A Star Is Born (2018)

October 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine, a crooning country rock/folk singer, has cold blue eyes like a Colorado sky, and a voice that’s soaked in whiskey and croaks like wood. He’s the half of the focal point in the new remake of “A Star Is Born” and I guess every generation’s going to get one of these. We got one in the 30’s, the 50’s, and the 70’s. Each seem to belong to the period of time they were made in, and stay there. Jackson Maine reminds me a little of Kris Kristofferson but this isn’t a reincarnation of characters. They’re completely new, even if they are familiar. Then again, as Maine says, everything can pretty much be summed up as the same 12 bars repeating over and over until you get to the next octave. And that’s what this is. It’s another octave of the same 12 bars. But, it is worthy of its title, and its star power more than makes up for some of its hokey and predictable scenes.

We’re introduced to Ally (Lady Gaga), a normal, girl-next-door type who works as a waitress at a restaurant. Her and her friend like to go to a drag bar down from where she works so she can sing her songs. She’s the only biological female allowed to sing. When you hear her belt out her songs, you know why. After one of Jackson Maine’s concerts, he has his driver find a local bar due to traffic in the area. And, as he says, he isn’t ready to go home.

Of course this chance encounter allows Jackson to see Ally perform, and he’s immediately taken by her. Happens all the time in real life, I’m sure. The two of them spend the entire evening together, getting to know each other, singing to each other, and then Jackson suddenly wants to whisk her away from her life and take her on tour.

Ally is overwhelmed, and still feels intimidated by that kind of lifestyle. And, you know, they just met. But, she goes home that morning and is greeted by her dad (Andrew Dice Clay) and his track buddies who are betting on races in Japan (haven’t we all been there?). She is sent for later by Jackson, and finally agrees to go. When she’s put on stage impromptu by Jackson’s request to sing a song that they had sung the night they met…she’s an instant star. Blasted all over YouTube, befuddling and sending her dad to the moon and back.

And a Star IS born. Of course, it can’t all be romance and fun. Even though, they do have plenty of that in the film. It’s a journey through a relationship, but the stronger story is told by the music. Both of these two eat up every scene like comfort food, and when they perform, it’s magical. Cooper and Gaga’s powerful performances–while they are polar opposites as far as the kind of energy they bring–are the big reason this movie works. The music is the other. The songs, at least the songs they sing together and the strong songs, are outstanding. The pop stuff that Ally gets mixed up in, is pretty much trash. Still, it is catchy.

She of course is lured into the seedy pop world by a British (aren’t they all?) agent named Rez. Not short for Trent Reznor, by the way.

He dolls her up, changes her attitude to more like Britney Spears than something like…Adele. Which, her musical soul is more like. And that disappoints Jackson, who believes in her as a songwriter and musician. But not as a pop star.

There are moments when it seems like Jackson is jealous of her, and resentful of her fame and awards. But, the script doesn’t allow these subplots to breath much and it winds up hanging out there as an unfinished narrative. Like, OK, he’s jealous of her, but why? Nothing in his character seems to care about awards or even fame sometimes.

Perhaps it’s best put by his own mantra: when you have the means, have something to say. Everyone has their own talent, but not everyone has something to say. And he believes she’s wasting that. It’s believable, but it just isn’t struck with a match to deliver a big bonfire of drama. Instead, his drinking problems are mostly what we see are to blame for his anger and angst.

It affects his relationship with his older brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), who is also his manager. Jackson was born late in his father’s life, and his mother died giving birth to him. Obviously these things play a part in Jackson’s diminished persona and his personal life suffers. While Ally is somewhat of a beacon of hope for him, and even gets him sober a few times, he still succumbs to his drunken lifestyle.

Those elements are stronger than the jealousy angle, and hold the film together better. It helps that Sam Elliott’s performance as the dutiful-but-worn-out older brother is right there with Cooper & Gaga’s. In fact, even the Diceman’s performance as Ally’s father Lorenzo is pretty top notch. His buddies are a nice comic relief, too, as this material gets pretty heavy as it goes on.

This is the first and only version of “A Star Is Born” I have seen, so I can’t compare it to the others. I can say that on its own, it works on its level of music and acting.  Cooper’s directing is also very good, making sure to keep our attention focused and leave out any dull moments.

For a “rock musical” drama, it’s first rate. Even with the weaker elements, mostly screenplay-related, the film doesn’t necessarily need a thick plot to keep things moving. Maine and Ally are great to look at, great to listen to, and great to feel a part of.

If you only get the 12 notes, but you hit each one right, it still makes for a worthwhile listen.

My rating: :-)

Boyhood

January 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

Richard Linklater has a way of turning the mundane and ordinary into something fascinating and hypnotic. Whether it’s the sweet, comical “Dazed and Confused” or the more subdued “Before Sunrise”, Linklater can pull you into his narrative with his aloof style that somehow keeps you watching. Maybe it’s the engaging characters or the appealing dialog, but I’ve never sat through one of his films and felt bored and detached, even though the atmosphere sometimes brings those kinds of characters to life.

With “Boyhood”, Linklater really tests your patience because the film clocks in at almost 3 hours (2 hrs 44 min). It follows 12 years in the life of a family, focusing on Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) growing up–but even though the film is called “Boyhood”, I think it deals with life in general as well as adolescence and maturity.

The story begins when Mason is 6 years old, living with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) in an apartment. Olivia has a bachelor-like boyfriend who doesn’t like that she has kids and a lifestyle that doesn’t fit his, so the two breakup. She decides to move back near her mother, taking the kids with her, so they can start a better life. She wants to go to school and she wants the kids to be in a house. Their biological father steps back into the picture (played by Ethan Hawke), and he represents the cool, irresponsible life that Olivia’s trying to leave behind. Mason Sr. lets the kids have fun and tells them about current events and things, but has very little to share about what it means to be accountable for anything.

As Mason grows up, they move in with various families, and home situations that are less than ideal. One stepfather seems like a good guy and has it all together, but soon unravels and shows himself to be an abusive drunk behind the picket fence and pretty white house. There’s an ex-military stepdad who tries to be nonchalant about the kids’ lives, but he seems unhappy and uninterested in helping them out too. He also is keen on drinking. But the film doesn’t have big dramatic moments or steep itself in sentimentality or melodrama. There’s almost a lazy eye feel to the insight into the characters’ lives. It’s not unfeeling, it just doesn’t have an agenda of obligatory drama.

The film, while lengthy, never stays in one place too long–much like the characters. There are a lot of elements thrown into the story, moving at a pace that lingers just long enough to reflect on a situation. In some ways I felt like many of the little stories could have been their own movies. This could’ve been a miniseries.

It still works as a film, though. Mason’s life is interesting, and as he grows up, he does become a bit insufferable as the artsy, pretentious, hipster-like “intellectual”. The film begins with him being very quiet but ends with him always having something to say. I didn’t feel that Linklater was trying to make a point of saying Mason was “what you should be” when you grow up, or make some statement about how intelligent kids can be. This is what an adolescent does. His sister Samantha forms the same kind of life, shutting out most of her family as she grows up. And Olivia, being the wanna-be responsible but utterly hopeless nomad, seems to be stuck in the middle rather than taking control.While she seems to criticize Mason Sr.’s instability with his own life, she doesn’t show that she has much of a handle on her own.

The flaws of the parents can be seen as destructive to their kids’ lives–but this film is not about judging them. It’s not a judgment at all. It’s simply a glimpse into people’s lives. You can take whatever you want from their decisions, opinions, lifestyles, what have you. Many people won’t agree with how they go about their lives. But Linklater’s not lecturing or proving a point. Sometimes life is just about observing, and reflecting.

As Mason Jr. states, rather well, late in the film–“It’s always right now”. And this film is living in that moment throughout. It’s engrossing, sometimes chilling, sometimes funny, but always interesting; and in the end, satisfying.

My rating::-)

The Fighter

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Out of all of David O. Russells films, which include Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, and Flirting With Disaster, this may be one of the most accessible to a regular audience. And strangely, its one of his most character-influenced. This is a film about people; and more specifically, family. Its got a boxing background story, but its not really about boxing. Maybe thats why it was called The Fighter instead; then again, we already have a film called The Boxer. In any event, Russells mark isnt exactly all over this picture–but its still very well made, and its extremely well acted.

It tells the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who was what they call a Stepping Stone fighter–basically any fighter that contenders use to beef up their stats or make themselves a contender by beating them. Wards problem is that he has no real direction, and a huge part of that is because of his has-been crack-addicted brother, Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) who still brags about knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard years ago. His brother is also his trainer but hes far from reliable. He also doesnt get good match-ups because theyre set up through his mother (Melissa Leo in a role that would be criminal not to nominate an Oscar for). In one instance, hes supposed to fight someone to get him back on track. Hes fighting a stepping stone himself; but the boxer comes down with the flu and instead of backing out and re-scheduling, he fights the back-up fighter who is 20 pounds heavier than Micky and pummels him.

Micky is caught between two worlds. After he is dismantled in his last fight, he is approached by someone to train in Las Vegas, and work for him. His mother, and family including 9 sisters, are appalled. But Micky new girlfriend, played very well by Amy Adams, believes its his ticket to freedom and to be a real contender. But Micky doesnt want to leave his mom or his brother. He believes family is the most important thing to him.

And family is the most important thing to this film. It deals with family dysfunction; and yet, I think as you look at your own family, you can see some connections and actually relate to some of the situations that Micky goes through. You can also begin to understand why he needs his family; but also, why he needs to break away. Micky is literally in a fight between his new family (the boxing family), and his own real family. And that is the essence of this film.

There are surprising laughs in this film, too. The sisters are priceless, and some of the things that Dicky does are quite amusing, albeit ridiculous and dangerous. The sick sense of humor this film has at times may be the only indication that its David O. Russells work. But much like The Wrestler, the director takes a back seat to the narrative and lets the story tell itself through its characters. I still have to remind myself that film is directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Overall, this is a solid film. Most of that credit is due to the actors, however, and not as much to the filmmakers or writers. While they are fine, the acting is top notch. Wahlberg is Wahlberg; there really isnt much to his character to begin with. But Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are just absolute showstoppers. When they are on screen, your eyes are completely glued. They bring this typical underdog story to life. But I like the angle that heres a boxer who is totally dominated by other people; and ultimately, its his own choice how he actually makes his breakthrough. But he cant do it alone. Some may say that omitting the Gatti fights was unfair because thats what really made Ward a champion. I would maintain again that again, this is not a boxing story. Its a story about family. And with that, it works just fine the way it is.

My rating: :-)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

I’m not always sure how to review a Terry Gilliam film. These days, I think it’s safe to say it’s an achievement for him to even get one made anymore. After projects coming together, then falling apart (“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, “Good Omens”), and with this one even being in question after the main star had died during production (do I even have to say his name?), the fact that this film is FINISHED can be given a thumb’s up, no? But this is the film critiquing business and I still have a job to do. Even though I’m not paid for it and nobody really reads these anyway. I still believe in myself. So there.

I’d have to start off by saying if you enjoy Gilliam’s earlier works, you will most likely enjoy this. If you’re not a fan, this won’t make you one. It keeps within the visual styles and narrative themes that he and his co-writer Charles McKeown have been making for decades now. In this film, the theme is self-indulgence and selfishness, and it’s presented in a typical, Gilliam way.

The “Imaginarium” is a world beyond a mirror that you can be taken to for a donation, as a traveling “circus” like stage moves about towns, seeking customers. Anton (played by Andrew Garfield) is the attractor. Valentina (Lily Cole) is the beautiful temptress to lure the men. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) merely sits on the stage in a zen-like way, waiting for those who want to come into his world.

It looks like a cheap parlor trick, but inside the Imaginarium is literally a fantasy world. In it, your wildest dreams come true. But there is a price. Actually, there is a choice. The devil, known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), is waiting in the Imaginarium to seduce you as well. As the plot continues you learn that the two of them are battling for souls, as part of a bet that Parnassus made with him long ago.

But Parnassus is not made out to be God, or god-like. He’s a simple man with simple pleasures and simple desires–and he’s an alcoholic. He is accompanied by a dwarf named Percy (Verne Troyer) who tries to keep him in line (“What would I do without you, Percy?” “Get a midget.”) but Parnassus is consumed with himself. He made a deal with the devil that if he doesn’t win, he loses his daughter to him. His daughter, nor Anton, know about this and Anton is in love with her.

The plot thickens when they encounter a hanging man that they bring back to life, who’s revealed as Tony (Heath Ledger, among others). They’re not sure where he’s come from but he bears strange markings on his head, and he’s dressed in a suit. Tony, meanwhile, cannot remember anything, not even his name. Parnassus gets a few tidbits from Mr. Nick (though they’re “enemies”, the two have a relationship) and Parnassus convinces Tony who he is and what he was doing (he was hosting a charity event). But Mr. Nick swears that Tony is “not his”, nor sent by him. Tony feels obligated to pay Parnassus back, so he joins their traveling show and woos women into coming into the mirror. This allows Parnassus to possibly win the bet and get his daughter back. He needs 5 souls.

But problems arise once Tony is sucked into the world himself. He transforms, becomes other manifestations of himself. He grows increasingly selfish about it, and is revealed to be somewhat of a bad person. It is in this world that brings other performances by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell into the film, as Tony. Each one delivered is a good one, and in some way resemble Ledger’s Tony. This is what saved the film. It would not have been finished without this happening. However, it makes perfect sense in the narrative for it to happen regardless. In fact it strengthens the theme because of how much Tony “changes”.

While I enjoyed the theme and the look of the film, it was actually the performances that I found the strongest element of it. Andrew Garfield is perfect as Anton; Waits is a pure delight to watch, and Ledger & Co. are all entertaining, especially Jude Law.

The film bears striking resemblances to earlier Gilliam works as well. I’m not sure if I’d call it a weakness, but it certainly doesn’t possess the uniqueness that some of his older work has. For instance, the “street” scenes with Parnassus are straight out of “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys”. The character of Tony is extremely reminiscent of Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines. Parnassus himself reminds me of Baron Munchausen. Some of the disjointed and disorganized dialog and presentations in the Imaginarium are straight out of “Brazil”.

All of that being said, however, the film is fun to watch and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Its climax and ending are very satisfactory, and I left with a smile on my face.

I’m sure this is not the last film we see from Gilliam. But I hope his next venture isn’t as much of a hassle. I won’t hold my breath, though.

My rating: :-)

Doubt

January 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Doubt is most talked about because of the acting, and thats just. This is what youd probably call an actors movie. These are movies with typically weak or thin plot lines, and only serves to promote the acting jobs of A-list actors/actresses who want Oscars.

I think that may be a bit unfair to Doubt because the movie is *about* something, not just an excuse to put some of the best actors together in the same movie. Now, that does not mean that the acting isnt superior to the story, but the themes of invulnerability, the power of conviction over proof, and of coursedoubt itself, is very well done. Writer/director John Patrick Shanley does a fine job of tying the film together with a nice MacGuffin that isnt an object, but a suspicion. Meryl Streep is outstanding (may steal the Oscar from Jolie) as Sister Aloysius, the ersuspicious allowishus, literally.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a charismatic and upbeat minister who wants to spread gospel about love and understanding, and begins the movie with a speech about how doubt can bring people together in a time of uncertainty and chaos (the film takes place one year after the Kennedy assassination). He builds a bond with one of the altar boys, the only black boy at the school, because he feels sorry for his disposition, and knows he has no friends. Sister James, played wonderfully and emotionally by Amy Adams, is the teacher who first notices a change in behavior of the boy, named Donald, after a private meeting with Flynn. He also has alcohol on his breath, due to an incident where he was caught “stealing wine” from the altar, in which case Donald would have to relinquish his altar boy status.

When Sister James tells Aloysius, she immediately is convinced that Flynn has abused Donald and wants to get rid of Father Flynn immediately. Sister James doesnt know what to believe, as shes more of the innocent and naive, and positive minded type. But Aloysius, who rules the Parish that they all belong to with an iron fist (she is principal of the school), knows without a doubt that he abused the boy. She thinks its for the well being of Donald to get rid of Flynn, ignoring the fact that Flynn has been the only one who has given the boy any attention at all.

There is never any evidence given, nor is there a scene in which Father Flynn has shown his guiltiness. The film, like the play it is based on (also by Shanley), simply plays on the lines of suspicion and not on proof. And thats where the film is strong.

The ending scene seemed a bit unnecessary, but I saw where Shanley was going with it. The film, to me, concluded about ten minutes before it ended, but it didnt drive me crazy or anything.

This is mostly a thinking and talking movie. Not a lot of action, not too much going on on the surface. Its all in the words being spoken, and that is a dead giveaway that this was a play. Much like GlenGarry, Glen Ross, or 12 Angry Men, there arent too many changes of scenery, and there is a LOT of dialog. But its a very well made film, and worth seeing if you want to see the best acting of the year.

My rating: :smile: