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: :-)

Up In The Air

January 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Some people have a fear of flying. Some people just have motion sickness. A lot of people hate flying in general. For Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), he not only likes it–he “loves everything you hate about it”. Where is home? Home is here, he says while on a plane. Bingham has loyalty through his airline. He gets gold cards, member rewards, and lots and lots of flight miles. His goal? To reach a certain number of flight miles. He is unmarried, and has no children. And as for his job? He fires people.

But along the way, he is paired with an ambitious cute young girl named Natalie Keener, who has an idea that Ryan’s boss likes–localizing the job and severing their travel habits. Video conferencing is the proposed new wave of going about firing people (which they call, “giving new opportunities”). It would cut costs and corporate loves it. But Ryan doesn’t. He believes it’s better to fire someone face to face, when you have to look them in the eyes and they’re in the room with you. In order for Keener to more understand Ryan’s position, his boss (played by Jason Bateman) thinks it’s a good idea for her to tagalong with him, and be his apprentice. Of course Ryan doesn’t like this idea–but this doesn’t exactly turn into some kind of buddy picture.

The two want different lifestyles, but both come to appreciate each other’s. Keener wants a married life with kids, a home, someplace to settle down. Ryan wants to live care free and unattached to anyone or anything. Things get complicated when he begins a fling with another traveler, Alex (played by Vera Farmiga). Things develop and he wants to bring her into his life.

But life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to, and Ryan finds that out the hard way.

The film isn’t really about the lifestyles of travelers or about how a man can live with himself by making a living firing others. It’s really about the detachment and the irony of how a man who has a “loyalty” to something so frivolous and wandering as an airline-to-airline lifestyle. His relationships to others are just as empty, and he pays the price for these save a few examples that actually hindered the theme a bit, in my opinion.

The biggest example is his relationships to his sisters. He has to attend his youngest sister’s wedding and save the wedding as well, by talking the groom-to-be out of having cold feet. Bingham is set up to be a motivational speaker–however, his motivational speech revolves around carrying an “empty backpack” (being a loner, going through life alone and appreciating it). So clearly he has to change his pitch a bit. Something about throwing this into the film didn’t work for me. It seemed to complicate things a bit and was unnecessary. We don’t know enough about his family situation to know how much it would mean for him to be there for them. And by this point we already get that he’s in over his head when it comes to intimately helping someone.

For the most part, however, the film works well. I appreciated how it started as a somewhat funny and charming romantic comedy and becomes a bit darker and more honest toward the end. Director Jason Reitman has shown he has a knack for narrative and pace, and he allows his characters to breathe and live in scenes without dragging down the pace of the film.

The performances are also strong, but the strongest is Anna Kendrick’s as Natalie. Clooney delivers another good performance. And the lifestyle he lives in the film just seems so close to his lifestyle in real life, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him to slip into this role and completely own it.

Something still seemed to be missing at the end of the film, the way it wrapped up. The theme is there, and there is enough to draw conclusions on what the purpose was and what the filmmakers were trying to say. But there was some fat around the edges that could have been trimmed. It didn’t weigh the film down, per se, but it didn’t make it a completely smooth flight, either.

Sorry. I had to get at least one airplane pun in there. Be glad it was only one.

My rating: :-)