughly enjoyed the follow ups that coincidentally or not coincidentally left the Gothic Northern English countryside for the sunnier sea breezes of Italy and now Spain. For me the sequels are variations on the original classic but here with the pair getting ever slightly older the musings on ageing, legacy and regrets bite a little harder and these are themes I’ve always been fascinated with. In a packed preview screening the ending certainly left an impression. I liked it.

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The Last Jedi Published at Buzz Magazine 06FEB18 ***

Far from a perfect film I have a suspicion this will be a pivotal film for the franchise and fans growing up with the series now. There are pacing problems, unfocussed plot lines, and issues with the depiction of Lue Skywalker but overall there were a lot of great moments as well. Here’s hoping we can get a satisfying trilogy capper in two years. “Some fans will cite it as a watershed moment in the franchise; others will hang their heads and never forgive for some of what happens here. The rest of us will probably feel torn, this is not the greatest movie in the series but it may be an important one.

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Australia Day Published at Scenestr Magazine 04SEP17 ***1/2

It could be bias on my part, Australia Day was shot in my home town, I’ve read reviews that did not find it as praiseworthy as I did. Yet I keep thinking back on scenes that drew me in, the way the stories played off each other. Set over one day, yeah that day, and following a variety of characters who differ in race, age and which side of the law they operate on the climax I found deeply satisfying. Touching on themes of community and family and what happens when both break down I still highly recommend this film. “The anchor of the film is the performance of Bryan Brown who is neither a straight forward hero nor a man who can sit idly by as terrible things are done in the world. In a film dealing with the cost of parents who aren’t there, he effectively becomes a guardian to this young girl Lan Chang who, while barely understanding a word of his English, sizes up that this is a good man.

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Darkest Hour Published at Heavy Magazine 15FEB18 ***1/2

Darkest Hour is a good film bolstered by a great performance that encapsulates an extraordinary individual at the height of their powers and responsibilities. Gary Oldman shines with a different yet familiar take on the icon and while one see the strings of manipulation being tugged by the filmmakers this remains a stirring take on a pivotal moment in history. “Director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel delight with some shots whether it is sunlight shining through a window onto Ben Mendelsohn’s King George that make him appear for a second like the real face that adorned all that currency once upon a time. Or the way that a bombed landscape seamlessly transitions into the dead eye of a corpse. The devastation of war rote large in the smallest measure of life lost.

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Wonder Woman Published at Buzz Magazine 13JUN17 ***

If the this was about the ten best characters of last year, Wonder Woman would win hands down. After dicking around with the nobility of Superman for the past decade, Patty Jenkins showed Warner Bros how to tap into what made their DC characters so likeable rather than running away from it. The finale is too CGI heavy, its jarring to see the battlefields of World War One used as a playground for a comic book movie and the villains are underwritten but Wonder Woman is a triumph on many more levels. The first section of the film shows no men (no plus size ladies either but that’s a discussion for another time) and by not trumpeting it-the film makes a very strong point. Yet beyond all the firsts that this film achieved is a great story well told. There’s fantastic chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in an elegant romance and partnership (he’s the not quite as capable but still loyal sidekick), fine comic relief from Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, several tones deftly handled and Gadot not only stepping up to the plate as the awesome Wonder Woman but also underplaying as the straight person in the comic English scenes. Some of the action sequences are first rate too, excitingly shot and well choreographed. These things are so hard to get right and such a joy to see in a blockbuster. Even with the CGI tell me you don’t care when that plane pulls into the sky at the end?”Wonder Woman all our hopes depend on you and the magic that you do” or so the song goes. The Amazonian has not let us down even if her first solo big screen outing is not without flaws. The success of Wonder Woman paves the way for more big budget comic book films with a female protagonist, more blockbusters helmed by female directors and creates anticipation for more DC film adaptations and it does all of this by following one simple rule – make a good movie.

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Paddington 2 Published 12JAN18 11 Likes 30 Views ***1/2

Paddington 2 is like the preceding film, charming in every sense of the meaning of that word. A family film in the classic sense of the word it wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and wins you over with its goodness. Moving, funny and very English the only thing I’d argue is maybe a few more guffaws would’ve been in order. “Maybe I rarely laughed out loud but I smiled. I smiled the kind of smile you only smile when you’ve been absolutely charmed and I was charmed by that film and more importantly by that little Peruvian bear. He always looks CGI but there’s fantastic design work from the animators to make you fall in love with this bear backed up by Ben Whishaw’s voice work and spirit of Michael Bond’s books. Paddington is always polite, always has his heart in the right place and always tries his best and believes in the better nature of people unless they invoke a good hard stare.

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Film Stars Don’t Die In LiverpoolPublished At X-Press Magazine 01MAR18  ***1/2

More than just an observant and honest story about a May-December romance, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool displays a great sense of time and place and how they inform our personal choices and our convictions. It won’t be for everyone, it’s not really a fun film but it is a great film about this particular story that I have often reflected upon in the days since seeing it. “It also has a lot to say about routine and principals and how they guide your decisions. In the film’s most heartbreaking scene, a father tells his son what they’re going to do and you know the only wisdom he is relying on comes from these types of principles. Neither can be sure that it is the right thing to do but it is the “right” thing to do and so they do it.

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The Square Not Reviewed ***1/2

The opening night film at the 2017 Brisbane International Film Festival was the The Square winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund it tells the story of Christian (Claes Bang) the curator of the X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, Sweden. On his way to work one day he is pulled into a confrontation with a girl being chased by her partner, rallied by another bystander to stand their ground against him. After a little push and shove the man leaves and then the girl. Christian finds he has been pickpocketed in the exchange. To say more about the plot would take away one of the joys about the film but I will say it has themes linked to the new exhibition Christian is promoting called The Square. “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” The film has a lot to say about ideas of masculinity, art, femininity, classism, race, inflated opinions of art. It has a dark sense of humour, I found it riveting until somewhere close to the finale I did not find the resolution as memorable as the set-up. Yet The Square continues to haunt in a way that few films do. I imagine men of physical courage and carefree attitudes would not find much of interest here but since I’m neither I was fascinated.

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Their Finest Published at Heavy Magazine 25APR17 ***1/2

Their Finest might have slipped under a lot of people’s radar but it is a gem of movie. Meta, moving, funny with a buttoned down performance from the talented Gemma Arterton. I’ve read some dismiss it as clichéd and for the grey haired mob. Allow me to offer a well thought out counter argument – fuck them. “Bombs drop on London, the war threatens to derail the film and the very spirit of resistance these intrepid British storytellers seek to inspire in the local populace starts to shine through within their own actions. Some critics have labelled Their Finest a callback to an older era of films suggesting to take your Gran to see it. It is true it is set during 1940 and has comforting truths long established about love and the human spirit. The kind of truths, that don’t go out of fashion if you have a beating heart.

I, Tonya Published at Scenestr Magazine 24JAN18 ***1/2

Recently watching a documentary on Tonya Harding I noticed a few things the documentary did well that the film did not and vice versa. We don’t get Nancy Kerrigan’s story in I, Tonya and we don’t get friends musing on the possible inner workings of Tonya’s mind. What we do get is one helluva thrill ride jam packed with great performances and a kinetic energy that drives the plot. We are moved by individual scenes several times and fascinated by what is going on screen. But we never know what the truth is, how can we be engaged by these people if we don’t know which depiction of what happened is true. That central conceit of the film creates a distance between the audience and the story and only the work of Margot Robbie, Alison Janney and the under-rated Sebastian Stan shrink that distance. “Tonya Harding became a villain perhaps not without reason, but also out of narrative convenience, and the script by Steven Rogers seems to ask who was Tonya Harding truly and was she really a villain. The film is also not interested in offering a definitive answer, since it is not interested in giving a definitive account of what happened. Rogers noticed differing stories in interviews from Harding and former husband Jeff Gillooly, and decided that contradiction would be part of the film’s storyline.

 

THE TEN

 

 

10. Thee Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Published at Heavy Magazine 08JAN18 ***1/2

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri boasts another great performance from Frances McDormand in a film that fails to play to any conventional outcome. McDormand plays a mother who lost her daughter and is dealing with her grief. A wonderful haunting tale, my only complaint is I never quite buy the motivation of one character’s decision but it proves a major catalyst for the plot that unfolds. It may not be an enjoyable film but it is unforgettable one. “Three Billboards though thinks an awful lot about that daughter and a million others who disappeared or were found dead one morning. Their murderers never discovered, never brought to justice. Their violence acts unanswered, stewing away in those left behind. Not just murders either, throughout the film there is anger displayed for a lot of things whether it be long-term prognosis from a Doctor, a date being embarrassed to be seen with you, or in most cases just the way someone who knows you really well can say something that hurts you and how much you can’t let that go unanswered. This is a film about how violence circles back around, the power of anger, the pain of regret but also about the strength of kindness and the delicacy of tolerance.

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9. Spider-Man: Homecoming Published at Buzz Magazine 28JUL17 ***1/2

How do you make the sixth Spider-Man movie since 2002 interesting? Well instead of telling the story everybody has already seen you tell the story that hasn’t been told before. That of Peter Parker the high schooler. This is a film that has so much going for it, the action escalates in scale but never stops being about real human figures straining and getting hit. There was a wonderful ensemble of side characters who amuse and delight. There’s great comedy and Easter Eggs regarding the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most importantly the comic book action is focussed on themes and plights that everybody can relate to. If I have one complaint is that I would have preferred to have seen Tony Stark trying to be a good mentor. His actions and motivations here are hypocritical obviously in service to not having him take up too much screen time. In light of the comedic and visual delights of Guardians 2 and Thor: Ragnarok, the gravitas of Hugh Jackman’s exit in Logan and the ground breaking joy of Wonder Woman – it’s easy for another Spider-Man movie to get lost in the shuffle but this is a great comic book movie. We’re not always so lucky. “Peter Parker may have been in high school in earlier films but here he is a high schooler and a lot of the story revolves around the challenges you navigate in that environment rather than facing down crooks as a masked crusader. This is John Hughes by way of Marvel and for the most part it proves fresh and engaging as a result. After six films this is Spider-Man as you’ve never seen him before and as you always should have.

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8. The Shape of Water Being Edited ***1/2

The Shape of Water will top many end of year lists. It has rich subtext, is wonderfully constructed in terms of narrative and look, throws in a few surprises and boasts a wonderful cast doing great work. An adult fairytale it delights from start to finish even in the way that it can graphic or dark in humour. I’ve never seen a woman boil on egg on a daily basis either if you know what I mean and I like it. There are a few missteps though for me in terms of filling out back story for maximum effect. The love story is based on ideas, the male romantic lead in a lot of ways remains a mystery and that failed to engage me as much as I hoped the film would. However what it has to say about power dynamics, the boundaries we have to overcome and the power of choices makes this a film to pore over again and again. Not to mention the cinematic beauty of it. “Of course themes and allegories are great but they don’t really matter if you can’t engage the audience. Screenwriters del Toro and Vanessa Taylor craft an interesting romance between two creatures who never speak a word to each other. One of them risks an awful lot faster than expected with very little to motivate them except how the other makes them feel. While that might be difficult to believe completely, the writers have argued is there anything more romantic than that mindset?“.

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7. Phantom Thread Published at Heavy Magazine 25FEB18 ***1/2

A mesmerising film that parodies adult relationships with dark humour and relentless suspense. We don’t know where this is headed but we’re constantly fascinated by these people and their disgraceful behaviour. Where I was excited to see Lady Bird and The Shape of Water to see if they would top this list, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the meticulously constructed film from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Bravo to Daniel Day-Lewis on another great performance with his two co-stars Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps delivering just as much. “Artists can be sensitive and emotionally volatile but they’re only allowed to indulge this if they are successful. Into this life comes the latest muse/victim/lover in the form of a young French woman who was working as a waitress. There is not one person in this movie that mainstream audiences will identify as behaving normally or in a way that is healthy for relationships. That is one of the film’s delights, the other is if you think the story is going to play out one way or another-the movie has other ideas.

6. Logan Published at Scenestr Magazine 09MAR17 ***1/2

Logan was a breath of fresh air to a competent but stale genre in the way that Deadpool was the year before but for completely different reasons. A stand alone story with stakes that were final, it took risks in telling a story that was sad and beautiful about the circle of life, the power of family and the struggle of ageing. There was plenty of action but there was also moments that were heartfelt and real. Hugh Jackman struggled 17 years to get Wolverine just right and while I wish we’d gotten films more worthy of his performance we got the one that counted. I’m not sure if the villains could’ve been stronger or that the third act loses some focus but it remains one of the best comic book films I saw this year if not the best. “Anybody who has ever cared for an ailing loved one or reconnected with an absent parent may be surprised to see moments of familiarity in this comic book movie but will be no less moved. ‘Deadpool’ last year appeared like a breath of fresh air with meta humour and an anarchic attitude. 20th Century Fox now releases a different type of superhero movie again on the other end of the emotional scale but no less anarchic, an elegiac moving Western set in the future.

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5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Published at Buzz Magazine 05MAY17 ***1/2

It goes back and forth for me what was the best comic book movie of the past year – Guardians 2 or Logan? Expectations were high for this one following the original, not as clean and slick as that one, this maybe the better film due to a resolve to have more emotional payoffs. A few small things might get missed the first time through which add a lot to character arcs when noticed upon second viewing. Still this universe and characters remain as charming as ever and the pressure is on for the trilogy capper now from director James Gunn. “Sometimes Marvel Studio films are criticized for all having the same look, with their director’s visions compromised to fit within the shared cinematic universe but Gunn’s Guardians films remain unique and true to his sensibilities. They’re funny, occasionally gross and as Cat Steven’s Father and Son plays in a gloriously lit up galaxy far, far away they are moving – oh so moving. This is one of the year’s best.

4. The Go-Betweens: Right Here Published at Scenestr Magazine 10OCT17 ****

The Go-Betweens were musicians’ musicians not rock stars and there is a price to be paid for never quite breaking through. There is a price to be paid in any fellowship but what you achieve hopefully endures. This is wonderful re-telling of the lifetime of a band through a nostalgiac era of music with a romantic notion of this particular type of band. More evocatively it is old friends looking back on the time of their lives with regret, hurt, joy and great poignancy. It was a joy to watch from beginning to end, I look forward to what director Kriv Stenders (Australia Day, Red Dog) does next. “The band ended abruptly, and like its trailer the film does too. Life too can end abruptly and it feels that director Kriv Stenders is articulating this on purpose. Life is fleeting, memory does play tricks, some things don’t need to get dug up and some connections can’t be reforged again. Some things endure because they were real and they meant something and in that sense, The Go-Betweens now have a documentary that reflects the appeal of their music very well.

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3. Dunkirk Published at Heavy Magazine 02AUG17 ****

Christopher Nolan’s war film was not to everybody’s liking, there were things present that usually I would criticise in this film but defend with this one. For most people the most compelling part is the story of Mark Rylance’s character because it is the closest to a fully formed narrative and fleshed out character. To me the themes of courage and choices and how people perceive reality and need stories resonated. As a spectacle I was grateful to see money well spent on creating and using real scale. As an experience I was wrapped up in the moment and excited about the bringing together of three separate narratives. As a message I was touched by Nolan’s celebration of gallantry and acknowledgement of the chaos and fear which gives such heroism its impact. In that way it was an unabashed emotional film despite it’s meticulously put together structure. It is a great film, maybe Nolan’s best. “In the air Tom Hardy plays a RAF fighter pilot providing air cover for the ships against the Luftwaffe’s superior numbers, concerned as much with his fuel gauge as he is with the enemy knowing that one more minute over France could save countless lives. Then there’s Mark Rylance, a simple fisherman who with his young son and another boy has set off to make a difference by crossing the English Channel to pick up as many soldiers as he can in his humble boat. The closer they get to war the more foolhardy his decision seems and the more admirable.

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2. Blade Runner 2049 Published at Buzz Magazine 22JAN18 ****

Blade Runner 2049 is the reason we go to the cinema. Beautiful, epic and all in service to a story with ideas and passion. This is the kind of blockbuster that should be being made and all the more reason to be sad about its box office. However I suspect many will grow to discover it on blu-rays and streaming. I was blown up by the cast which included 4 women at its centre playing a diverse array of characters (Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis & Robin Wright), Harrison Ford playing a man with many regrets and hurt and Ryan Gosling in an understated yet emotional performance. The look and sound of the film expands from the original but stands on its own using new technology. This is a form ultimately about relationships and what we can do to forge real ones despite the advent of technology. “She prompts him to do things, intervenes against others when he is not present and makes her own decisions. Yet all of this comes from coding responding to interactions with him. Does that mean it’s not real or is that any different from the way human are biologically designed? There is a scene later in the film that could provide the answer and it is heartbreaking, Ana De Armas plays so many notes effortlessly and this should prove a break-out role for her.

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1. In This Corner of the World Published at FilmInk Magazine 24NOV17 ****

The Number One Choice has surprised again with a film that I saw earlier in the year, wasn’t widely seen by others and did not get unseated by the Oscar frontrunners. Set in the lead-up to and through out World War II we follow one young woman’s journey through these events from the Japanese home front. An anime with beautiful images, striking sequences and great attention to historical detail. This is a film that reckons with war and the horrors of it but also the strength of people, the hope of peace and the enduring power of family and love. I was deeply moved by this film, it is for me the best film of the year. “Perhaps the greatest courage is shown at the end when survivors slowly go on, day by day. What has been lost can never be regained but those of us who are alive, have to go on living. And maybe in the living, one day there will be a world worth living in, if not for us then for the next generation.

 

Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, like last year I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.

-Lloyd Marken

CUCKOO FOR COCO

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Coco is a heart warming tale of that encourages you so many thoughts about the themes presented. Perhaps though the most touching and universal one is that of family. How a part of you is made up of someone who left this world a long time ago. There’s a profound mystery about that and also something very humbling and touching. Coco grants the opportunity to see such people and to see how you measure up to each other. Strangers who are undeniably immediately familiar because well they’re family. Pixar may not hit it out of the park every time like the old days but their leading batting average remains assured with releases like this.

We meet a boy named Miguel who is part of a loving family of shoemakers. Many years ago the family got into shoemaking when an ancestor Imelda Rivera was abandoned by her husband to pursue a career in music. Imelda needing to support her child Coco started the business and never looked back banning anybody in the family from taking an interest in music. Now Coco is elderly and her grandson Miguel hides up in his attic with a home made guitar and practices playing inspired by the legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz. Without going into specifics Miguel during the day of the dead celebrations find himself on the other side in the land of the dead where he attempts to meet his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel has a song in his heart, a talent that must be set free from a family that needs to understand that. Yet he too must understand where this fear of music comes from, that nothing can ever be as valuable as your family’s love.

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Pixar have created another visually stunning world, moving scenes of emotions we can all relate to, sly sight gags that poke fun at tropes and a particularly catchy theme song that grows on you slowly. The cast is first rate including Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael Carcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia and Edward James Olmos. As Miguel navigates the land of the dead the middle sags a bit but the film comes home strong. I’ve seen the Day of the Dead celebrations referenced in the pop culture I grew up with but never took the time to learn what it was about. I enjoyed a mainstream release that showed such a sweet explanation of it. Being shown something new and interesting in film was very enjoyable. It’s quite a thoughtful moving tradition about letting the dead by remembered by your family and let them be in your lives one day of the year and in your hearts the rest of it.

-Lloyd Marken

JAMES CORDEN WINS THE LATE NIGHT SUPERBOWL SPECIAL

Post Super Bowl programming deserves sports parlance as much as anything and in the case of CBS this year you could describe it as Stephen Colbert fumbled a great opportunity and James Corden showed up to play.

Late Night Talk Show Hosts are cults of personalities. Always have been. Johnny Carson the story goes turned to a young producer once about a show he was about to start. The producer had been explaining the skits, the formula, the guests, the production values. When the producer was done Carson leaned in and told him “These shows are all about the guy behind the desk.” They are and I can tell you this because without my guys Craig Ferguson and David Letterman the genre has held less appeal this past year. All that remain are talented entertainers but they’re not Craig Ferguson and David Letterman and so I have not felt compelled to write about them. Where I live and with the technology I have I semi-regularly catch whole shows of Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Jimmy Fallon. I chase down viral bits from Conan, Kimmel and Meyers on YouTube. Alas I’m not catching anything from Comedy Central because “I’m an overseas viewer.” Their loss or mine? Who knows in this social media driven culture. What I see I like and champion.

Jimmy Kimmel

I love Mean Tweets, Halloween pranks not so much. Kimmel general does well with his celebrity interviews and can engage politicians well enough. For example his opening up of Harrison Ford with a Chewbacca recurring bit is gold, Jimmy’s search for Austin’s Best BBQ which parodied The Bachelor was neat too. The stuff with Matt Damon is brilliant too even if the peak was that clip with Sarah Silverman all those years ago now.

Conan O’Brien

Coco’s ratings scores have been as low as 300,000 viewers during the low season and he has never crested a million on a regular night in years. Yet a little Cuban special snagged two million viewers taking in DVR recordings after the telecast last year. Relegated to TBS O’Brien has a social media presence and a youthful demographic that belies his years. He is the epitome of punching above his weight. Kids watching him now may not even know about the Leno fiasco of ’09 but they know about Uber, Tinder and Grinder, Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, Call of Duty, Archer, Magic Mike XXL and crucially they know funny and Conan O’Brien remains as funny as he has ever been. At 53 he is out doing remotes when Letterman was sending Biff Henderson and Rupert Jee into the fray. His cultural reach far exceeds his real numbers. Sure some of the interviews are boring, sure sometimes the monologue is lame. Who cares? This man shows up to work again and again and rather than coasting on old NBC bits he’s been reinventing himself for a new generation. GO COCO!

Jimmy Fallon

Fallon is King and moment to moment I doubt there’s anybody funnier that’s why he regularly rates higher than his competitors. You tune in for Trump on Colbert. You watch Fallon no matter who’s appearing because Fallon is appearing. His monologues actually make me laugh; he has an easy rapport with his house band The Roots which amongst being bonafide musicians all have unique personalities which are comfortable to get involved in sketches and on the spot riffing. It’s true they’ve had six years to get this down pat but they’re running like a well-oiled machine at this point. The question remains when will we get tired of this routine. Will Fallon ever mature into the statesman Carson and Letterman became? Does it really matter? Jimmy Fallon has no edge, so what? Late last year he asked a question of Trump who replied “These were not the question we agreed to.” In this simple gesture he made Jimmy Fallon more badass than any question he was going to ask would have made him. He once turned to Hilary Clinton and asked “Why don’t you release the e-mails? I’m sick of hearing about it, aren’t you?” and she agreed. He asked the question and he put it in terms that were on most American’s minds. Frustratingly they just moved on but that is not to say Fallon is a push over. He has actually been very steadfast that he wants to make a fun show and he wants his guests to have fun on his show like everybody else. You can tell Fallon’s politics as clearly as Colbert but like Conan O’Brien his show is not about politics but about having fun. As long as that is happening I don’t think he’s going anywhere. Can he be the fun guy for multiple generations? Can he do dance offs with the next pop sensation when he’s 55 or will it lose something when it isn’t a peer like Justin Timberlake? Time will tell but the man is incredibly talented, hardworking and he has the most entertaining show on late night television consistently. However short the reign he has not been a flash in the pan. He is the current King of Late Night Television. Fact.

 

Stephen Colbert

Colbert is booking CEOs, civil rights leaders and journalists in a way nobody else on network late night television is. This is classic counter programming which won’t place him in No.1 but will hopefully snag enough of a high income audience to justify his existence. The thinking person’s alternative though lost to Kimmel and Meyers throughout the month of December and those guys provide some of what he is selling to audiences as well. That makes it tricky. Plus nobody really bitches about Meyers lack of viralness because his lead in from Fallon makes him the highest rated in his timeslot by a country mile. The Colbert Report was so good for so long that we took for granted what an upheaval a new show would be. Colbert a former improve actor could sing and dance, his quick wit and intelligence was undeniable, his interviews in his old persona were actually really insightful and on top of it all he had a youthful openness, a yearning to ask questions and find answers rather than accuse and demean. Yet The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has been rife with teething problems of any first year out program. Jon Batiste is a talented musician and Colbert and he appear to genuinely like the other but chemistry comes from a variety of factors and right now… they don’t have it. Joe Biden’s interview on Colbert was a gift that reminds us what a great television moment of authenticity can be. A man clearly laying bare his emotions in a public forum without anything to gain from it as it turned out since he didn’t end up running.

I like a lot of the sketches Colbert has established written by his clever writers like “A Big Furry Hat” and even more so “Big Thoughts with even Bigger Stars.” Yet Colbert’s celebrity interviews are often as awkward as Fallon’s ass-kissing routine where everyone is so great and so funny. An easy rapport with Chris Pine and Josh Brolin recently had me questioning why can’t all Colbert interviews be like that?  This may not be entirely fair for someone who just renovated a theatre on Broadway and has big numbers in it but Colbert doesn’t seem to do remotes. Neither does Fallon to an extent but you feel it with Colbert. The guy is busting his ass, dabbling in live shows and doing five nights a week but when you take a break six weeks after your debut it feels lazy.

Which brings us to the Superbowl.

CBS took the unprecedented step of following their Super Bowl 50 coverage with a live telecast of their late night programs The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden. The Late Show started strong with a monologue that involved him throwing the football to first soldiers overseas, an astronaut and then the President. It’s the kind of extra expense stuff you save for such shows which also tugs at the heart strings of Americana. Support the troops, we can reach outer space and our Commander in Chief enjoys a throw of the ole pigskin as much as we all do. It got even better when Colbert involved in some meta humour. The President pointed out he was in a pre-taped bit to which the host insisted he was doing the show live. President Obama proved his point by bringing Colbert onscreen in the bit to talk to his live studio self. It was a neat sketch and was true to Stephen’s comic sensibilities.

Unfortunately the rest of the show was not as strong at all. Colbert followed with an interview with Tina Fey and Margot Robbie that was average despite Fey usually being funny. It was awkwardly interrupted by a cross to the Super Bowl stadium to have a satellite interview with MVP winner Von Miller. When it concluded Fey joked “Now about this movie.” Will Ferrell followed with a neat joke about being a new animal expert for the show and refusing to talk about Zoolander 2 which he was there to spruik. Yet I couldn’t help but flashback to his lip sync battle with Kevin Hart last year on Fallon and just feel these were half measures. A popular sketch from Key and Poole related to football also made an appearance before finally Megyn Kelly showed up to engage Colbert in the type of interview that he’s good at but at that point the hour had drawn near. 22,000,000 viewers watched this fucking show. Two decades ago at the height of his powers with a four network landscape and a Winter Olympics lead in David Letterman mustered 14 million on a weeknight. Last year when he retired he pulled 13.7 million. You’ll never get 22 million again, this was a golden opportunity to draw a wide net and grab some extra casual viewers over the long haul to hopefully remain a viable competitor. To be fair it wasn’t for lack of tyring, Key and Poole, Fey and Ferrell are all comedy superstars and were well chosen. They referenced football, they got the President and the First Lady to show up and Megyn Kelly is a high profile reporter and brings an audience that doesn’t tune into Colbert. It was the kind of aisle crossing inclusivity the late show host has practiced since he booked Jeb Bush on his first night on CBS. Yet it didn’t flow seamlessly, it was a mess of ideas and priorities. Look here’s celebrities but we’ve got to cross to an actual footballer. Here’s a sketch from another show because it involves football which means it will be fifty minutes before I talk to Megyn Kelly which arguably is going to be the best bit but will not be funny and we need to be funny right?

James Corden On The Other Hand

The Late Late Show followed and scored a franchise high of 5 million which is impressive when you consider some affiliates were going with local news at that point after cutting Colbert’s last few minutes. So let’s talk about James Corden. James Corden a portly British television and theatre star has spent twelve months on his show embracing American culture including kicking a half time field goal at a local game and hanging out at a tailgate party.

As a result when he got engaged with elements of the Super Bowl for his show it seemed more authentic and he more comfortable. Unlike Fallon and like Colbert he stayed in his home town and his home theatre but he did send his parents down to the Super Bowl to report from the field which was surprisingly funny and a little moving. Their son has been successful in the arts for a while now but in their bits there is a touch of grounded people marvelling at the opportunities afforded them and a wicked unfiltered sense of humour about life in general. James Corden had a great gag putting all Denver Bronco supporters in his studio and leaving Carolina Panther supporters in the car park where they set up rain machines to pour water on them before making it snow in L.A. Crossing back later in the show to show them huddled in ponchos he offered snacks for them punching through corn chips and dip through the rain machines. It is humour with a bit of bite but then the Bud Light crew showed up for the Panther fans and all was well. Corden was due to interview Peyton Manning but instead his bandleader Reggie Watts played a big musical number throughout before they lost the satellite feed. It’s a re-occurring gag they’ve done before and shows that Corden is prepared to be the butt of jokes as much as Panther fans. Referencing nostalgia like a boss James also starred in a parody of a classic Super Bowl advertisement with original star Cindy Crawford. Finally two strong bits that Corden does were brought into the show. He roped in young and hip performers Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine and Zac Effron to go through every sports movie in 7 minutes. It was a bigger scale version of the silly, low tech and funny sketch that has met with some success for him before. You know?! Kind of what you’re supposed to do with a post Super Bowl audience.

Following this formula he did a similar thing with his signature sketch- he did Carpool Karaoke with Elton John. This part of the show referenced nothing about the Super Bowl but it was Corden’s superstar sketch with a major superstar in it for his biggest audience ever. That’s how you do it. By organically filling the rest of the show with football the Elton John bit did not need it and since Carpool Karaoke is such a signature Corden bit its inclusion did not feel awkward or out of place either in the Super Bowl special. Speaking of Carpool Karaoke, a recent one with Adele has hit 67,000,000 views on YouTube. That’s more than anything on YouTube from any late night TV show. The Late Late Show with James Corden is not perfect but I marvel sometimes at it. It has a spirit of fun, has established its own identity within weeks of airing for the first time, Corden’s chemistry with Reggie Watts is easy and Watts is not a sidekick but his own thing. One night I tuned in and James Corden and Tori Kelly went out to restaurants in a remote and sang for their supper. Working outside the studio with a shaky premise and uncertain of how crowds are going to react makes for exciting if awkward television. As it advanced Reggie’s house band came out and Tori Kelly got people up and dancing to her song Nobody Love. The punch line made me smile.

Zoologist Jack Hanna of Letterman fame showed up with Betty White a great animal lover along with Amar’e Soudemire. Rachel Platten closed with a powerful rendition of her pop hit Stand By You. My God it was fun!

 

-Lloyd Marken