A Star is Born (2018)


A song is born.

(2018) Musical (Warner BrothersBradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Alec Baldwin, Marlon Williams, Brandi Carlile, Ron Rifkin, Barry Shabaka Henley, Michael D. Roberts, Michael J. Harney, Rebecca Field, Derek Kevin Jones, William Belli, Dennis Tong, Joshua Wells, Greg Grunberg, Drena De Niro. Directed by Bradley Cooper

 

Talk about a tale as old as time: big rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper) wanders into a bar to get a drink (that it is a drag queen bar is a concession to these woke times) and hears a lovely ingenue named Ally (Gaga) belt out a jaw-dropping version of the Edith Piaf classic “La Vie en Rose.” Turns out that Ally also writes songs. Turns out the songs are really good.

Jackson likes one so much that he decides to perform one at his next concert. Just as icing on the cake, he drags a petrified Ally onstage to duet with him. And guess what? The song goes viral. Suddenly the songwriter-performer, who had just about given up on any shot at a career in the music business, has a career in the music business.

But what goes up must come down. As Ally’s star rises, alcoholism brings Jackson’s career to a standstill. A new manager turns Ally from a rock-oriented singer-songwriter into a pop diva complete with orange hair and a dance troupe. It is no accident – and in many ways, an acid comment on the state of music today – that as Ally grows more successful her music becomes less memorable, and in fact, becomes downright shitty.

This is the fourth version of this tale; it is also Cooper’s first foray into directing. He also co-wrote the screenplay and is one of a gaggle of producers. Word has it he also mopped the floors of the sound stages after shooting was done for the day.

The music here is pretty good, other than the robotic pop that Ally performs in the second half of the film. Cooper and Elliott (as Jackson’s manager and big brother) give outstanding performances, but it is Lady Gaga who will always be remembered for this movie. Already a huge pop diva, she shows that she is capable of being a movie star if she wants to be.

The movie runs a bit too long as we watch Jackson’s decline and Ally’s ascent; those scenes should have been a bit more streamlined. To be honest, I don’t think any version of the film is ever going to hold a candle to the Judy Garland-James Mason version back in 1954 – that’s a true classic. Still, there is a lot to be said for this movie, which was a major Oscar contender at last year’s Oscars (it did win one for Best Music Score). It remains a popular film – most people who saw it liked it or even loved it. I didn’t love it but I certainly did like it.

REASONS TO SEE: Lady Gaga is a true cinematic presence.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too long, drags in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some sexuality and brief nudity, and some harrowing alcoholism depictions.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cooper studied Elliott’s voice to come up with Jackson Maine’s voice – before Elliott had been cast.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews, Metacritic: 88/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Every other A Star is Born
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Venom

New Releases for the Week of October 5, 2018


VENOM

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Jenny Slate, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Lee, Sope Aluko, Reid Scott, Mac Brandt, Melora Walters. Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Investigative reporter Eddie Brock tries to redeem himself following a scandal following a government experiment involving an alien symbiotic lifeform but accidentally becomes infected by the symbiote. He becomes Venom, a violent and often malevolent entity who has his own agenda but with a shadowy organization with nefarious ambitions of the own trying to develop their own version, the alien and the reporter realize their interests intersect.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language)

A Star is Born

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle. The latest version of a timeless classic finds a grizzled musician with a rosier past than future falling for a young woman who has given up on her dream of stardom. He coaxes her into the spotlight and her career immediately takes off but the higher she soars, the more strain on their relationship is placed particularly since he has a substance abuse problem that is putting everything in jeopardy. Cooper also makes his directorial debut.

See the trailer, a video featurette and a music video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse)

The Church

(Hard Floor) Clint Howard, Bill Moseley, Ashley C. Williams, Meghan Strange. The minister of a once vibrant and iconic Baptist church in a decaying Philadelphia neighborhood resists gentrification despite pleas from his status-seeking wife and bribes from unscrupulous developers. He is determined to preserve the legacy of his family’s ministry in the neighborhood even if he has to break a few commandments to do it!

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and thematic materials)

Mandy

(RLJE) Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke. A peaceful couple living in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest has their lives shattered by a twisted cult leader who develops an obsession with Mandy, the distaff half of the couple. Red, the male half, is forced to go on a journey of vengeance, blood, fire and rage.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Monsters and Men

(Neon) Anthony Ramos, John David Washington, Nicole Beharie, Cara Buono. A young man with a promising athletic future witnesses a police shooting, recording it on his cellphone. He has the valuable proof that will validate the assertion that it was unjustified but releasing the footage could jeopardize his future.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language)

Pick of the Litter

(Sundance Selects) Dana Nachman, Don Hardy Jr. This documentary follows a litter of puppies from the moment of their birth through the two years of training to be service dogs for the blind. The bar is set high and not every dog makes the cut. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, the film provides insight as to how dogs go from unruly pups to disciplined service animals.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Shine

(GVN) Jorge Burgos, Gilbert Saldivar, Jadi Collado, Alysia Reiner. Two salsa dancing Puerto Rican brothers in Spanish Harlem are estranged by a family tragedy. Years later they have chosen different paths; one looking for success as a real estate developer, the other devoted to preserving their old neighborhood at all costs. What’s a dancer to do…except dance?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Urban Dance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks, Cobb Plaza Café Cinema, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Andhadhun
Bayou Caviar
Exes Baggage
Nota
Ride

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

96
A Crooked Somebody
Exes Baggage
Fats Buddies
The Hate U Give
Hello, Mrs. Money
Nota
Prathamika Shale, Kasargud, Koduge Ramanna Rai
The Sisters Brothers

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

96
A Crooked Somebody
Loveyatri
Loving Pablo
Nota
Pariyerum Perumal
Raatchasan
Ride
Tea With the Dames
Varathan
Viking Destiny

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

96
Andhadhun
Exes Baggage
Nota

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Star is Born
The Church
Mandy
Pick of the Litter
Tea With the Dames
Venom

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Tampa, FL)

Chi-Raq


Lysistrata gets real.

Lysistrata gets real.

(2015) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, Anthony Fitzpatrick, Anya Engel-Adams, Ebony Joy, Erin Allen Kane, Michelle Mitchenor, Felicia Pearson, La La Anthony. Directed by Spike Lee

Violence in the streets has reached epidemic proportions, with homicides in the city of Chicago, one of America’s great cities, now higher than the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan of American soldiers. There is a war in the streets of Chicago, mainly being waged by street gangs, and the innocent are being caught in the crossfire as they often are in war. It’s so bad that the residents of the embattled South Side where much of the violence is centered have taken to calling their home town Chi-Raq, a merging of Chicago and Iraq which in their eyes the Windy City has become. They’re not wrong.

Director Spike Lee has turned his gaze towards the problem and has come up with a unique viewpoint. Adapting the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes and setting it in modern-day Chicago, Lee makes the bold move of putting the dialogue into rhyming couplets – just as Aristophanes did. Utilizing a narrator named Dolmedes (Jackson) who acts as kind of a, if you’ll excuse the expression, Greek chorus, he tells the tale of two warring gangs; the Spartans, who wear purple and who are led by the passionate Chi-Raq (Cannon), a rapper with a rap sheet, and the Trojans, who wear orange and are led by the humorless one-eyed Cyclops (Snipes).

After an attempt on Chi-Raq’s life misfires, leaving a member from each gang badly injured, Chi-Raq and Lysistrata go back to her crib and do what comes naturally. The fire they are making suddenly becomes a bit too hot; Cyclops has set fire to the apartment building in an attempt to flush out Chi-Raq but that, too, fails.

Lysistrata moves in with Miss Helen (Bassett) across the street, a woman who preaches non-violence and doesn’t approve of Lysistrata’s lifestyle or choice in men. Lysistrata at first is not real happy about Miss Helen’s criticism, but all that changes when a young girl, the daughter of Irene (Hudson), is caught in the crossfire during a gang shootout and is killed. Local preacher-activist Fr. Mike Corridan (Cusack) thunders from his pulpit and urges his flock to change their ways.

When Lysistrata hears of a Liberian activist named Leymah Gbowee who convinced the women of that war-torn country to withhold sex from their men until peace was declared – and it was – she realizes that something like that could work in Chicago too, but she’ll have to convince the ladies of the various gang members on both sides which is no easy task since there’s plenty of suspicion to go around on both sides. However, all the women are tired of going to funerals, tired of seeing their children murdered, tired of seeing their men murdered. It’s time to make a difference, and the women decide to do just that. Their sex strike spreads to the prostitutes and phone sex girls, then to other cities. Soon men around the world are suffering blue balls, and the women seem to have the upper hand. However, the men won’t take this lack of lying down…lying down.

This is Spike Lee returning to his roots as it were, creating a movie that’s both ambitious and ballsy. How many directors do you know would adapt an ancient Greek play, set the dialogue in rhyme and infuse it with a rap soundtrack? Not damn many. Okay, just one.

Lee can sometimes have the touch of an elephant when making a point, but few excel at satire better than he. This is overtly a musical, but not in a West Side Story kind of fashion. This is at times a rap video but I do believe that’s part of the satire. He has gone into this territory before, with his casts breaking into song and dance numbers, but there is still a subversive flavor about the way he does it.

Likewise the humor can be big and brawny, but it tends to be more successful when it’s rapier-like or playful. Lee is not above poking fun at African-American icons or at himself for that matter, but occasionally he misfires when going after broader targets, like the National Guard general who comes off as a cornpone Confederate. That sequence doesn’t work and will probably hit Southerners the same way minstrel shows hit African-Americans. I suppose though that there is a bit of justice in those type of reverse stereotypes.

There are plenty of powerful performances here but none better than Parris as Lysistrata. Lee has a history of celebrating the strength and pride of African-American women throughout his films, and Parris may be the best he’s ever had. Not only is she a drop-dead, make a preacher kick a hole in a stained glass window gorgeous, she carries the movie’s sensibilities without being strident. She is super sexy when she needs to be (which is often) but also gentle and nurturing when she is called to be (which isn’t often). It’s a nuanced performance that just reeks of star potential.

Already stars, Jackson and Cusack have some great moments as well. Jackson is jaunty as the narrator, showing up in loud, colorful suits and outrageous hats, looking like a cross between a pimp in a 70s Blaxploitation movie and a tap dancer from a Busby Berkeley musical. Jackson keeps it light, which makes the movie work a lot better than if the tone was darker. Cusack has a powerful moment when he delivers a sermon at the little girl’s funeral, preaching until he goes hoarse, reiterating to me why he’s one of my very favorite actors. Bassett provides gravitas, and Hudson shows that she continues to be one of the best actresses in Hollywood with her brief but emotionally powerful role as the murdered girl’s mother.

Like most of Lee’s movies, the soundtrack is the real deal. But while the soundtrack here is rap, the movie is pure jazz and the same can be said about Lee. Love him or hate him, admire his politics or despise them, he takes chances and does things his own way. Not everything works here – at times I feel like he’s borrowing too much from other sources and the movie can have a “seen that before” quality that you sometimes get from a Tarantino film when that director falls too deeply in love with his references. However, this is clearly Lee’s best work in decades, although not up to his very best films. However, this is a welcome return to form by a director who is an American treasure that is rarely considered as such by the Hollywood establishment.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performance by Parris. Vintage Spike Lee. Nifty soundtrack. Subversive sense of humor.
REASONS TO STAY: Overly self-conscious. Not subtle at all. Occasionally bombastic. Sinks into cliche from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of sexual content and sexual references, some nudity, a little bit of violence, drug use and a whole lot of crude language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: “Wake up” is both the first and last line of dialogue in the film; it is also the first and last line of dialogue in Do the Right Thing which also featured Snipes and Jackson.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/4/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Do the Right Thing
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part II