The Brisbane International Film Festival‘s triumphant return in 2017 included many features long missed. There was a Baltic spotlight, short films, world premieres, a showcase of Masters, opening and closing night film (The Square and The Go-Betweens: Right Here which I was lucky enough to see at the Byron Bay Film Festival and placed in my Top 5 Films of last year) and a retrospective on Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev which included Return, The Banishment, Elena and Leviathan with at its centrepiece his latest film Loveless. Buying tickets we wanted to cast a wide net and I also wanted Karen to get some picks in plus schedule around our jobs. We missed The Baltic Spotlight also in the running was Ali’s Wedding, Loving Vincent (Karen has since seen it), Maudie and Loveless (alas two Canadian films too including one directed by Bruce McDonald who did The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess from BIFF 2005), Last Men in Aleppo and Returnee from Kazakhstan (just the type of obscure foreign film that can transport you to another place on Earth at street level so to speak), Aussie flick Watch the Sunset and Karen was keen on My Year with Helen. Saw none of them but I was very grateful to be back at BIFF seeing multiple films. It perhaps should be noted that beyond the focus of a film festival most of these films missed I have not gotten around to seeing which I think there is something in that. A film festival really elevates and spotlights interesting movies.
THE PARTY: This was one of Karen’s choices (although it had been on my shortlist) which we went to see late Wednesday night 23AUG2018 at The Palace Barracks Cinema 1 at 8:15pm. It was the ninth anniversary of the first date I went on with Karen. So we had dinner beforehand at Libertine restaurant which included delicious crab sliders, beef san choi bao and delicious cocktails.
Copyright Lloyd Marken
Copyright Lloyd Marken
The Party shot in black and white and directed by Sally Potter follows a dinner party of well to do privileged members of class celebrating the hostess Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) having ascended into the parliament ministry. Of course as the guests arrive simmering tensions come to the boil from old friends, partners and unexpected guests. Just describing it gets me all excited about the possibilities but alas I found the characters for the most part unlikeable and the comedy lacking. One of those films where people think they are cleverer and funnier than what they actually are and more is the pity given the extraordinary cast including Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy and Timothy Spall but there you have it. Karen on the other hand loved it so they’ve got that going for them.
FUN MOM DINNER: Now to another of Karen’s choices in the form of a comedy from America starring the amazingly talented Toni Collette in what has to be arguably the worst movie I saw last year and probably one of the worst if not worst films I ever at the Brisbane International Film Festival. It was Friday 25AUG2018 at 6pm Palace Centro Cinema 7.
Okay it’s a film about mums having a night out on the town, a more mature and nuanced attempt at the premise of Bad Moms except well that film was funnier and better. Sorry. I admire the ambition to go deeper in terms of characterisation but the film is trying to have it both way by remaining a broad comedy. Classic example, two Mums don’t like each other so they light up a joint and hilarity and reconciliation ensues. Except it doesn’t. Bridget Everett’s character ran the gamut between being obnoxiously opinionated and bossy (at both the beginning and end – did her character learn nothing during the course of the story) and honest and profound at tother times. The only shining light was Molly Shannon’s take on a older divorcee trying to find her way back to true confidence and happiness. There are good ideas but close to zero good execution. Even in the most lacklustre films I’ve seen at BIFF I”ve been able to defend the ambition and lack of funds of new filmmakers, originality of ideas, the transformative ability of taking me to another culture and landscape. Maybe I’m harsher on Fun Mom Dinner because it takes me to California, had the benefit of some money and is totally unoriginal but when I think of the worst film I saw last year this always comes to mind. Bad Mommy, Bad Mommy and not in a fun way.
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.