I returned to the Brisbane International Film Festival October 23, 2021 as a freelance writer for Scenestr. Having a long association with the festival going back to the days when I used to be a Volunteer at it, it was a particular joy to get to review so many films at the Festival for Scenestr. As it always with such a wonderful program there were plenty of films I would have liked to have seen but did not get the chance one of them being You Can Drive My Car which went on to win an Oscar for Best International Feature Film. Others were The Worst Person in the World and Zola. I do have to say I feel like those films found audiences in any event and the films I got to see and maybe champion are still to be discovered.
BIFF was under new management having switched from the Gallery of Modern Art to be run for the next three years by Film Fantastic Limited who have been responsible for several years for the running of the Gold Coast Film Festival.
Following the film there was a Question and Answer session with the two “stars” of the documentary Phil Robinson and Tim Boyle, editor Navas Illava and writer/director Neil McGregor led by film academic Ruari Elkington. One of the pleasures of such film festival screenings and particularly special when it is something home grown.
Arriving at Newmarket Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Next up I went to New Farm Cinemas that afternoon and discovered a new Italian place outside the cinema named Ombra. It is just a fairly small place, beautifully decorated and with friendly staff who served delicious meals at reasonable prices. I fell in love with it immediately and have gone back from time to time with Karen who was sadly not joining me for these BIFF screenings.
Copyright Lloyd Marken
Inside OMBRA before the dinner crowds. Copyright Lloyd Marken
Copyright Lloyd Marken
Oh my God this was so delicious. Copyright Lloyd Marken
Preview of things to come. Copyright Lloyd Marken
Painting of new releases outside New Farm Cinemas. Copyright Lloyd Marken
A rainbow. Copyright Lloyd Marken
I was in attendance at New Farm to watch eight locally produced shorts, I found something to commend about all eight of them but a personal favourite was James Latter’s Home. I also found Stephen Lance’s Torch Song riveting and was touched by Loani Arman’s Our Greatest Escape.
There were quite a few people packing into the New Farm lobby waiting for this one.
It was such a joy to be back at the Brisbane International Film Festival and to be reviewing so many movies and Undine was easily one of best films of the year.
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.
A little later than usual this year but here is my third annual favorite films of the year list. I was fortunate with my freelance work, Karen winning comps and just being in a general a regular cinemagoer to see 58 films either in cinemas, via screeners or released via Netflix. This includes films that were 2018 American releases but reached Australian cinemas early 2019 hence why this list is always a little delayed. I’ve also been part of end of year lists for X-Press Magazine and put together an end of year list for HEAVY magazine which includes disappointments and surprises for the year in cinema.
There were some films I’m sad to say I haven’t got around to seeing yet that I think might have made the list if I had, Sorry To Bother You, If Beale Street Could Talk, BlacKkKlansman, Cold War, Isle of Dogs and most of all You Were Never Really Here and Won’t You Be My Neighbour? So that tradition continues for another year but this is a list of the ones I did see below. I had a good run of films at the Brisbane International Film Festival this year and some screeners for my work for X-Press magazine turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding films of the year. Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.
It is just as well this list is called My Favourite Films of the Year rather than the Best of. It’s hard to remember the distinction sometimes and to make peace with those that end up in the Top 10 and those that don’t even rate a mention. The Mission Impossible films are style over substance, nothing has quite matched the 1996 original and yet in director/scribe Christopher McQuarrie they have found something new that works. They’re all set up and payoff for mind blowing action but cleverly staged with tongue firmly in cheek. In briefing rooms characters murmur about their past and stare off into the distance but the best performers are those who convey much with little. Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby I’m looking at you. My father once told me the James Bond books by Ian Fleming were light fare but the character of Bond became more whole and nuanced as you read more of them and that is the case with Ethan Hunt and his movies and to a lesser extent his team. McQuarrie plays with the history finally and gets some good results. There was a moment with a sweeping shot of Tom Cruise running across a rooftop with a panoramic view of London and I just thought who the hell else is making movies like this anymore with a movie star. Barring Christopher Nolan, the answer is no one and Nolan doesn’t shoot action like this.
For a while there, Roma was the frontrunner for Best Picture and I would’ve been perfectly happy if it had won. Roma is gorgeous, spiritual, moving and audacious. For the first time in my life I saw a film on my television and I thought it really needed to be seen on the big screen. The fact that it was Netflix release is beyond ironic. Things seem to be happening in the foreground that are missed way too often. I admire the approach of director Alfonso Cuaron demanding that we pay attention, meditate on what is being shown and consider our own lives and what is truly important. There are scenes that I still think about now that exemplify his skills as a master storyteller. The central performance by Yalitza Aparicio is one for the ages. Yet some things, passed me by, some things dragged on too long and some things were hard to take in on the TV. I really wonder if seeing it on the big screen really would’ve rendered a completely different experience?
Brushing aside Oscar controversies, the behaviour of Spike Lee who if he was white would have been called a sore loser, I’d ask you to reflect on this film on its own merits. Maybe you will find it lacking and if you do that’s fine and valid. Me? Well I liked it, the audience I saw it with liked it, they laughed and cried in all the right places. Just like they had in Hidden Figures or Darkest Hour or any other number of mainstream history films where filmmakers seek to evoke emotions and play things as broadly as possible. Maybe you wanted something more incendiary or original and I hear you but I liked this movie. I liked the central relationship, I liked how it made me feel and I liked what happened to the characters along the way and how they could be honest about where they started. This was definitely one of the best films I saw last year.
The Old Man and The GunNot Reviewed ***1/2
Seldom is a film star alllowed to retire with grace in a bookend project that recognises all that comes before but stands on its own. It would have been nice to have Gene Hackman or Sean Connery awarded a similar swansong but at least Robert Redford got this film. Filmed to look the time period of the early 1980s it is set in, it follows Redford as an ageing bank robber Forrest Tucker but the one last heist angle is given a twist here. Redford imbues Tucker with all his weathered charm yet one of the most admirable aspects of the film is the way it subtly reveals the cost of a career in crime. Tucker may appear a gentleman but that does not mean there has been no collateral damage from his activities and being a charming isn’t the same as being there. Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck support him well in their own performances. It’s simple tale well told, dripping with nostalgia and charm but also a little edge.
Annihilation is not a fun movie but it will become a modern sci-fi classic. A mystery at the centre of it is genuinely thought provoking and the film proves unsettling with no real easy answers and horrifying images. The complex characters don’t ask for your sympathy either. This may be the scariest film of the year. The lack of success for the film and its distribution by Netflix worldwide speaks to the changing nature of blockbusters in Hollywood but as long as people like Alex Garland get to tell stories we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
7.The EndlessPublished at X-Press Magazine 29MAR18 ***1/2
Cracking the Top 5 is Ladies in Black, an Australian film from director Bruce Beresford about a young girl Lisa (Angourie Rice) coming of age in post-war Australia. There were times I thought of my own parents and the households they grew up in and the friendships they made during this movie. It’s true the film is gentle and broad and comforting in a way that it could have chosen not to be but in looking back it is a reminder that change has always been present and always navigated by the young and old. There is a moment when a young couple talk about their past lives while looking out over a mountain range. In the end while they’re honest about the past they choose to not dwell on it but to move forward and it is one of my favourite scenes.
4.In the AislesNot Reviewed But Mentioned in Our BIFF 2018 Coverage ****
Seen at BIFF 2018, In The Aisles is a film I hope many others discover in time. Set around a night shift of retail workers it is meticulously constructed and moving. We get to know these people but only gradually outside of the prism of who they are at work. The film understands the landscape of the shelves, the grace of the pallet jacks, the secrets of the back rooms, the tensions of the work parties and the longings created by a staff member not showing up. It is aware that while not all of who we are is what we do at work it is where most of our waking hours are spent and how much purpose and identity the roles and relationships we have there give us. Just a fantastic movie.
3.The FavouriteBeing Edited ****
A perfectly rendered period film with a little bit of edge to it. Forget all the talk about historical accuracy, the film is a character piece about three fascinating women and the changing nature of their relationship. The three leads Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revel in the opportunity to sink their teeth into such meaty parts too. There is some very clever choices made visually which harken back to different periods and commentary on gender tropes throughout. “We begin with Queen Anne guided by Lady Churchill almost maternally. Weisz cuts a figure often in men’s clothes, constantly shooting off rifles in the field and meeting the gaze and remarks of the men of parliament as she runs the country. Queen Anne relies on her a great deal for confidence and affection and Lady Churchill never lies to her about anything. Enter the younger impoverished cousin of Sarah Churchill, Abigail Hill. She needs work and patronage and we find out quickly that she is a survivor.“
Well that’s it for another year, hope you enjoyed and please feel free to share your own thoughts and feelings about your favourite films from 2018. I’m also sharing Honest Trailers Oscar 2019 from the team at Screen Junkies or as they are now called Fandom Entertainment.
THE CAMERAMAN: I’m not an expert on Buster Keaton, having only seen The General many years ago at BIFF 2005 but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out another one of his films screening at BIFF 2018. Arriving solo on an early Saturday morning 20OCT2018 at the Gallery of Modern Art South Bank I quickly saw a line backed up outside the entrance to the 11am session. Clearly I was not the only who thought this was a good idea. On the 80th anniversary of The General I watched the great organ player Ron West accompany live, and here on the 90th anniversary of The Cameraman I was to see David Bailey play the gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer which came up out of the stage just beneath the screen. The audience was amused by his inventive addition of the iconic Jaws theme amongst other playful choices.
The line for The Cameraman. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
David Bailey performing. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Where the opening party was held. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
The Cameraman was a crossroads for Keaton, the silent era was fading, he lost creative control in his ventures and his personal life was about to go through an upheaval. In some ways The Cameraman is the last great Buster Keaton film despite him going on for quite some time after. The audience was full of all types of people drawn to the opportunity to see something as unique as a silent film. The print had long been believed lost and the film survives today as a mesh between two old prints. In some ways Keaton’s old movie seems more grand now, in an era of CGI effects I heard one youngster marvel they must have built that whole set for such a short gag, Keaton’s stunt work and balletic grace remains impressive even if it is reported he was not allowed to do them all himself this time around. Some things have dated its true, you can see the construction of how we’re meant to feel but the reason why these films remain timeless is the same reason they had such broad appeal back in the day. The characters were archetypes, the story simple and the gags broad because that is what it makes them universal. Seeing The Cameraman at BIFF 2018 was a treat. Afterwards David Bailey received an ovation.
IN THE AISLES: The next day Karen and I went and saw at 3:45pm at New Farm Cinemas In The Aisles which was in a way a choice made jointly by Karen and I after she got Arctic and I got Ash Is Purest White. From Germany and starring Sandra Huller, Franz Rogowski and Peter Kurth it tells the story of a night shift at a retail store in Germany. A few things came flooding back to me of my time working at BIG W as a young man, the veteran who knew all the good hiding spots, the jittery movements of using a power pallet jack for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect with In The Aisles a romcom that turns dark maybe but instead I got a powerful character piece about three people. There is so much care in every frame and shot of this film from Thomas Stuber that perfectly creates the geography of the store and being out of it. Delicate dialogue that says enough of the characters thoughts but not all of it and the way that the people who knew you at work know you in a way your family never will and vice versa. That they are a family of sorts. I don’t know if it will create the buzz needed but it would be no injustice if this received a nomination for Best Foreign Film at this years’ Oscars. I also noted that seeing a film at an old cinema like the New Farm Cinemas made it feel more like BIFF for me and reminded me the Old Regent Cinemas.
Gilda poster at New Farm Cinemas. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
Rainy BIFF. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
New Farm Cinemas. Copyright Lloyd Marken.
BIFF 2018 for me at least will go down as a particularly rainy BIFF. Also my suggestion would be to move the dates back to the traditional late July Early August run rather than having BIFF running the same time as the Byron Bay Film Festival and I wouldn’t mind seeing Palace as one of the venue partners in future. However I saw some fantastic movies at BIFF 2018 which was a relief since there were so many good ones on offer. I didn’t cover the globe as much but I saw 7 films, two from Australia, three from Europe, an American classic and one from Asia. Only one of them bad. Still have not gotten around to seeing an Iranian film at BIFF yet and there were plenty on offer this year. I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of callbacks to earlier BIFFs and earlier films I had seen there, that is the nature of film festivals I guess. One thing I am very excited about is Artistic Director Amanda Slack-Smith continuing in the role and seeing what she comes up with next year.