A Star is Born (2018)

Star.jpgDirector: Bradley Cooper

Screenwriters: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, and Dave Chappelle

Let me first get this out of the way for all of you scientists out there. This is not a movie about huge clouds of dust and gas collapsing under their own gravity until the particles are so densely compacted that they fuse into a celestial body and…a star is born. This deceptively titled film is about a popular Americana singer falling in love with young unknown songstress, and her subsequent rise to fame as a pop star.

A Star is Born stars Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, a massively popular musical act who is over the peak of his fame. His fans are fervent, but his shows are routine, his hearing is going, and let’s just say he has a bit of a drinking problem. After one of his shows (and a bottle of whiskey), Jackson slinks into an underground bar in search of further libations. To his surprise, it’s a drag bar and the singers there are star-struck by his presence. While the bar caters mostly to drag singers, Ally (Lady Gaga), a former waitress at the bar is permitted to sing there since her voice is so incredible. During a remarkable rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” Jackson is hooked by her talent, look, and style leading him to want to meet her. After a romantic night of stories and songs, Jackson is inspired and he invites her to perform with him, catapulting her from an unknown club songstress to a mainstream sensation.

lukas_star1a

A Star is Born is an example of a subsection of film where execution, talent, and polish supersede familiar and uninspired storylines. Films like Avatar, Flight, and Straight Outta Compton come to mind in that you know precisely where every beat is, but the journey through the familiar territory is worth the predictability. The rise and fall of a superstar and the spiral downward is a time-told tale, so time-told in fact that this exact story has hit the big screen three times before, once in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, once in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and perhaps most famously in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. This time however, in the capable hands of first-time director Bradley Cooper, the story remains the same, but new life is breathed into it thanks to some vibrant direction and incredible on-screen talent and chemistry. Cooper does attempt a few curve balls in here to try to liven the story up a bit, but to no real effect. Cooper is a true student of film, however, and his first directorial effort being a remake of a classic is an ideal choice. His choices are deliberate, and the film is full of examples of film theory ranging between classic Hollywood and a modern approach. As an actor, Cooper adopts a twangy gravelly grumble reminiscent of Clint Eastwood that I did find a bit distracting. While A Star is Born is an impressive outing full of passion, Cooper has a masterpiece in him, but this is not quite that.

Lady Gaga is also impressive on screen. As I mentioned earlier, her “La Vie en Rose” number is one for the history books full of glamour, charisma, and charm. Her acting is still a little on the green side, but when she’s on the stage, which is often, she’s excellent and many of the songs that come out of this film are quite good including, “Shallow” and “Always Remember Us This Way.” Many of the musical scenes were famously filmed at Coachella and other music festivals where Cooper and Lady Gaga would do a set in character in order to capture the true enchantment of live music, and these scenes do pop. They also contrast so nicely with the inevitable corporate packaging that Ally is later made to suffer. One interesting point to be made is that Lady Gaga is literally the only woman acting is this film, Brandie Carlile is there for a moment (as herself), but there are no other women! Characters’ mothers are all dead, no sisters, no female friends, and in the early bar scene where Jackson discovers Ally, all the women are men (in drag). The film is also directed and written by only men. Not to say that there’s anything necessarily erroneous about this, but I feel some of the “been-there-done-that” of the film’s story may be the result of such a non-diverse cast and crew.

A Star is Born is a good movie with an excellent first-directional effort by Cooper, and an exceptional use of talent. There is a lot to appreciate about the film, and with the added layer of the music, the film rises above traditional fare. B+

A Star is Born is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes.

Advertisements

Blue Jasmine

ImageFor The People’s Critic, perhaps the most anticipated moment of any cinematic calendar year is not the summer blockbusters or the fall awards-hungry films.  It is the release of the latest Woody Allen film.  With Blue Jasmine being his 41st film as writer/director in as many years, the always reliable, always prolific auteur has earned the respect of The People’s Critic as a living legend.  The Brooklyn-born neurotic genius shows no signs of running out of steam at the age of 77 with Blue Jasmine being one of his most insightful and finely-tuned films of his career.

Have you ever wondered who that blabbering stranger is who sits next to you on an air plane or who that mumbling nut-case is who sits next to you on a park bench?  These are quite possibly the questions that inspired Allen’s latest film.  The film’s title refers to Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett), a modern American socialite who suffers a life crisis when her financial investor husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), turns out to be a white-collar crook in the vein of Bernie Madoff.  Jasmine’s story is told as a fractured storyline flashing back and forth to Jasmine’s life before and after her impending ruin.  Allen handles these juxtapositions flawlessly, carefully crafting the triggers that send the story hurdling back and forth.

Allen’s film may be contextually set within the confines of financial crisis; however, the film is actually about trust and fate.  The strength of the story rests on the complex and fractured relationship between two adopted sisters, Jasmine and Ginger (Sally Hawkins).  Jasmine and Ginger were separately adopted, raised together, but fate sent them on wildly different paths.  The film opens with a freshly ruined Jasmine leaving New York to live with Ginger in San Francisco.  The transition is not an easy one for her, and Ginger’s low-middle class lifestyle disgusts Jasmine.  What complicates things even more is that Ginger and her now ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) were victims of Jasmine’s husband and lost everything.  Jasmine is mindful of this tension and it is a testament to Blanchett’s ability in how strongly she plays a victim who is also a victimizer!  Allen explores this element throughout the film while also examining Jasmine’s sense of entitlement regardless of the fact that she has no skills and simply fell into wealth; we even learn that even her name is false as she changed it from Jeanette to Jasmine because she thought Jeanette “lacked panache.”

Furthermore, trust is a dynamic issue presented in the film.  While mostly known for his impeccable ability to create fascinating female characters (and Blue Jasmine is no exception), Allen also presents the damage of deception through his uncharacteristically diverse set of male characters.  Bobby Cannavale is especially indicative of this as Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili.  Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K., and Peter Sarsgaard join Cannavale and Dice Clay in developing the vital effect of trust, or lack thereof, on the human condition.

When one looks at the career and accomplishments of Woody Allen, one sees the maturation of an artist, of a genius.  It is this maturation of Allen’s techniques, subject matter, and films in general that I find most interesting.  And it is fitting that Blue Jasmine is probably most comparable with one of Allen’s most mature films, Crimes and Misdemeanors as both films utilize his broad knowledge of literature and film as well as exploring a whole range of moral ambiguities while accomplishing the difficult task of combining comedy with drama.  Cate Blanchett is poised to enter the Oscar race swinging as is Allen’s screenplay.  Blanchett is clearly the film’s major talking point and she delivers a tragic performance worthy of much discussion.  I can only imagine how Ruth Madoff feels about this one.  A

Blue Jasmine is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.  This is another solid film in Allen’s storied career that is sure to illicit emotion while also emitting a slightly disturbing tone.