GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 REVIEW AVAILABLE ON BUZZ

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There were two films I was most looking forward to in 2017. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Good trailers for Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman have me excited about those films like Logan did previously and of course I can’t wait for Oscar season every year. But Guardians was it for me and it came out last week in Australia.

While I’ve never read one of the comics there was something new and interesting about the team since I saw the concept art for the first film. After the trailer for the original dropped I told friends in early 2014 that this was a film that could be Star Wars for a new generation. As it turns out we were lucky enough to have Star Wars be Star Wars for this generation but Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be a success beyond expectations too.

Three years later and you can read my review of the sequel here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/guardians-of-the-galaxy-review/ at Buzz Magazine.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

It is a huge honour to have anything I write appear on their website but to have it be for such a hotly anticipated film that I have fallen in love with is quite a thrill. Once again I appreciate anybody who clicks on the link to read it and hope you enjoy.

-Lloyd Marken

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS REVIEW ON SCENESTR

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Recently I have been fortunate enough to do some work with Scenestr Magazine. This week I was lucky enough to attend the Queensland premiere of the movie The Fate of the Furious and my review of the film has gone online here http://scenestr.com.au/news/movies-and-tv/the-fate-of-the-furious-review-20170412

I appreciate people taking the time to click through on the link rather than the convenience of reading a review from here. The actioner starring Vin Diesel is a fun way to spend two hours but I’m most excited about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opening later this month although Thor: Ragnarok’s stocks have gone through the roof this week. 🙂

Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. With over twenty years of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They also publish Scene magazine in print every month focussed mostly on music gigs, festivals, stand-up comics, fashion and interviews with local and international bands. If you’re into music they’re a great read but they do cover all of the arts and fortunately for me I have had 3 reviews published by them for Queensland Ballet’s Raw, Logan and Hidden Figures.

-Lloyd Marken

STAR CHARACTER ACTORS – J.T. WALSH

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Character actors, those talented enough to get noticed and remembered playing the same type of character while most cinemagoers recognise them instantly but can’t place the film or name them. More likely to etch out a living without ever having their name above the marque some have become famous for being character actors. J.T. Walsh was one, looking back over his career you’ll often fine one common streak. He was the antagonist, we loved to hate him and like all good actors he probably wanted to or even sought out playing characters we’d like but there was something about him that made him such a good asshole. Sometimes he was sleazy, sometimes he was macho, often he was authoritarian and sometimes he was deceptive. It took chops to pull that off, maybe as time went on he would have been allowed to move into other roles but as it was he died of a heart attack in 1998 aged 54. Image result for j.t. walshJack Nicholson dedicated his third Oscar to him. He left behind an impressive body of work and son John West who himself has done a variety of work in film most prominently as a production assistant.

He made his film debut in 1983 as ‘Man in Bar’ in Eddie Macon’s Run and in 1999 saw the final film he did released after his death called Hidden Agendas.

In between he blocked a variety of stars trying to complete their character’s arcs.

Image result for j.t. walshAs Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson he caused the most trouble for Robin William’s Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam not even secondary to bomb explosions or getting lost in enemy held jungle. Cronauer can get away with mocking Second Lieutenant Hauk but as Dickerson points out “Don’t call me Sir, I work for a livin!” and proves he is somebody not to fuck with making their last scene together even more satisfying.

Image result for j.t. walsh backdraftThere is similar satisfaction in Backdraft when Billy Baldwin repeats J.T.’s Alderman Marty Swayzak’s words back to him after he’s been making life difficult throughout the movie.

Image result for j.t. walshThere were other times he went toe to toe with the heroes, Nick Nolte in Blue Chips, Image result for j.t. walshbacking up smarmy Tommy Lee Jones against Susan Sarandon’s tough lawyer in The Client Related imageor pushing Kurt Russel to shake with fear and anger if anything has happened to his wife in Breakdown. Image result for j.t. walshEven a small part in Sling Blade where he is finally put in his place shows the nature of the arc of Billy Bob Thornton’s lead character. I mean the guy even had it in for Santa being cast as lawyer Ed Collins in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street where Mr Collins is charged with proving the rather ludicrous assertion that there is no Santa Claus. Related image

There were other roles and a desire as the years went on that the long time theatre actor wanted to play different notes. No doubt in the decades since his death he would’ve gotten his chance. Image result for j.t. walshIn A Few Good Men he is bottled up with guilt and loyalty as Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson and sure as Big Bob in Pleasantville he was the closest to a villain you could get in that story but there was nuance there. Image result for j.t. walsh pleasantvilleSomething under the surface waiting to spring forth. He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself in The Grifters, one of his films I’m yet to see.

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There are many, what were you favourite performances of his, what made him such a good actor to you?

Thanks for the memories Mr Walsh.

-Lloyd Marken

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SUICIDE SQUAD WILL TEST YOUR WILL TO LIVE

Image result for jared leto the jokerImagine a comic book movie of refreshing anti-heroics, witty repartee amongst its characters, well choreographed action scenes and attitude to burn. Imagine no more. You can grab a DVD of, download, stream, get from vending machines or hang out on a mate’s couch looking at him as he play acts out the whole movie of Deadpool or for that matter 2013’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It will be cheaper and depending on your friend’s acting prowess a damn sight better than seeing this new Suicide Squad at the movies.

Whoever created the trailers for Suicide Squad should be hired to do the work for the next Ghostbusters movie by Sony.

Those trailers popped with energy, eye popping visuals and sass. You can’t deny the Brothers Gibb and Queen helped up with that, (Bohemian Rhapsody and Becky Hanson singing I Started A Joke played over the trailers) but after lacklustre marketing for Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters, Star Trek: Beyond and X Men: Apocalypse the Suicide Squad trailers promised at the end of this summer there would be one bright spark of originality and fun. Then Batman’s Mum Has the Same Name As Superman’s Mum came out and underperformed and there were rumblings of re-shoots, cuts for PG-13 audiences and instead of rejoicing about the fact that Suicide Squad would be vastly different to the current DCEU light lifters instead there was disquiet and a need for re-direction. Now Jared Leto is nodding his head as interviewers note his on air screen time is so small you could argue his role is that of a cameo and he’s playing the Clown Prince of Crime for fuck’s sake.

Somebody call Al Pacino, Gene Hackman,

Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell or Billy Bob Thornton or anybody else who’s played a legendary movie coach and sent them over to Warner Bros. and TELL THEM TO GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER! FYI Warners this is what shit together looks like.

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Honestly I would’ve been kinder to Batman Vs. Mopey Superbeing Who’s Superbummed About Rescuing People Cause Feelings and His Girlfriend Is Super Nice and Looks Like This, Image result for amy adams vanity fairhad I known how underwhelming the rest of the blockbuster season would be except for you Ricky, you brought it little buddy. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE   hunt for the wilderpeople

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Harley Quinn was created in 1992, by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for the much respected Batman animated series of the time, which is relatively recent by comparison for most DC comic book characters as for example the Joker whom first appeared in 1940. Dr Harleen Quinzel has built up quite a fan base in the relatively small time, studied for the contrast of her kick ass persona that still is very much under the spell of a man who may not really value or treat her well. Someone who has robbed her of autonomy and sanity but also made her a stronger individual rebellious of society’s expectations. Fans have been waiting a long time to see her on the big screen and Margot Robbie does not disappoint. There’s no denying the attractive actress wears hot pants well but Robbie subtlety shows that her sexuality is just another weapon in this character’s arsenal. An important aspect of the character is she appears a harmless beguiling woman capable of inflicting incredible violence with no restraint. In addition to being a fighter she’s also lovesick for the Joker. Image result for jared leto margot robbieYet how much can two insane and immoral characters be with a messed up power dynamic be in love? Does the Joker really love her and does she really love him? These are intriguing questions. The Joker appears throughout the story focussed on being reunited with his incarcerated woman, risking much but she’s also partly incarcerated due to him abandoning her. She exists this way because of his brainwashing, is there affection there or are they merely playing the part of a couple. It is a new take on the Joker being done on film to give him a lover and their relationship could prove fascinating but the bulk of their only time onscreen are mostly brief flashbacks that barely establish their relationship let alone probe the dynamics of it. Which is a shame because it’s the most interesting thing above the film. Talks of a Harley Quinn spin-off should be met with approval and despite the film’s flaws, getting the adaptation of a beloved character right straight out of the gate is rare and should be celebrated.

Image result for suicide squadIn fact most of the squad are full of interesting characters well realised by the actors playing them. There’s Amanda Waller played by Viola Davis, an intelligence operative who puts the squad together and sees metahumans as the next strategic upper hand in world affairs and deterrent. The most powerful being in the squad is Enchantress, a witch goddess who has taken over the body of the archaeologist who found her Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevingne). Dr. Moon can bring her forth but can’t necessarily control her. Leading the team is her boyfriend Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who is looking for a way to free June from the Enchantress. Actually he’s not, he’s not doing much of anything actually for a Special Forces soldier he spends most of the film being rescued and losing everybody’s respect. Being a good guy not as powerful as evil people he has to lead could have been a fascinating dynamic but mostly he just stands there and points guns until it’s all a bit too much for him. His only real display of a personality comes when he is dismissive of hitman Deadshot (Will Smith) despite their shared military background.

Anybody holding their breath for Will Smith to play against type as a ruthless killer should start inhaling now. Smith plays Floyd Lawton, a father and a good man who just happens to shoot people for a living but hey we only see him kill a criminal. Smith one of the most likeable movie stars on the planet is cool, funny and sympathetic here but the most prickly he gets is being a smartarse to Flagg. The Fresh Prince made the smart play segueing into a different kind of character as apart of an ensemble film rather than rehash past glories but the film doesn’t reward his choice and I really would have liked to see Captain Steve Hiller return. Image result for will smith jeff goldblumAs Richard Jackson pointed out he concludes many scenes with “let’s do this” which remains unclear since they basically were doing the same thing they are doing now. Quinn and Lawton form a bond in the movie although why is unclear except maybe the two characters are aware of the good chemistry that Robbie and Smith had in Focus. Rounding out the team is gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who has the superpower of projecting flames (arguably one of the most powerful members so naturally he doesn’t want his powers following a tragic incident from his past), bank robber Captain Boomerang who has some reaaallly cool Boomerangs, a mutant played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje called Killer Croc (although nobody is going to use the word mutant in DCEU film), Slipknot (Adam Beach)who is really good with ropes and Flag’s bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who wields a magical samurai. Most of these members are hardly super powered but apparently the powers that be see them as a fallback if the next Superman goes rogue. Why use bad guys too after Batman worked so hard to lock them up? So that they can be plausibly denied and expendable except we never see these guys do harmful things to innocent people (an effective choice in say The Godfather but here denies the whole point of what makes these characters different in this genre). Image result for amanda waller viola davisWe see Amanda Waller kill an innocent in cold blood which is supposed to make her look cool and ruthless but makes her more evil than the squad. Interestingly Viola Davis read M.E. Thomas’s autobiography Confessions of a Sociopath to prepare for the role and described Waller as “relentless in her villainy” so the act is true to the character but is not as appealing as other aspects of her character. Or again we don’t really see enough of the character to understand the complexity and contradictions at the heart of her. That’s the problem with the film, Waller, Quinn, Joker, Deadshot and Killer Croc are interesting characters and Davis, Robbie, Leto, Smith and Akinnuoye-Agbaje are good actors but we get tantalising glimpses rather than hard looks.

The attitude and sass of these characters is infectious and the saving grace of the film, a scene in a bar late in the film has the right kind of energy that should have appeared in bigger doses to establish characters and develop relationships.

The most disappointing aspect of this action film is the action scenes often boil down to people shooting at things and lacks real excitement and inventiveness. Given the expensive sets and effects it is disappointing that they weren’t put to more effective use with the set pieces, cinematography that includes spectacular shots like this film jared leto cara delevingne suicide squad margot robbiefilm jared leto cara delevingne suicide squad margot robbiethat are sadly not in abundance throughout. Former submariner and director David Ayer made the critically acclaimed Fury and End of Watch but here with a $175 million budget something has been lost. Speaking of lost, many questions are raised by the editing of the film suggesting that key scenes were scrapped and re-shot hurting the narrative flow of the story.

Suicide Squad frustrates with missed opportunities, an action film that fails to excite with its action scenes, a film of bad guys that don’t appear to be all that bad and flashbacks that hint at a story we’re not told. Suicide Squad was the last and great hope of 3 weeks of watching disappointing blockbusters that kicked off with Central Intelligence. None were bad and none were great, the best thing that can be said about Suicide Squad unlike most of the others is that it makes you excited to see these characters again in a film worthy of them.

-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