IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD: Again Mike was steering me to good things with his recommendation of Japanese animated films. On a whim I choose to see a Japanese animated film that was screening at BIFF 2017. On a quiet Sunday afternoon 27AUG2017 Karen and I arrived at Palace Barracks for a 12:45pm session and I saw the best film of the year. Set before and during World War II, it followed the story of one young girl’s personal growth into a woman set against the backdrop of Japan’s transformation during those years ending with the agony of defeat and the simple need to rebuild no matter the trauma if there is to be a better tomorrow. A film that took Japan 70 years to make but it is a timely reminder of the true losers in war and the hope that comes from tomorrow. I was later lucky enough to have my review of the film published in the magazine FilmInk but I never see truly happy with the words I use to recommend it. See it for yourself.
CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY: Monday night after work Karen and I went to Palace Centro Cinema 7 to see the American documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City at 6pm. Some good documentaries have screened at BIFF and Citizen Jane had a lot to say about rising populations and the urban housing projects of yesteryear. There are many lessons that could be learnt from the showdown between activitst Jane Jacobs and urban planner Robert Moses in mid-20th Century New York that is relevant to today. Yet as the film went on I found myself asking for a different viewpoint, it seemed the film lacked any nuance or alternative argument. It wanted to celebrate Jane and belabour these foolish men who had built buildings but torn down communities. A under-resourced but indomitable spirit and intelligent mind going up against big interest groups is compelling to be sure but I couldn’t help but feel there was more to it than that. That Jane Jacobs had got it right and if not for her efforts we would have lost out more but why she had to fight, whether there were good intentions gone wrong there, what the solutions ultimately are for us now in the 21st century I felt the film could have gotten into a bit more. By not presenting somebody from the other side arguing their case you don’t really have a debate that you win. Just an echo chamber that feeds your narrative. Still maybe I was tired, I think I may have nodded off for a little and it wasn’t a bad film by an means.
THE WAY STATION: Wednesday night 30AUG2017, 6pm we went to Palace Barracks Cinema 1 for The Way Station from Vietnam. Trumpeted it as a seminal moment in the history of the Vietnamese film industry it was a gala screening we attended. Directed by Hong Anh a famous actress in Vietnam it won best film, best actor and best cinematography at the ASEAN film awards. Not bad for her feature debut. It follows the story of a young man who gets work in the kitchen at a small restaurant and starts to learn the secrets of the compound he lives and works in. It was a passion project for Hong Anh and it deals with ideas of gender, sex and family. We had a Q&A afterwards with Hong Anh and 2017 Festival Co-Director Maxine Williamson and something that impressed was her discussion of how to shoot the space of the restaurant. For me they did a great job of keeping it interesting, maintaining clear sense of geography and also bringing forth such a strong sense of place that it almost becomes another character. In some ways this a tragic story and I can’t deny that it was not one of my favourites but it was shot well, had interesting ideas and took me to another small pocket of the world I had never been in which I what I love best about the films I see at BIFF. Afterwards we came outside to eat food put on by the nearby Libertines which Karen and I both love. These included little bamboo boats with mushrooms dumplings inside them.
After seeing Raw starting a tradition of Grilled Burgers while on assignment. Copyright Lloyd Marken
I probably wanted to be more Steven Spielberg than Roger Ebert growing up. Maybe Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford perhaps. But whenever I thought about film critics it just sounded like the best every day job you could have if you didn’t get to be a movie star. In 2004 in my final year of uni I had a film review published and it kind of made a dream come true but despite a few follow up efforts nothing really came of it. 2017 is many years on from 2004 so you can understand that when Scenestr published a film review of mine it was not something I took for granted. Suddenly things were possible, I set goals but remained scared this had been a fluke or I’d be found out. Since though I’ve submitted successfully to five publications, seen countless shows and films and interviewed some remarkable individuals. So I thought I would take stock because in April last year the idea of being published 100 times seemed very far away.
I’ve been published 9 times with Perth based X-Press Magazine recently, 8 times with Buzz Magazine where I mostly get to write about blockbusters, 25 times with Heavy Magazine, once with FilmInk magazine and I’m counting the review with Utopia from all those years ago. Rounding out the 100 is the 56 times (20 interviews, 16 reviews of theatre shows, 15 film reviews and 5 stand-up performances) I have been published with Scenestr magazine produced by the incredible team at Eyeball Media Enterprises.
This would maybe be the part where I tell you what some of the highlights were for me but they were all highlights so instead I’d like put it out to you gentle reader. Was there a review or an interview that you read over the past year that you still remember and think was kinda cool? It’s a tricky question I know, of those I regularly follow I couldn’t tell you their favourite posts. I liked when you got married or talked about Warren Zevon or waxed lyrical about Meg Ryan or said the Girl from Ipanema was a good song and quoted Frasier or wrote about your girl or hung shit on a bad teen comedy or relayed the sad facts of a long ago war. But maybe your memory is better than mine so who knows but I’d be interested to hear what you think.
As for me I just count myself very lucky to get this side gig and have it continue and that you here in my small blogging community continue to support me. It means a lot.
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 LifeNot Reviewed **1/2
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.
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.
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?“.
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.
I was a student at the Queensland University of Technology 2003-2004. I graduated with a Bachelor of Creative Industries (Creative Writing). Having knocked off a year of electives from previous study at Griffith University I went from kind of a ‘first year’ mode in 2003 to ‘shit we’re about to graduate mode’ in 2004. I was not a good student but in my last semester I tried to seek out some opportunities, I did a work elective where I wrote the newspaper for the Brisbane Writer’s Festival with a small group of fellow students, I submitted a short story to be published in a book of student’s collections ( I was rejected and received feedback that included “a patchwork of movie cheese”), I volunteered at the Brisbane International Film Festival and submitted reviews to a film website that were rejected, and I submitted a film review to the student guild magazine Utopia.
Coming out of a lecture one day with one of my friends we walked past a tray of the latest Utopia. As I was leafing through it, he mentioned “I’m in it, you’re in it too.” I became very excited, repeating back to him “I’m in it?!”. I couldn’t tell if he was taking the piss or not as I scrambled to find where. I’ll never forget when I saw my byline. It just looked so damn beautiful. I hadn’t been notified by the Utopia staff. I confirmed later you got paid for submissions. In my last year I was over at Kelvin Grove campus but the offices for the magazine were over at Gardens Point. After the semester had ended I finally went into Gardens Point and picked up a cheque for $15.00. I was a university student then and while it wouldn’t go far every $15.00 helped. I never cashed the cheque. I wanted it as a memory of the first time somebody paid me for my writing. This in my mind made me a writer. It certainly is one of those things in life where only you can take what it means to you, away from you.
I submitted another story to Utopia but they didn’t publish it. The following year I walked around to every film studio and producer in Brisbane and dropped off my resume. I only heard back from two to say they weren’t hiring but wished me the best of luck. I had one interview with one film production company which I really enjoyed but I didn’t get the job. In 2006 I went back to university. In 2007 I was a gopher on a film set and in 2008 I met my wife. Life got away but I started blogging, and more so when I did my Graduate Certificate in 2015, and buoyed by the community I found online and engaged with I submitted reviews to film websites I followed. Only a couple and I never heard back.
I decided to try somewhere more local last year and submitted to Scenestr which had been Scene magazine when I was at university. The editor there liked my review and on the 23rd of February, 2017 my review for Hidden Figures was published on their website and they put me on the e-mail list of their freelance contributors. In the year since I’ve become a regular contributor to Scenestr (44 – 15 interviews, 13 film reviews, 13 theatre reviews, 3 stand-up reviews), Heavy (22), Buzz (8) and X-Press (5). I’ve also had one of my reviews published with FilmInk. That’s 80 published pieces in the past year. It is not how I make my living, that I must be clear about, but it allows me to pretend I’m a writer, film critic, an interviewer. Because for small pockets of time it is what I do and I work hard at it and I do get compensated for it. So I guess I’m a writer no matter how much money I make. I’m a writer again just like I was when that film review got published in the guild magazine over a decade ago and I’m very grateful to be able to say that. 81 and counting.
We’re getting towards the end of year and people start to reflect on what their best films of the year have been. I’ll probably do a list in March next year when all the Oscar releases have come out in Australia. Three though are already on the list as a given and they are Dunkirk and Blade Runner: 2049. The third was a film we saw in September at the Brisbane International Film Festival from Japan called In This Corner Of The World. An animated film about the war years in the Japanese homeland it is a moving tale about the growth of young woman amidst such turmoil. The Australian release date 7th of December coincides with the remembrance of the bombing of Pearl Harbour which would have been an oversight if it had been the U.S. release date but that was the 11th of August and the film has already been seen in most parts of the world. Now it will be Australia’s turn and I highly urge people to seek it out.
I don’t think it is my best review but I have been lucky enough to have it published at a new publication FilmInk. FilmInk are celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year having gone through several evolutions starting out as a fortnightly free press to a monthly digest sold in newsagents to a monthly free press distributed in cinemas to a premium bimonthly magazine and now Australia’s premiere online magazine. They’re continuing to evolve too moving to cover more streaming and television programs and increase their video content. They are major partners with the Gold Coast Film Festival and the Supernova Pop Culture Expos. As someone who still has quite a few old issues of the magazine that I bought over the years it is quite a thrill to now say I contributed a review to FilmInk.