A Star is Born

October 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott
Directed by: Bradley Cooper (debut)
Written by: Eric Roth (“The Insider”), Will Fetters (“The Best of Me”) and Bradley Cooper (debut)

Three-time Academy Award-nominated actor Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”) makes a mostly convincing, albeit imperfect, directorial debut with “A Star Is Born,” the third reimagining of the film since the original version hit the silver screen more than 80 years ago.

In this newest reiteration, six-time Grammy-award-winning singer Lady Gaga steps into the spotlight where actresses Janet Gaynor (1937 version), Judy Garland (1954 version) and Barbara Streisand (1976 version) once stood. Gaga plays Ally, an aspiring musician swept off her feet by alcoholic rock star Jackson Maine (Cooper), who is instantaneously captivated by Ally’s talent when he sees her perform “La Vie en Rose” at a drag bar.

Witnessing Ally and Jackson courting each other during the first act of the film is when “A Star Is Born” is at its most charming and romantic. It never reaches the level of something like 2007’s Oscar-winning Irish drama “Once,” but Cooper and Gaga sell their relationship as a genuine love connection, despite its seemingly quick development.

Movie magic occurs when Jackson invites Ally onto the stage during one of his concerts to perform a duet with him. It’s unrealistic to think an original song could actually come together like that without a bit of rehearsal, but by the time Ally bravely takes the mic to sing the second verse of “Shallow” (a song co-written by Gaga, which will undoubtedly land an Oscar nod for Best Song), there’s no real reason to argue logic. The single is that good.

As soon as their relationship is established, however, the script starts losing momentum and seems to find comfort in falling into familiar territory. Again, “A Star Is Born” has a long history of remakes, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that screenwriters Eric Roth (“The Insider”), Will Fetters (“The Best of Me”) and Cooper, who is also credited as a writer, follow a conventional template. The dimming of one star and the rise of another is a formula that has worked well in the past, but Cooper is only somewhat successful in transforming it into a story that truly feels fresh.

During a scene in the final act, Jackson’s older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) explains to Ally what Jackson’s musical philosophy is by describing music as “12 notes between any octave — 12 notes and the octave repeats” and adding that it’s up to the artist to say something significant enough inside those parameters to move listeners emotionally. In “A Star Is Born,” Cooper and Gaga have voices worth listening to, especially when they’re harmonizing in front of a crowd of thousands. We just wish the narrative mixed in a few more sharps and flats to ensure a clearly distinct sound and experience.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Directed by: Stephen Daldry (“The Reader”)
Written by: Eric Roth (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)

With 9/11 brooding at the center of its emotionally manipulative core, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” displays about as much modesty regarding the 2001 tragedy as Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Simply put: it’s an exploitative sham.

While the self-important drama would like to do for September 11 what a film like 1997’s “Life is Beautiful” (“La vita è bella”) did for the Holocaust by telling a whimsical and heartfelt story within the framework of an unimaginably painful time in history, it doesn’t have nearly enough charm to pull it off. Its lack of quality storytelling and characterization begins and ends with acting newcomer Thomas Horn as the film’s main character Oskar Schell. Metaphorically and pretentiously speaking, the boy’s last name could refer to the hard outer covering of the personality he must break through to let others in. Sigh.

Oskar, who just might be one of the most posturing characters in cinematic history, is unlike any other brainy 9-year-old kid usually seen in the locker room with his underwear pulled over his head. Not only is he an amateur entomologist, Francophile, pacifist, and undiagnosed autistic — his idea of fun is going on fact-finding expeditions through the New York City his father (Tom Hanks) creates for him. When his father dies in the World Trade Center attacks, Oskar is convinced a mysterious key he discovers is a clue left behind for his next journey.

Ignore the fact that Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock) allows him to walk around NYC unsupervised or that actually coming across a lock the key will fit is highly improbable; what is most problematic about the screenplay is the rambunctious and grating nature of Oskar himself and the phony relationships he creates along the way, including one with his estranged mute grandfather (Max von Sydow).

Despite the exaggerated melodrama, what works best in the film are the few moments director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) allows a child’s perspective to be the window through which the audience watches the events of September 11 unfold. Hanks, too, is memorable when he’s not on screen. The voice messages he leaves on an answering machine on what Oskar calls “the worst day” are chilling, to say the least.

Beyond that, however, “Extremely Loud” is meaningless. As much as it wants to affect, connect, and heal, there’s only so much fiction you can attach to 9/11 before it feels like just another sob story. If the Academy made a glaring gaffe with this year’s nominations, it was in calling this sentimental drivel one of the best films of the year. In fact, this is a forced tearjerker that can’t wrap up soon enough.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

December 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by: David Fincher (“Fight Club”)
Written by: Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”)

David Fincher’s new fantasy drama “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” doesn’t exactly mirror 1994’s “Forrest Gump” word for word, but screenwriter Eric Roth, who penned both scripts, uses so many elements from the story that won him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, don’t be caught off guard if during “Button” you start seeing images of Bubba flashing on screen.

The similarities between the two, however, aren’t Fincher’s biggest problem. “Benjamin Button” is a story about death, and a beautiful one to behold from a technical point of view. But with a topic so poignant, Fincher fails to expand on the inner workings of his characters. In a story dealing with so much loss, there is very little life.

“Benjamin Button” begins with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), an old woman dying in a hospital bed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina who asks her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read to her the diary she has secretly kept her entire life. (Think “Big Fish” but without the tall tales and less enchanting moments).

As the story gradually unfolds, we learn of a baby born on the night WWI ended, who’s father abandons it on the porch of a stranger’s house after its mother dies during childbirth. The baby, of course, is Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a peculiar child who seems to be aging backwards. He stars as an elderly infant and slowly becomes younger as his body develops stronger and then younger itself. He’s adopted by Queeny (Taraji P. Henson), the caretaker of a senior’s home who can’t have children of her own and raises Benjamin as her son.

Soon, we see how Benjamin and our storyteller, Daisy, meet each other and form an unusual friendship. Daisy is a seven-year-old little girl while Benjamin is a little boy who looks 67 but has the complexity of a child her age. It gets less creepy as Daisy gets older and Benjamin gets younger and the two go their separate ways. Still, they never really never let go of their special bond.

But characters come in and out of each others lives and Daisy’s flashbacks continue in an uninteresting catalog reminiscent of “This is Your Life” glints. It’s not nearly as memorable or entertaining as Gump’s brush with history and celebrity. “Benjamin Button” may have done some wildly inventive things in the graphics department (molding Pitt’s head on a small body looks amazing especially when compared to things like “Little Man”), but there’s nothing here that makes the film as deeply moving as it should have been.