BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) FILM REVIEW AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR AND FROOTY

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I was very fortunate to attend a preview screening of Birds of Prey with Karen on Wednesday 05FEB2020 at the Myer Centre in the Brisbane CBD on assignment for Scenestr for the first time in 2020. I always feel fortunate to attend such screenings and get to review new films. The crowd we were with seemed to enjoy the film and I found there was a lot I appreciated about the film but I worried if it would find an audience. So far box office has been soft for the film but I believe when it finds its audience it is going to become quite beloved by them.

There is an irreverent rebellious attitude to the production and a manic joy. I thought similar thoughts about Suicide Squad that seemed well cast with interesting characters in desperate need of a plot and being able to make more of the potential of its premise and explore the unique possibilities that could come from it. Birds of Prey, a female centric sidequel spin-off, is a step in the right decision with better action and a better plot but still full of dropped ideas and unexplored potential.

There are to my mind no positive male characters in it but I can live with my heroes, anti-heroes and villains coming in all genders, races and creeds. No doubt the film is saying something about the female experience and exploring gender politics but how much it really says I’ll leave to the individual viewer to decide.

For me like before with Suicide Squad, I hold out hope of seeing some of these performers bringing to life these characters again. You can read my review here https://scenestr.com.au/movies-and-tv/birds-of-prey-and-the-fantabulous-emancipation-of-one-harley-quinn-film-review-20200206

Afterwards Karen and I enjoyed some pizzas at the Hilton Hotel lobby.

About a month later Karen and I were with friends seeing a movie at Palace Cinemas and came across some print issues of Scenestr and its sister publication Frooty.

My editor who runs Frooty asked if my review of Rocketman could be published in the first print issue of Frooty last year which I was stoked about and agreed to. Karen found my review of Harley Quinn had now been published in Frooty Issue #10. I guess I didn’t need to be asked a second time… However being in print is always a thrill and I hope the readers of Frooty enjoyed.

The review features on page 11 of the March 2020 issue which you can read a digital version of here http://frooty.com.au/read/2020/issue-10/FROOTY-10.html#p=11

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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.

Started in 2017 and produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises, Frooty is an online national magazine that covers news and entertainment with a queer perspective. Their first print issue rolled out in July 2019 across five major states (QLD, NSW, Vic, SA, WA) and have followed monthly since. Frooty is one of the country’s widest circulating queer titles.

-Lloyd Marken

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2010 and THE LOST YEARS

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I didn’t go to BIFF in 2009, I had started a new relationship and a new second part time job and so that was that. During decluttering I found a program for BIFF 2010 which featured Jucy, the next film from All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane director Louise Alston but that was for a gala screening and I remember Karen and I went and saw the film at a normal screening so it must have been just after BIFF. BIFF 2010 was significant for a number of reasons far more momentous than whether I attended or not.

First of all Artistic Director Anne Demy Geroe who had been there since the first BIFF in 1991 stepped down at the beginning of 2010 to pursue a PhD in Iranian cinema at the University of Queensland, she now teaches at Griffith University various film classes. As a volunteer I had very little to do with Dr Gemy-Deroe or Ms as she was then but its undeniable the impact that her imprint on what BIFF was and is cannot be measured. BIFF suffered following her tenure and I noticed her last year in attendance at BIFF 2017 on opening night. It was good to see her there, it just wouldn’t be BIFF if she wasn’t there.

Other changes were in store in 2010, the festival moved from late July/early August to November and the Regent cinemas were no longer around so BIFF screened at Palace Centro and the new Palace Barracks cinemas and the Tribal Theatre over on George Street. When I was a young man, Tribal Theatre was owned by Dendy cinema but had come under new management. The Tribal Theatre actually had a long history of being a place to go for alternative cinema for Brisbanites but whatever plans the owners had, the Tribal Theatre is no longer with us. I have fond memories of Napoleon Dynamite, Bowling for Columbine and other films when it was Dendy and of seeing films for BIFF in 2010 year at Tribal. The Regent Cinemas I was even more sad to see go, in 2009 I signed a petition for them to be kept but petitions don’t always work. Money talks but here is but a reminder of what was lost albeit the grand foyer remains.

 

The 19th Brisbane International Film Festival ran from the 4th to the 14th of November 2010 and featured 101 features and 51 shorts. Significantly down from say the 2005 program but still larger than the return of 2017. Some of the language in the program reflects changing times urging people to surrender their small screens and think big while also stressing that BIFF was going digital. Following earlier artistically vague and thematic posters from the past here there was a more direct reference to the Brisbane CBD and classic mainstream cinema. For the record the Opening Night film was Cane Toads: The Conquest and Closing Night film was Reign of Assassins starring Michelle Yeoh and as usual I attended neither. There were a lot of great things happening at BIFF 2010, a writer’s room showcase, a dive-in cinema showing Jaws and Deep Blue Sea over at Splash Leisure Fitness Centre, Monsters, The Room, The Dark Crystal, Winter’s Bone, a tribute to Jack Cardiff (I really wanted to see The Red Shoes), Lebanon. I would have loved to have seen those but there were four films we saw and they were as follows.

 

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COPACABANA: My first Gala screening at BIFF and my first screening at BIFF at Palace Barracks took place on Friday 12NOV2010 at 6:30pm. I went and saw the film with a group of friends including Karen and Karen B. Telling the story of a mother and daughter it starred the esteemed Isabelle Huppert as a free spirit who seeks to change her ways when she realises her daughter is so embarrassed by her – she has not invited her own mother to her wedding. Very French and very charming we all enjoyed the film. Standing outside on the walkway outside the cinema after the film it seemed to take forever until the food arrived and was carried around by staff on platters as we all sought to grab some and fill our bellies while also grabbing a glass of something. Eventually those small tasty morsels add up and we were close to full. Most of my screenings at BIFF were solitary experiences maybe with one other person. I note that here I was with a group, an experience that has been repeated at the Alliance Francois French Film Festival and the Italian Film Festival but not often at BIFF. Although I’ve never gone to a screening alone since 2008 and this would start with BIFF 2010. I also saw Andre again who had made his first feature.

 

RESTREPO: Karen and I saw this American documentary the next day at Palace Barracks 2, Saturday 4pm 13NOV2018. Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington made the film while embedded with a platoon from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in the Korengal Valley for a year. The war in Afghanistan was ongoing at the time and Australian casualties were seeing a sharp rise. Film Festivals can’t help but reflect what is going on in culture at the time. Restrepo was an outpost named after Private First Class Juan Sebastian Restrepo a platoon medic who was killed. While the Korengal Valley was one of the hotspots of the war at the time the film footage reflects the confusion and fast movements of combat. The enemy is seldom seen and its hard to always know what is going on. A lot of action involves indiscriminate sudden rounds coming in and the outpost responding in kind but never really knowing the result. Afghan civilians and attempts to build things with them are shown too but there’s a definitely a feeling of disconnect. For the soldiers it boils down to missing home and girls and just trying to get by day by day. The most haunting part comes during Operation Rock Avalanche where in the heat of battle a soldier finds one of his friends mortally wounded and breaks down sobbing and wailing like a little boy. The striking reality of combat for all to see. An important film that should be seen by many.

 

I LOVE YO PHILLIP MORRIS: From Restrepo we headed to Palace Centro 1&2? (seriously the program says both) at 9pm Saturday 13NOV2018 to watch this French/U.S. co-production which sports one of the best Jim Carrey performances and some of Ewan McGregor’s more admirable work of recent years. Carrey plays a gay conman and McGregor his true love whom he met in prison. Even these handful of years earlier it was seen as unusual for two mainstream stars to be playing gay men whereas now we might complain if the roles weren’t cast with gay actors. I found their love scenes authentic and moving, the relationship is sweet and non-explicit anyway. Carrey delivers a great performance nonchalantly narrating throughout some classic lines but also evoking a real sense of hurt and longing near the end. Based on the life of Steven Jay Russell it is an affecting character study but there is not much else to it. We’re sad the two men are apart, we marvel at some of Carrey’s antics but in the end a criminal is in jail for ripping people off. What drives someone to do that? The film offers no answers.

 

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK: It’s hard to pick a favourite from the films I saw at BIFF 2010 but it may just be this film which we saw at Tribal Theatre 2 on Sunday 14NOV2010 at 4pm. I didn’t know a lot about Joan Rivers before watching this except for some plastic surgery jokes. What I found was a comedian whose humour I admired. An example is how clearly the pain her husband’s suicide caused her and the jokes  she relentlessly she brought to bear about it at her own expense to win you you over by sheer willpower. Whether you like her comedy or not this is a stirring examination of a late in life comedian’s unwavering work ethic and a fantastic pondering of what makes somebody like that tick. One of my favourite later Roger Ebert reviews is about this film and David Letterman I feel spoke so eloquently about the appeal of Rivers upon her passing in the clip below.

 

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MELANCHOLIA: I got married in 2011 and would not be surprised if we didn’t attend BIFF that year but its possible we saw Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia at Palace Centro as part of BIFF. This was BIFF’s 20th Anniversary so it’s nice to think I was there. Maybe it was later when the film received national release. New to Lars Von Trier’s style I found the story of a woman (Kirsten Dunst in an exceptional and difficult performance) seeing the impending doom of the Earth haunting and thought provoking. I saw it with Karen and our friends Rosie and Sandro who I wrote about a hike we took together here Sandro was a man’s man but also very kind and respectful at all times. I miss him. BIFF increased it’s slate of films and partnerships in 2011 and saw an increase in attendance and box office. Then there was a change of government.

 

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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY: In 2012 funds were tight but when I saw The Good, The Bad and The Ugly would be screening on a big screen at BIFF, we found a way and saw it at Palace Centro cinemas. There’s not a lot more I can add about that classic except if you haven’t you really should. At the time Sergio Leone’s westerns with their sweaty faced protagonists seemed like a like a new type of realism in the 1960s. Now with the anti-hero firmly established in popular culture, the mythic qualities of the storyteller get more recognition. It’s hard to argue he made a better film than this one but Once Upon A Time In The West makes a good case. The later film about the West giving way to modern society and with it the men who populated it. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly capping off a trilogy of bandits and mercenaries is meditative about violence and death with the American Civil War serving as a backdrop. A transformative score from Ennio Morricone and great performances from Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach.

I didn’t go to BIFF In 2013 even though money may have been less of an issue but the part time job did take up a lot of my time and energy. As it turned out this was the last Brisbane International Film Festival for some time. The Qld State Government cut funding through their organisation the Pacific Film & Television Commission (now Screen Queensland) which was mainly responsible for BIFF and in corralling several corporate sponsors. The Brisbane City Council stepped in and created the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival and a group of academics got together and created the Queensland Film Festival which is still going. This is very admirable but I’m afraid I attended neither, in the case of the former I was livid that BIFF had been stopped and effectively replaced by BAPFF. As late as mid-2017 I drew plans to write these series of posts to start an underground movement (not really?) to call for BIFF to be brought back and then a strange thing happened. They brought back BIFF. To be continued.

-Lloyd Marken

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GET READY TO BE DISAPPOINTED LIKE IT’S 1999 OR…

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This is it in another 24 hours Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be playing across cinemas in my local cinema and the world. This is the last day I will know as little as I do. The last day I won’t know the answer to a million questions like did Han and Leia stay together all those years since we last saw them? Why not? What has Luke been doing? Are the new characters related to any of the old characters and who out of them will be Force sensitive? It is the last day anybody will really discuss the quality of the trailers because afterwards it will only matter if the film was good. Perhaps most importantly it is the last day to be this excited about a new Star Wars movie. There is something about the thrill of the unknown and the advertised but not yet consumed product. Tomorrow you might see a movie which you love dearly and go back to see 2 or 3 times. You’ll never be this excited about it again.

Disney have played this well. That last trailer has to be the best trailer of the year but it works mostly if you’re a fan. Recent trailers for blockbusters this past month have been shoddy when compared to the marketing for this movie. They’ve put the new characters Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren front and centre because they are where the franchise is heading and these films have to speak to a demographic that at best grew up on the prequels. Rey says she’s no one but we know she is going to prove to everybody she is someone. She dreams of adventure and seeing beyond where she grew up. A young man once looked out at two suns and thought similar thoughts. Finn does not know his purpose anymore or even who he is. We know he will find out both in this story. These are questions all of us ask of ourselves at different points of our lives but most keenly when we are young. Audiences could relate to Luke Skywalker in his dreams for adventure in the original Star Wars. Rey and Finn will do this for another generation.

Speaking of generations the trailers suggest Han Solo and Chewbacca will be guides for Rey and Finn throughout this universe and keepers of past stories much like millions of parents will be as they take their kids to see this space opera which is kind of like Guardians of the Galaxy only less funny sweetie. “A Jedi. The Dark Side. It’s true, all of it.” Han says in the trailer and these are the kind of words you would tell a child when telling Star Wars as a bed time story.

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For my generation they’ve handed out nostalgia hits with John Williams score and money shots of the Millennium Falcon which paradoxically may not hold much appeal for Millennials. But make no mistake this is the ultimate 4 quadrant hit. When the Falcon moved into hyper drive and the score kicked in I felt goose bumps all over. At the end when Lupita Nyongo told me “The Force it’s calling to you…just let it in.” the Meta was strong with me. A million fans who felt burned by the prequels would’ve all felt the same way – she’s talking to me directly and I do want to let it in. I don’t think it’s unnatural to feel directly addressed by a trailer and yet share that feel with millions. These are films after all that make fans feel a tremendous sense of ownership. Look at the furore over Greedo shot first and the insistence that is it Star Wars not Episode 4: A New Hope!

Disappointment over J.J. Abrahams last film Star Trek: Into Darkness has tempered some expectations but his Super 8 felt so much like a movie from the 1980s made for kids that I believe Abrahams will nail the feel of the original trilogy’s world. I’ll make a prediction here and now and it’s the safest bet. It will be good, it won’t be terrible and it’s won’t be great. It can’t be 1977 again. The freshness is gone. I suppose Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed and Skyfall felt like films of their franchise but reinvented for a new modern age and as good as anything that came before. Maybe Star Wars could do that too and I hope it does but that is a hell of a thing to pull off and even then can it possibly meet the expectations set by that final trailer?

Part of what has me nervous is how excited I was when The Phantom Menace trailer dropped back in the day. It’s fascinating to look back now and see bits of scenes that were awful in it. Look Obi Wan is shaking Jake Lloyd’s hand but that’s the kid that says “Now this is pod racing.” All that CGI which at the time was exciting because we’d never seen anything like it and the scale was so impressive. We couldn’t tell how fake it was all going to look. There’s Jar Jar Binks getting zapped by the engines but we didn’t know how maligned his character would be. Jar Jar, Watto, battle droids these were impressively rendered CGI aliens who opened up the scope of the universe like the aliens in the original had. Lots of space battles. None of that suggested the endless boring political subplot. Ewan McGregor sounded so much like Obi-Wan I wondered if he’d been dubbed by Sir Alec Guinness who was still alive at the time. Yoda my favourite character was back and his dialogue was good and Samuel L. Jackson was going to be a motherfucking Jedi!!! It’s pretty fashionable these days to hate the prequels and my sentiments are with the original trilogy but I’ve got to say I don’t hate them. There are things I find in all of them worthwhile. In The Phantom Menace I really like Qui-Gon Jinn as a character and I think Darth Maul was suitably awesome as someone who made two Jedis look brave for going up against him. The Pod Race was fantastic and meeting Anakin as a slave’s child on Tatooine was a really interesting choice. But I digress. I went to a midnight screening with two friends from high school. I was 18 and about to leave uni in my first year. We caught a cab into the city afterwards just to walk through it in the middle of the night. Desperate for freedom and to see the world, like a certain young Skywalker I guess. Dissecting everything, discussing where to go in the sequels we liked it but things nagged at us. The biggest thing for me was the flow of the film, the dialogue often seemed stilted and the scenes rushed quickly by but paradoxically dragged as well. To me the story settled down best on Tatooine but the beginning I had found very jolting.

If anything makes me real nervous it is that we haven’t seen any scenes from the film yet. I don’t know if the dialogue will not flow any better than a prequel at this point in time but JJ and Lawrence Kasdan haven’t written bad dialogue in the past so I remain hopeful. I’ll be honest as a teenager back in 1994 I read George Lucas was going to make new Star Wars movies and I got really excited. The original trilogy had alluded to such a rich history and vast universe that my head spun with the possibilities. Yet even as a teenager I sat and wondered if Lucas could still make good movies. Radioland Murders, Tucker, Howard the Duck and Willow were in the rear view mirror at that point. I was right to be worried then. I hope I am right to be optimistic now. One more day and we’ll know. May the Force Be With You.

-Lloyd Marken

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