A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born

Jack (Bradley Cooper) shows Ally (Lady Gaga) what she has to offer the world of music.

There are many nods that Bradley Cooper makes in his directorial debut towards the former versions of A Star is Born. I won’t list them, for doing so would be stupid and rob you of the fun of finding out yourself. Even if Cooper did not make these “easter eggs”, his version of A Star is Born stands alone as a triumph, and certainly one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century.

The original was made in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the leads (the only one that was not a musical). The next (and the only other one I have seen as of this writing) was in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason (Garland’s loss at the Oscars that year to Grace Kelly is one still questioned to this day, and once you witness her, it is not hard to see why). Later in 1976, it was Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Now, it is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Though the times are different, the premise is the same: a down on his luck star who is about to fade out finds a newcomer who he wishes to take under his wing, and they fall in love.

Like Garland and Streisand before her, Gaga clearly has pipes, and anyone with a single brain cell would say the same. She has even acted in minor parts before (she started as an extra on The Sopranos), but this is clearly her star making (how poetic) role as an actor. We know from the past that this is the same woman who has performed in extravagant (to say the least) costumes and settings, but it is (aside from one or two scenes) not visible in her performance as Ally. In short, she has totally made a serious statement for being an Oscar favorite in the next few months.

Speaking of Oscar contenders, there is veteran actor Sam Elliot as Bobby, who is Jack’s (Bradley Cooper) older brother. Not his dad, but older brother. I admit that seemed a little questionable at first, but there is no doubt in the acting that we can firmly believe these are two (half) siblings who have been through the mud and dirt over a dozen times and still can talk to each other. Elliot is nothing short of stellar.

Parents, in no way is this for kids. There is plenty of swears, some sexual content and partial nudity. High School and above.

You may have noticed by now I have not mentioned much about Bradley Cooper, mainly because I am still in awe of what he has done. For his first time as a director, he was not swinging for the fences so much as the parking lot. Clearly it is one of his very best performances, as is the case with the rest of the cast, mainly due to the fact that everything in the film feels completely authentic. Consider the small moments we have with Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) or his friend George (Dave Chappelle, yeah, you heard right). We are so involved in the world of Jack and Ally that we don’t think for one second about film making.

One of the key moments of the film is when Jack is telling Ally that, in order to make it, she needs more than talent. What she also needs is a message to tell the world. Cooper has always had talent. Now we are hearing his message.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

IT (2017)

IT

Let the floating begin…

After the month of August has given an overall let down for theater goers, how refreshing is it that the movie to bring the experience of big screen ecstasy is not only a horror movie, but a remake? Well, you cannot deny IT.

Based off the book from Stephen King, IT is one film to satisfy not only fans of the horror genre, but those who think they don’t like horror films as well. It relies not just on the villain (whom Bill Skarsgard plays beautifully) but the idea of him as well. The film starts off with the death of a young boy months before the summer of 1989. We meet his older stuttering brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and some of his friends, including Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a hypochondriac, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), who spews one liners like a pro, and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), preparing for his bar mitzvah. There are other new kids as well that are adding to the “Losers”: Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), a social outcast with a good heart, Mike (Chosen Jacobs), who is homeschooled, and Beverly (Sophia Lillis), with her own troubles at home.

I had flash backs of another great Stephen King adaptation, Stand by Me (1986), while watching IT. If you cannot appreciate the horror aspect of this film, then you will certainly love the coming of age aspect. Ah, the middle school days, when guys acted tough, swearing all the time, and noticing the female body. All of that (and more) is played to perfection thanks in part to the perfect young cast (all of whom are mainly unknown to me, except for Wolfhard, who plays Mike in Netflix’s Stranger Things).

Like all wonderful horror movies, IT has a collage of breathtaking beauty. Consider a scene towards the end, when one character is waking up on the ground, and it almost looks like they are in a glass bottle. There is also a bathroom sequence that, while I will not spoil it, is destined to be one of the most talked about horror scenes of all time. Blood never looked so gorgeous, and I cannot credit director Andy Muschietti enough.

Perhaps what Muschietti does best is trust the intelligence of the audience. He keeps the perfect pace so that we (or at least those like me who never saw the original with Tim Curry) are figuring everything out as the characters are.

Parents, it is clear the movie is rated R for violence/gore and lots (and I mean lots) of children swearing (there is one scene where the kids, including Beverly, do go swimming in a quarry, wearing nothing but underwear.  Still, I noticed a few young people (no younger than 9 or 10) in the audience I was at. I guess it is up to you, but, if it were my kid, I would say middle school and up.

 

Admittedly, I must say the movie did start off a bit slow for me after the opening scene, but I gradually eased in to what is surely one of 2017’s best films. Two things went through my mind as I left the theater. The first was that I need to reevaluate my list of the top ten movies based on Stephen King novels (IT is not the best, but is surely up there). The second is that, if they start working on a sequel, I would personally not mind waiting another twenty-seven years.

I am sure Pennywise would agree.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

 

 

 

Ben-Hur (2016)

BenHur2016

A movie with Morgan Freeman? What could go wrong?

Normally, I will wait until the next day before I write a review. This will not be the case with the remake of Ben-Hur. I must advise all: this is one bad film (even though you can trust the 29% approval rating the film has on rottentomatoes.com). I bought an ICEE, and spent much of the film wondering when I should throw it away (I only hesitated on the idea because the seat I was in was so comfy).

For those who have not seen the (much better) film from 1959 (which itself was a remake from a silent film from 1925), or have read the book, the story tells of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Houston). A jewish prince, he grows up with his best friend and adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). One day, Messala betrays Judah along with his wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), his mother Naomi (Ayelet Zurer), and his sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia). Ben-Hur is sentenced to a life of slavery before he is discovered by Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). In all honesty, I don’t remember Morgan Freeman’s character ever being named, but it is Morgan Freeman, so does anyone really care? Apparently Freeman doesn’t, because there are sometimes where it seemed even he was bored.

It is also important to realize that the film takes place during the time of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is probably the most difficult role to play, and Rodrigo Santoro does do a fine job at it. If only he was given more to work with.

The movie is made by the same people who did the bible miniseries a few years ago (and later made a movie about it). Basically, like all Christian movies (and it pains me to admit this), the hearts of the filmmakers are totally in the right place. It is the thought process that I am failing to discover.

Basically, the action scenes are just by the books. When we finally get to the race scene at the end, we don’t expect much (and don’t get it either).

Parents, there is no swearing or any sexual material (other than kissing). There is action/violence, but not any worse than what can be found in a comic book movie. Middle Schoolers and above would be fine.

Actually, I take that back. I would rather people see the 1959 version with Charlton Heston (one of my favorite things about that movie is you never seen the face of Christ). Sure, that film is long, but it is more engaging and a heck of a lot more entertaining. The new Ben-Hur is proof that, for the most part, remakes are not a good thing.

It is Ben-Hurrible.

Sorry, but I sat through the movie, so I can make that joke.

Overall: One Star *

Let Me In (2010)

LET ME IN

Chloe Grace-Moretz and Kodi Smit-Mcphee form one heck of a connection.

I never got around to seeing any of the Twilight films (and don’t plan on it anytime soon), but I doubt it is as impactful as Let Me In.

The key success, I feel, is definetly in the performances by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz. Nowadays, they are still acting (I feel Moretz is more well known). They have a chemistry that words won’t give any justice to. Even all these years later, their careers are far from over.

Smit-McPhee is Owen, a troubled shy 12 year old who lives with his (recently divorced) mom. He is bullied at school, but he is still a good mannered kid. One day, Abby (Moretz) moves in next store with who seems to be her father (Richard Jenkins). She is also a normal girl, despite being a vampire.

The movie (based off the 2008 film from Sweden, Let the Right One in), is meant to be seen as a horror flick. It is more than that. Of course, there is a lot of blood, but the best scenes lie mainly in the moments with just Owen and Abby. It plays as a coming of age story, a romance (I am a sap for puppy love), and thriller.

Parents, the R rating is justified, as there is a lot of violence (there is also partial nudity when Owen is looking through his telescope at a neighbor, but it is very brief). High School and above.

As noted before, it is based off of a movie from Sweden called Let the Right One in. As of this writing, I have not seen it. A friend of mine said it is more superior than Let Me In. Since Let Me In is a delightful treat, I will probably have in store for me a smorgasbord when I see the original.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****