MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019

Image result for first man

It is time once again to do my annual favourite films of the year list which allows for late 2019 American releases to reach Australian shores. What was a little interesting for me this year is I saw less films on the big screen or through their streaming services. From a total of 57 last year I went down to only 45 this year.

There were a lot of good films I saw, and it was no struggle to think of a top five but I did find it difficult to fill out a list of 10 films for the Honourable Mentions. Maybe the depth of quality wasn’t there this year or maybe as in every other year I missed a lot of good ones.

I hear good things about Waves and Honey Boy, I’m intrigued by The Peanut Butter Falcon and I have just seen on DVD Best Picture winner Parasite. I really want to see Apollo 11, Ad Astra, Booksmart, The Lighthouse, Richard Jewell, Pain and Glory, For Sama and The Farewell. Just a random observation, some of the best films I saw this year centred around men in crisis.

With the close of the fourth decade I have lived through I got thinking about an end of decade list which also got me thinking about how certain films are lauded in their year of release but you don’t often go back and think on them. If anyone is interested I couldn’t imagine Warrior and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy not featuring on that decade list. I think Black Swan, The Tree of Life, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dunkirk would all stand a good chance of making it. 20th Century Women I think too and maybe Nocturnal Animals. Films like Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, Ladies in Black and In The Aisles have stayed with me. But high fliers like First Man, In This Corner of the World, Eye in the Sky, A Star Is Born, Blade Runner 2049 would not be a given but I sure like to think they’d be in that list.  It is interesting how time redefines classics.

Star ratings are on a four star scale as per the reviews I read from the late great film critic Roger Ebert.

 

Alita: Battle Angel Published at Scenestr 12FEB19 ***

Captain Marvel Published at Scenestr 06MAR19 ***

Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Published at Scenestr 20MAR19 ***

The Trouble With You Not Reviewed **

Shazam Not Reviewed ***

Hellboy Published at Scenestr 11APR19 **1/2

Red Joan Published at X-Press Magazine 06JUN19 ***

Godzilla II: King of the Monsters Published at Scenestr 31MAY19 **1/2

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Not Reviewed *1/2

Men in Black: International Not Reviewed **1/2

Toy Story 4 Not Reviewed **1/2

Always Be My Maybe Not Reviewed ***

Late Night Not Reviewed **1/2

Shaft Not Reviewed **1/2

IT: Chapter 2 Not Reviewed **1/2

Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark Published at Scenestr 29SEP19 ***

Little MonstersPublished at Weekend Notes 13OCT19 ***

Chained for Life Not Reviewed **1/2

Zombieland: Double Tap Not Reviewed **

Terminator: Dark Fate Published at Scenestr 01NOV19 **

El Camino Not Reviewed **1/2

Dolemite Is My Name Not Reviewed ***

Knives Out Not Reviewed ***

The Rise of Skywalker Not Reviewed *1/2

Jojo Rabbit Not Reviewed **1/2

 

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Image result for hobbs and shaw gifs

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Published at Scenestr 01AUG19 ***

Hobbs and Shaw is fine perfectly fine fun entertainment. There is no real sense of stakes even though apparently the world needs saving, there’s no real characters here but just the established personalities of Statham and The Rock that we enjoy hanging with and seeing playing off of each other.

I was surprised after seeing how crazy cool Idris Elba was as Luther that he did not make much of a compelling nor threatening bad guy. Even winning a fist fight in an early scene doesn’t make him a threat because our heroes always manage to get away from him. Early Terminator films managed this while still maintaining the villain was a threat.

For a series that has done a lot of things practically the Fast and Furious series is really embracing the CGI these days and it just makes the action scenes have less impact. Still Vanessa Kirby knows the value of a good stare down the lens, there is still wit in the dialogue, two great cameos and some fun with the action choreography.

Alita: Battle Angel almost made the grade instead, for all that film’s flaws I think I cared more about the characters in it but Hobbs & Shaw is a more streamlined product. The fact this film made the list reflects poorly on the list rather than well on Hobbs & Shaw but it was fun to watch.

The ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is one of those Hollywood fairytales they tell little studio execs to help them drift off to sleep when they’re worried about the changing nature of the global box office.

Image result for the spider-man far from home

Spider-Man: Far From Home Not Reviewed ***

Another perfectly fine blockbuster, this one a sequel and a comic book film. What director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers still get right is the teenage stuff. The previous Spider-Man film worked as a high school comedy and this one suffers from a couple of issues, first a lot has happened in the MCU since the last film and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is suffering a loss and needing guidance as he matures but the metaphor doesn’t land as well as it did in the last film.

Jake Gyllenhaal is kind of the older cool kid who betrays you? Whatever. Still there are some cool sequences, great laughs and at least here the filmmakers invest in giving their character a real arc and growth compared to most other 2019 blockbusters.

Sadly the MJ (Zendaya) love story had a lot of beats we’re become familiar with after two decades and three iterations of the couple on screen. I’m hoping the filmmakers can right the ship for the trilogy closer and get back to bringing something new to the screen that is still true to Peter Parker. But a perfectly enjoyable comic book movie.

Image result for memory: the origins of alien

Memory: The Origins of Alien Published at Weekend Notes 13OCT19 ***

This documentary which I caught at the Brisbane International Film Festival 2019 worked best when telling the life of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. It was interesting to look at such a celebrated film as Alien and analyse how its themes are still relevant and hear some of the stories behind the scenes.

We learn a lot about the importance of H.R. Giger’s design, the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and the steely determination and creative sensibilities of Scott just one feature into his career. We also reflect on how ground-breaking the ideas of Alien were and how much the film stands up decades on where others may have dated.

Image result for john wick 3

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Published at X-Press Magazine 16MAY19 ***

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat, John Wick 3 isn’t even the best John Wick movie, I’m not particularly excited at the prospect of a John Wick 4. There are a million things I could complain about in this film. Yes it is an example of style of substance but God damnit could we please have some substance. Atomic Blonde is cut from the same cloth and is a better film.

And yet… and yet I think about the fight with the library or in the knife museum and my heart just swells to know there are still people prepared to put this much thought and wit and inventiveness and craft into their action scenes. If they could do the same to the rest of their filmmaking we’d really have something on our hands here but for now this film will nonetheless be talked about 10 years from now for the fight scenes. There is a lot to enjoy here.

The evergreen Keanu Reeves is back as the titular assassin John Wick and he’s all out of the bubblegum he was chewing in Speed, so now he’s just kicking butt. In the original film, there was the first act’s slow burn observation of Wick retired and grieving his wife. If the sequels have lacked this mystery and heart, Reeves has continued to give it his all.

Image result for making waves the art of making cinematic sound

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound Not Reviewed ***

As a fan of cinema this documentary was quite interesting, it give a brief summation of the history of sound effects in film and how much it adds to the cinematic experience.

There was a heavy focus on films from the 1970s and the genius of Walter Murch and Ben Burtt who added so much to classics from that era and revolutionised the industry.

However there were some great stories of trailblazing women in the industry like Barbara Streisand and Cecilia Hall and I wondered what other stories there are to tell form more recent times.

Ford vs. Ferrari Not Reviewed ***

My Uncle raced cars and bikes and God knows what else. A mechanic by trade he ended up becoming an Engineer. I hear my Grandfather when he got his first car as a middle aged father was a bit of a boy racer. My father was not a boy racer and yet when I mentioned this film to him he told me all about Le Mans in the 1960s and the showdown between two legendary car companies and families.

The trailers will have you believe this is a racing car movie and I suppose that is fair. There is racing in it quite a bit and it is done well. Yet in telling a real life story director James Mangold does not skirt some harsh realities that transpired here.

This is really about the passing of a time where great individuals could do great things but they had to navigate the corporate world to do it. Company boards and stocks were becoming a thing and visionaries couldn’t just build the fastest car in the world in their garage. If the film is to be believed they could still sure as hell rip apart the engine in the shop with a wrench and hammer and figure out how to make it go faster than a computer. But that time was coming to an end and this film is about how to navigate the new world with an old dreamer’s ambition.

It’s funny then to finding ourselves rooting for the designer/former racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver/mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) working for the car company Ford that made its name on the innovation of the factory production line going up against Enzo Ferrari who truly loved cars and racing and whose company today still makes their cars “by hand”.

In Shelby’s struggle to get the GT40 made and to have Ken Miles race it at Le Mans, James Mangold and his team have obviously seen similarities to their own struggles to realise visions in storytelling within the workings of a major film studio. Miles is the best racer for the job and that is not a good enough reason for Ford to have him behind the wheel though it should be the ONLY reason.

A wonderful tale about pursuing excellence in your life and the possible costs that come with it, this is a film that strives to solidify the legacy of Miles and Shelby and does no favours for Ford Junior.

At one point this was film to be shot by Michael Mann with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. I sure would have loved to have seen that film. Yet it should be said that Damon and Bale are great in this as are the rest of the cast.

The film is shot naturalistic without the film colourisation of other recent period pieces. There are obvious CGI additions which is disappointing and stand out in the trailers but during the film the editing and sound come together well to get you caught up in the moment.

It’s easy to mock this as the Dad movie of 2019, a tale boomers will recall and can share with their GenX kids however there is a message here for all dreamers to take note of.

There’s a point at 7,000 RPM… where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless. Just disappears. And all that’s left is a body moving through space and time. 7,000 RPM. That’s where you meet it. You feel it coming. It creeps up on you, close in your ear. Asks you a question. The only question that matters. Who are you?.”

Image result for rocketman

Rocketman Reviewed at Scenestr 29MAY19 ***

There are moments in this Elton John biopic directed by Derek Fletcher starring Taron Egerton and Jaimie Bell, Richard Madden and Gemma Jones that are transcendent.

The moment when the song Rocketman arrives in the film’s narrative is sheer perfection in terms of visual storytelling and emotional resonance. If all the film was at that level it would easily make the top 10 but for me that is not what happened here. Whole scores of scenes and songs felt dreary, uninventive and unnecessary. Maybe that’s just me but there is too much to recommend here to not say you should see it.

As an exercise in capturing what we have loved about this extraordinarily talented, passionate, big hearted, temperamental and damaged man and his music this film hits its target and reminds even rock stars were just once little boys who want love and we all want love don’t we?

Stepfathers, soccer, the fans that fill those stadiums and even the Piano Man’s deep love of all music is glossed over, but a little household in 1950s Pinner looms large…But Pinner is the key. It explains the drugs, the straight marriage and why Taupin is a brother and not just a best friend.

Image result for long shot

Long Shot Published at Scenestr 23APR19 ***

A romantic comedy for the 21st century with the star power of Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen.

There is a lot of delving into privacy, political campaigns and male/female dynamics in this film and not just surface references but actual thoughts about these subjects. Yet it retains a light touch (okay it gets a little gross but overall), gets big laughs and has a sweet heart and a smart brain.

It’s not the best film of the year but it shows the romantic comedy is far from played out and why we enjoy them.

Charlize, who has made a career out of playing strong women, gets to flex her comedic muscles again and shows once more she is at the height of her powers. There is a moment where she just stands wearing a pair of sunglasses and it may be the funniest bit in the whole movie. This is star-driven in the oldest sense, the stars coast through the film and, conversely, the film coasts off them, neither gives away just how hard it all is.

 

Image result for danger close

Danger Close Not Reviewed ***

Kriv Stenders is one of the best directors working in Australia right now having made the excellent Australia Day and the even better The Go-Betweens: Right Here both in 2017. So it was good news to hear he was doing a film adaptation of the Battle of Long Tan. In a rubber plantation in Vietnam in 1966 an Australian infantry company held off an attack of a numerically superior force. It’s the kind of against the odd battles that make for great storytelling and there are many important stories about Long Tan. Sad stories, touching stories and inspiring stories like there are from all of the Vietnam war.

Danger Close can’t do them all justice and Stenders seems to have been stuck in the middle of waiting to be honest about the nature of soldiers, the futility of war, the politics of the military and telling an exciting rip roaring yarn. He is not without ambition and if he doesn’t quite pull it all together in a consistent and affecting masterpiece he certainly honours certain individuals who were there on the day and maintains some technical fidelity to history and military practice.

Where he fails is in finding a character to follow through the battle and display an affective arc. Even though the film is based on real life, it amazingly stays true to certain war film clichés of rebels who will make good, guys with gals at home who may not be long for this world and hard nosed leaders who will soften around their men and harden even more around the enemy.

Students of the battle will recognise the crucial points are conveyed more or less for what they were and heroic acts and the heroes who carried them out are remembered. Not a perfect film it is an admirable attempt at doing justice to the story of Delta Company, 6RAR on that that day.

The greatest feat Stenders can hang his hat on is how he gets the blood pumping in the lead up to significant actions, he knows how to stage a battle scene and Hollywood should take note, this was one of the most exciting action films of the year.

Image result for avengers endgame

Avengers: Endgame Not Reviewed ***

What does it matter what I think about the highest grossing film of all time? I preferred Infinity War to be honest, that was a story told on the run, banking on a cinematic history to fill in the gaps of characterisation and earn emotional buy in.

It was fun though and Endgame to the Russo brothers credit actually wants this to be less fun. They want this to have resonance, to have impact and to matter and they accept that happy endings are not a given, some things can’t be magically reversed. There is a finality to this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I hope they stick with rather than go for the cheap cash grab.

I’m sure smarter minds could unpack about how this is not cinema. Sorry, but I had to because I get it, why he said it and I understand why some people disagree and that’s fine too. Yet compare this to say The Return of the King, that is better storytelling more organically unfolding and building towards a climax and yes also a blockbuster.

On the other hand Star Wars and Game of Thrones both ended in 2019 like this iteration of The Avengers and there was a lot more dissatisfaction with those wrap-ups. It’s hard to stick the landing for something that taps into the zeitgeist so much and in a world of increasing split fanbases, identity politics, disparate audiences and general disconnect, it’s kind of nice to have these blockbusters that most people enjoy and share together and are all relatively happy with.

Looking back over the film it feels like a string of moments rather than a story but when I think about where some of these characters ended up at the end of this and how it made us all feel I do smile. It’s almost one of relief but it is one of satisfaction.

We haven’t really talked about the effects, the story or the performances. But why bother, you saw it, I liked all the same things you did. Seeing Peggy through the window, getting a little girl all the cheeseburgers in the world, Rene Russo inspiring fat Thor, oh yeah-fat Thor!, the Avengers assembling and Tony Stark being Iron Man one last time. I love you 3,000 and finally seeing a girl about that dance.

 

 

THE TEN

 

 

10. Bombshell Not Reviewed ***1/2

I was surprised to find how emotionally affecting I found Bombshell which may come as a surprise given the harrowing subject matter. I thought maybe the film would get the cliff notes and be about the actors transforming into people we know from the media world. I had watched and had a lot to recommend from The Loudest Voice which told the story of Ailes and Greta Carlson.

Russell Crowe played him as a fascinating and terrifying figure in that mini-series. A man who changed the media and political landscape of the United States of America granting him power and wealth which would be terrifying to take on if you suffered abuse from it.

I had heard that story and I was not sure if I wanted to revisit it, but the focus here is different. Ailes was a giant in The Loudest Voice, here he is a boss in a workplace that is about to have a reckoning with its culture, excesses and injustices.

At the centre of it are three women and something that Bombshell does well is understand the nuances and complexity of us as individuals in a workplace with ambition, competitiveness and alliances. I knew Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie would be brilliant with it, I did not know the latter would move me to tears after knowing what Ailes was capable of but she did – she’s that good.

Director Jay Roach probably does not get enough credit given his stellar cast who double as producers taking reign about the kind of stories they want to work on but he should. He’s made some good HBO films about Presidential campaigns that feature stars looking exactly like the real life figures they play. His choices aren’t flashy but they are in support of the story and the point of the story being told. This is more than just the movie where Charlize Theron nailed her portrayal of Megyn Kelly, this is good movie and you should see it.

Image result for uncut gems

9. Uncut Gems Not Reviewed ***1/2

I don’t know if I’m recommending this movie for you to see.

When we meet Howard Ratner, New York jeweller, we get the sense of unease almost from the get go. Not just from him but from the people that surround him. His store seems to be full of customers and staff who can’t quite be trusted, they push hard for their own needs, take up the space in the room, shuffle their feet and lean forward, they’ve got friends with them, their clothes are good but not well maintained and they’re sweating in the North Atlantic.

They’re sharks and Howard is right at home with them, because in his mind he is a shark too. There are people in his life who would not disagree. Then we see quite clearly that Howard is a gambler. Life is a hustle and he is a hustler, life has been pretty good to him so he probably has come to the conclusion to keep hustling. The film is an examination of how he might be right but maybe not quite.

Life is a gamble, we’re all gambling in that sense and that is fine but Howard IS a gambler and that is not living a life. That is ruining one and all the lives that circle it. The difference between us and a gambler is not about when they say no and when we do. Everybody makes bad calls and has to deal with bad luck. The difference is the gambler never says no – they can’t.

The fact that Sandler makes you care about the outcome of a man who is self-destructing at maximum warp is kind of a miracle. Maybe, we like Howard, like the thrill of seeing if a bad bet will pay off? Well researched, the film captures a certain New York energy I thought the city had lost with all the foreign capital put into it (albeit this is set a few years ago).

Watch out for clothing designer/model/photographer/director and actress Julia Fox who yes is sexy as hell in this film but brings a lot to the role of Howard’s mistress and fellow hustler Julia. Are they playing each other or is there real affection there? What is she hoping to achieve for herself? Eric Bogosian is in this too and he’s always good. Directors the Safdie Brothers have arrived.

Image result for joker gifs

8. Joker Not Reviewed ***1/2

Joker is a good example of how sometimes when a film is released there wis a lot of conversation around it that may have nothing to do with what you think of the film. To be fair I think director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix intended the film to be ambivalent of what it was saying to a degree that what audiences get out of it will depend on what they put in.

Men’s Right Activists, Feminists, the left, the right, mental health advocates, the rich, the poor, civic responsibility, crime, fake news, anarchy, the Fourth Estate, corruption. If these things are near and dear to your heart the film may well be a rallying cry for them, I think it’s more thoughtful than that.

Maybe, just maybe it’s a call to reflect on all of these things and how we’re all a little lost and need to help each other and see things from other perspectives. Or maybe that’s just my agenda.

In any event Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely mesmerising in this film, vulnerable and terrifying in equal measure. I often remark how Charlize Theron is currently at the height of her powers, well I think Joaquin belongs in that group too.

The film is well lit, not a single frame does not seem to have been meticulously planned out in location, set dressing and lighting. I think the period setting of the film is even deliberate criticising nostalgia and the rose coloured glasses that get applied to history which is full of injustices and calling on historical references.

There’s symbolism galore and neat touches throughout, notice how we see Arthur repeatedly banging his head against walls while he is also trying to free his thinking and socially break through barriers. The way Arthur metamorphoses before our eyes has become instantly iconic too.

I also think the filmmakers are very direct in what they think of murder and violence and how where the Joker ends up is not a happy ending but a cautionary tale. The Joker is not a fantasy for me, not a defiant rebel chant either but a sad reflection that we need to do better.

7. Good Boys Published at Scenestr 10SEP19 ***1/2

Good Boys is one of the funniest and best gross out mainstream comedies in years. In fact I’d say the good ones are in short supply and this is one of the great ones. There’s real depth and insight into it and a lot of thought and care has gone into it as a visual piece of entertainment as well as a story that strings together a series of jokes.

But at the end of the day what you need to know about it is it will make you laugh, often and hard.

The script from Lee Eisenberg and director Gene Stupnitsky is smart, filthy, and full of heart. It understands the roles that these three boys play in each other’s lives and how their loyalty can become frayed but never compromised. Note in particular how Max is the leader but often when they are discussing a course of action the camera frames him centre with Lucas and Thor on each of his shoulders coaxing him towards riskier or safer choices reflective of their personalities.

Image result for marriage story

6. Marriage Story Not Reviewed ****

Marriage Story is, yes, about a divorce but it is also about also about marriage and being a parent. I’m painfully aware there are a lot of men right now suffering because they have lost their families and try as they might they can’t find a way to get them back in the current system. Marriage Story might speak to them but it might also speak to a whole lot of women who feel unheard and unappreciated by their husbands who find their voice and independence when they leave them.

What I liked about this film maybe most of all is that I understood both Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole and Adam Driver’s Charlie. The film opens with a sequence that shows how each views the other in a good way. Everything that follows reflects this, they may not work as a couple but they understand the other person very well.

There are cutaways we as the audience see but the other spouse does not and we wish that maybe they had found a way of communicating better and if there is hope to be found in the ending it is that maybe they have.

Noah Baumbach makes impressive films with performances that comes across as natural in the moment but are more likely painfully rehearsed to get to this point. One absolute stand-out moment is when Nicole unpacks why she has left Charlie prompted on by lawyer played by Laura Dern. It feels so off the cuff and yet it is perfect. I would have been more than happy if Driver or Johansson had walked with Oscars for their respective performances. This is a grown-up film for grown-ups and I hope they continue to get made and find audiences.

Image result for 1917

5. 1917 Review Published at Scenestr 10JAN20 ****

One of the great films of the year 1917 at one point appeared to be the frontrunner for Best Picture. Mythic in its technique and singular and everyday in its focus. Lots will be made about Roger Deakins cinematography in service to making the film appear as one long continuous take but the film is also a master class in acting. Exciting, moving and personal for director Sam Mendes it cracks the Top Five with a bullet. Simply a must-see.

More than a harrowing and kinetic tale, ‘1917’ repeatedly reminds of both how humanity is lost in war and how it touchingly endures. There was nothing natural, colourful or human in those trenches except the men left breathing. They cracked wise, held each other close and laid down their lives for their fellow man. ‘1917’ remembers this and asks us to never forget.

Image result for midnight family

4. Midnight Family Review Published at Weekend Notes 10OCT19 ****

In Mexico City there is a family of ambulance paramedics named the Ochoas. Director Luke Lorentzen has made a documentary about their lives in this work and in a city of nine million people that has 45 official ambulance vans and crews.

The Ochoas are effectively small business owners trying to survive in a market and corrupt system that makes them have to hustle. They’re also saving lives on a daily basis. As someone who worked in hospitals I was quite touched by this movie and the people in it. I also enjoy seeing a city at night in the way only an ambo sees it. A great documentary to check out.

Many patients remain off-screen as we observe the ambulance crew going to work while loved ones or bystanders look on. It’s haunting stuff as you still hear them cry out in pain, see mothers tear up or the paramedics stare off in the distance after a hard job. …The documentary film is not for the fainthearted but perhaps that is fitting given that neither is the job of a paramedic.

Image result for the irishman the rings

3. The Irishman Not Reviewed ****

The Irishman is a film about what is coming for us all eventually. Some of us won’t have time to reflect in that moment but all of us reflect throughout our lives about how we are living them. Whole years can become a series of fleeting memories that fell away in short order while small moments loom large.

Frank Sheeran tells us the story of his life and it’s pretty sad to think that of his big moments are conversation in bars with middle aged men and the people he shot dead for them. Not even most of those murders register for him but one does. The narrative of the film opens up and closes like an accordion. The closer we get to a day in the 1970s the more the film slows down and before and after the narrative kicks into a faster gear. This is how Frank remembers his life.

Sheeran wanted to be a good father but what does he really remember about his time with his children? It is fascinating to have the man who made Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino and The Gangs of New York make this film at his current age with his fellow contemporaries including most of the people he made those films with.

The CGI used to make this cast appear younger is not always effective but there is a weight lent to the cast portraying a whole life of a character having lived much of one themselves. Joe Pesci who often has played motor mouths and physical guys here is deafeningly quiet as a different type of mobster and in a certain way the real partner of Sheeran’s life Russell Bufalino.

There is a scene in this film that is almost like a proposal even though Scorsese wisely plays it straight. In the end Sheeran is looking for absolution and love from his family but he gave up his soul and love to two giants in his life and one made him choose between them and its haunted him ever since.

I love a lot about this movie. I love the shots that frame putting a watch on like you would every morning and how that watch would mean a lot to you and yet these are things you can’t take with you. About how a certain way something was cooked at a certain place that you ate on a given day will be front and centre in your memory as much as the events of that day.

Some love has been given to Al Pacino and Joe Pesci but Robert De Niro is really good in this movie. I think we sadly take him for granted a little bit and this film reminds us he’s still got the chops. It’s kind of small miracle that his film got made and that it is this good. Scorsese has remained a great artist long into his eighth decade, others have given the game away or lost their edge but Scorsese is still one of the all time greats and this film can only grow in stature as time goes on. I saw this at New Farm Cinemas on my 39th birthday and it was a great present.

2. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Not Reviewed

If The Irishman was about looking back over a whole life then Quentin Tarantino’s film is a love letter to a time and place. Or maybe more accurately how we remember a time and place in our mind. Tarantino is 56 years old, its fair to say the kid who made Reservoir Dogs has matured as a filmmaker and gone through different phrases over the years. He is now one of a handful of auteurs left in a Hollywood where a corporation like Disney owns a third of the market share.

I can’t say I’ve always been a fan but with nine films to his belt I’d care to wager most are outright classics. Up until now I’d liked his earlier films more so than each successive one that followed while finding a lot to recommend about them all. That has all changed now.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood may be my favourite Quentin Tarantino movie!

Sure it holds a nostalgia for a time and place that I have an interest in but the lesson of the film is it is all so beautiful and fleeting, as your time passes be open to the idea of moving with it and enjoying the next stage. Set in 1969 this is a Hollywood in upheaval with Easy Riders taking over from the old moguls, a society reckoning with old prejudices and new opportunities.

Actor Rick Dalton is not doing too well in this new world, he’s a square jawed face with a haircut with no interest in method acting and the type of realism that the new breed of filmmakers want. He’s also a man on the wrong side of 40 who might have missed his chance. Think Steve McQueen if he hadn’t done The Magnificent Seven and suddenly everybody wants to make Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson (of course McQueen, Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman all made the transition through this era but they were stars already and often classic trained actors too). Understandably Dalton wishes it was 1961 again and he was cool and they were no Goddamn hippies about and he was still on the rise.

His only friend in the world is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who was his stunt double but is now more his Batman. Like a lot of Batmen, he’s more capable and reliant than the one he serves. Both are loyal to each other though and have that kind of friendship you develop sometimes where you’re a buttress of support for the other one. The film for the most part follows a day in their life that will provide important lessons for Dalton and see Booth meet some unsavoury characters. Then months later we come to the night of the Manson murders.

I won’t spoil the plot but I like the way Tarantino paces this film. There is a scene where Booth feeds his dogs and it shows a lot about his life and circumstances. The period details are nicely done and there are some great set-ups and pay offs throughout. I like the things alluded to but never answered and the repetition of themes.

There is also meta commentary on Tarantino and his career and influences as well. It feels like the kind of film you make late in your career when you’re at the height of your powers. With this Tarantino proves he is.

Image result for blinded by the light

1. Blinded By The Light Review Published at Scenestr 22OCT19 ****

This was my favourite film of 2019, the little seen Blinded By The Light. Whenever I bring it up with people they ask about if it’s Yesterday? No it’s not Yesterday, it’s a lot better than that.

It’s about Javed Khan, a teenage son of Pakistani immigrants coming of age in Luton in 1987. He becomes inspired and finds direction in his life through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Yesterday is a love story with two lead characters in it who don’t know what they want and banks on the nostalgia we have for Beatles tunes. There is a big difference.

The film does delve into racism and economic downturns and is more authentic and affecting for it but this film made my heart soar. It’s about love and family and following your dreams. This was the most emotionally moving film I saw all year and I dare you not to be moved.

‘Blinded By The Light’ is the most feel-good and first real good film of 2019. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, who pulled off a similar feat in 2002 with ‘Bend It Like Beckham’.

Well that is it for another year, I hope you enjoyed reading this list. I would love to hear what your favourite films of the year are. Any that you would recommend, some you are surprised didn’t make the list and any that you think are overrated?

Until next time, take care, we are in the midst of interesting times but we will get through them together. Stay safe.

-Lloyd Marken

‘TWO MAN TARANTINO’ AND ‘CLAIRE HEALEY’ REVIEWS AVAILABLE ON SCENESTR

Image result for wonderland festival brisbane powerhouse 2018

Friday night and I saw my two final shows at Wonderland for 2018 on assignment with Scenestr, one I was eagerly anticipating Two Man Tarantino and the other Claire Healy: (Get A) Real Job interested me with its subject matter.

The week was one of those weeks that you dream about as a freelance writer, Wednesday night I was on assignment for a preview screening of a movie with one publication and then I was due to see three shows at Wonderland on Thursday and Friday night. They were good shows, all with something to offer it is true but there are criticisms I have. One thing that struck me about both shows that concluded my attendance at the festival this year was how they got better as they went along and finished strongly. I walked out of Claire Healy’s one-woman show late Friday night and felt a little bit better about the movie I’d seen Wednesday, a little bit better about the shows I’d seen at Wonderland that week and a little bit better about life in general. Not bad.

Scenestr118.jpg

You can read my review for Two Man Tarantino here http://scenestr.com.au/arts/two-man-tarantino-brisbane-review-wonderland-festival-2018-20181203 and Claire Healy here http://scenestr.com.au/arts/claire-healy-get-a-real-job-brisbane-review-wonderland-festival-2018-20181203

Scenestr119.jpg

The five shows I saw at Wonderland 2017 I enjoyed more but I felt with a lot of the shows this year I was seeing artists earlier in their careers taking it to the next level, doing more with less, refining their art and figuring out what they want to achieve. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

At Wonderland 2017 I felt like seeing Nath Valvo gave me an insight into what Melbourne already knew, that here was a comedian about to go national. Love/Hate Actually in 2018 returned triumphantly to Wonderland following a tour that took in amongst other places Ipswich, the Gold Coast, Perth, Melbourne and Fiji. Michelle Zahner has taken A Modern Guide to Heroism and Sidekickery to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Who knows where we will see Claire Healy, Anisa Nandaula, Adam Koudi, Kayne Falkiner, Vashti Hughes, Matt Abell-King, Emily Kristopher, Stephen Hirst and Sam Bowden next.

Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Celebrating 25 years in 2018 of publishing history 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, Queensland and now Victoria! every month too.

-Lloyd Marken

 

THE HATEFUL EIGHTH FILM FROM TARANTINO

The Hateful Eight may be the year’s most accurate movie title. An exciting cast of Quentin Tarantino regulars and Jennifer Jason Leigh headline this film and they are colourful, memorable, vital and challenging but they are not to the very last one of them likeable. This will prove to be the director’s most divisive and unloved film since Death Proof which at the very least had those incredible car stunts, Zoe Bell doing her thing and the words of poet Robert Frost.

We open on a stage coach wagon making its way through a snowy landscape trying to outrun a blizzard. Given the urgency of the situation, the film is wonderfully slow paced in this opening and throughout. The camera moves at normal speed, the dialogue is relaxed and the music is given space to play out rather than repeat a drumming chorus alongside quick cut editing. It is a neat reminder that genre films can engage in build-up and not always be a slave to pumping up the volume. Bounty Hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) is inside the stagecoach with his bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whom he is taking to Red Rock to hang for her crimes. Unable to outrun the blizzard he is hoping to make it to a lodge named Minnie’s Haberdashery in time to bed down until it passes. Along the way they pick up another Bounty Hunter Major Marquis Warner (Samuel L. Jackson) with his own dead bounty and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be travelling to Red Rock to take up his newly appointed post as Sherriff of the town. Mannix and Warner were on opposite sides of the Civil War so there is already tension in the air when Ruth agrees to take them both into his coach.

When they reach Minnie’s Haberdashery, Minnie is not there but there are a host of other characters in the form of Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) running the lodge in Minnie’s absence, Oswaldo Mobray the Hangman (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a cowboy and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) a former Confederate General. At this point the story having been mostly confined to the interior of the wagon is now mostly confined to the interior of the cabin while being filmed in 70mm. While this may seem an indulgence on the part of Tarantino the larger lenses allow for more detail to show up in the background and in the expressions of faces that might be hiding secrets.

The filmmaker has staged two great interrogation sequences in his recent movies, shot elegantly with no music and revelling in the intelligence of the characters as well as their physical positioning. The Hateful Eight plays like a feature film version of these memorable scenes, so much on display is done well as effectively the tale of a murder mystery is played out. Audience members may pay close attention to see if they can foresee an upcoming reveal or figure out ahead of other characters whom can be trusted.

All of what people have grown to love about Tarantino is alive here, witty dialogue, cartoonish violence and shock value storytelling. Something is not quite right though, the balance is off. At the end of Django Unchained white masters were shot and blown across the room in a splash of crimson. I laughed at it along with everybody else in the audience because I could recognise it was over the top but also because the victims of the violence had it coming to them. Here Jennifer Jason Leigh is repeatedly smashed in the face, her eyes blaze defiantly and her demeanour harkens back to the indestructibility of a Looney Tunes cartoon. We are told she is dangerous and a criminal but we are not shown it and I grew uncomfortable at the attempt to make humour out of being violent towards the only onscreen actress. There is more involving oral rape which may or may not have taken place but I suspect, without providing a likeable protagonist carrying out extreme vengeance like previous Tarantino films did, all the cruelty takes on a darker edge. Said victims of violence may have it coming but we aren’t really shown it and while white slave owners or Nazis carry enough cultural inference to not have their sins displayed onscreen here there is no comparable shorthand here. It’s difficult with just one person but I moved on rather quick from Buck of Kill Bill when his fate was revealed. The barbarity of his actions and his death trouble me less given justice had been served. Alas there is no The Bride to rally around in this film. That creates a challenge for the audience even if Tarantino is being honest here, after all he didn’t title the film “The Hateful 7 and the Somewhat Justified 1”. I have seen some troubling nihilistic films in my day which I respected for their brutality and message. Tarantino has a message in this film and the message is that America was borne out of savagery, injustice and robbery. Yet the ideals that the country’s common folk coated themselves in like freedom, civilisation and brotherhood will ultimately project us forward closer to their fruition every year. We’re getting there and that is not a bad sentiment and it is not lacking in ambition to want to tell a stylish rather than realistic tale nevertheless rooted in these hard truths. The Proposition, an Australian western for example dealt with similar themes and while slightly less violent was even more brutal because it played more realistically. For a more positive review on The Hateful Eight which I think makes good points please click here.

I can’t dismiss this film outright because it lacks a central likeable lead. The performances are stellar. Some characters don’t get arcs you expect or even their stories fully told but that is okay if it creates unpredictability in the plot. Too many narratives now play to too many rules and conventions straight out of arts majors. Samuel L. Jackson by the way is stone cold brilliant in this film, possibly the greatest character Quentin has ever written for him. Kurt Russell too comes in with his John Wayne cadence, hard demeanour and reveals both a viciousness and naivety we don’t get to often see from him. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays up the physical comedy of her character but like the rest of the cast there is a great deal that will be revealed throughout the course of the film. Walter Goggins might just get the biggest arc but I enjoyed Bruce Dern and Tim Roth just as much.

The film moves at a slow pace for 3 hours but I wouldn’t say it is too long. One scene played as an introduction for a whole raft of new victims that seemed pointless until it became obvious that the scene showed the bonds of certain characters before tearing them apart. The choice to shoot in 70mm is neither a bad or good choice, merely an interesting one for a film that is mostly bound to one set. Ennio Morricone’s music fulfils its purpose but does not remain after you leave the theatre.

I can’t fault a lot of Tarantino’s work here and I’m still of the opinion that Quentin Tarantino is one of the great filmmakers of my generation but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this movie. If this film is designed to enrage then the understated The Big Short and Spotlight are far more moving and thought provoking. If The Hateful Eight is not designed to enrage but to merely make fun of the absurdity of how cruel we are to each other well then I’m sorry Quentin, I get the joke but I’m not laughing.

-Lloyd Marken