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Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper play two singers in love in A Star Is Born.

Right now we seem to have a lot of reboots in terms of entertainment. Reboots of TV series, reboots in music and reboots in movies too. A Star Is Born is a reboot of a film done three times before, but does it translate for the present?

I know I mentioned about a lot of reboots happening in my introduction. There are a lot of successful reboots right now, but there have also been some reboots that flopped too. What makes a successful reboot isn’t just rehashing something people loved in the past. It also involves making it relevant to the present and also have the ability to both please fans of the past materials and win over new fans. One of the best cinematic examples of a reboot is last year’s It. The cinematic version of It worked last year because of two smart choices. The first being it would divide 28 years earlier to the time of the plot in two separate films. The second being the childhood part of the story would be set in 1989 and the adulthood part of the story to be set in the present, unlike setting the childhood part in 1958 and the adulthood part in 1986 as in the novel and the miniseries.

Moving onto A Star Is Born, we’re dealing with a film that has been done three times before. The first being in 1937 starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the second being in 1954 starring Judy Garland and James Mason, and the third being in 1976 starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. For Bradley Cooper to take on the project and turn it into something winning for the present, he had to make a lot of choices.

Some elements would be very similar to what was done in films past, while some elements would have to be new and relevant and believable for the present. There were a lot of elements of all three past editions that worked very well such as a singer struggling to make it, the wash-up who discovers her and promotes her to greatness and even loves her, and the man encountering a substance problem which hurts his marriage and ultimately takes his life.

There were some elements from the separate films that he had to include. For example 1937 and 1954 were about an actress trying to make it and a washed-up actor promoting her and loving here. 1976 was about singers for the first time. The choice to have singers and in the field of country music as in 1976 worked well for the film. I will focus more on that later. Also the tribute Ally gave to Judy Garland was a subtle reminder in the film of the most famous version of the story.

Then there were the more complicated choices. First off, Bradley Cooper may have proven himself as an actor, but not as a singer or a director in the past. Bradley had to give himself the practice and even have the duet scene done in front of a live crowd. Sometimes only the real thing can work. Secondly, there were two factors involving Lady gaga. One factor was she had limited acting experience with her biggest previous role being her minor role in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. The other factor was to present Gaga as a country singer. We all know her as the modern flamboyant pop icon and most of us could not see her as a country star. Even seeing Gaga portray Ally as a common pop star later on was challenging because of her ‘grand diva’ image. However Gaga made it work and came off as a very believable country singer. Her songs from the film have also won her fans over too. Thirdly is the chemistry between the two. The two had to come across not just as two singers but as a couple in love. The chemistry between Jackson and Ally worked excellently and made for a believable story. Star power can only go so far. They have to make it work on screen and they did it. Fourthly is the music. In order to make this version of A Star Is Born about two contemporary singers, the reboot had to have original songs that fit the film and fit the genres of country of pop, whatever genre was needed in what scene. The songs fit the film to a tee and proved to be winners off the screen too as Shallow and I’ll Never Love Again have charted.

Top accolades go to Bradley Cooper. The reboot was originally intended in 2011 to be directed by Clint Eastwood and have Beyonce as the lead. Beyonce’s pregnancy interfered with the story and it lead to four years of chaos with both Beyonce and Eastwood eventually leaving the project. Cooper picked it up, joined co-writer Will Fetters, and saw it as his chance for his directorial debut. He was first trying to get Beyonce to agree to the project, but it was decided in 2016 that Lady Gaga would be the lead. This proves to be a success in acting, directing, co-writing with Fetters and Eric Roth, and co-producing. The story comes across as relevant and believable to the current times and winning with the public once again.

It’s not just Cooper. Lady Gaga comes off excellent in what is her first lead role. We all know how Lady Gaga can really go into a character as seen in her on-stage performances and her music videos. However this was her first major acting role and singers are a bit of a gamble in terms of casting them as actors in movies; they’re either sink or swim. Sure, she knows how to sing, but the challenge was for her to handle a lead role. She handled the role of Ally with believability from start to finish. Even with the singing, Gaga showed she can sing country very well and also make for a believable common pop star. The film is as much Gaga’s triumph as it is Cooper’s.

There’s also more winning performances than just Cooper and Gaga. There’s also veteran actor Sam Elliott not just coming across as a believable cowboy half-brother in Bobby, but also stealing each scene he was in. That’s what makes a winning supporting actor. Andrew Dice Clay is not only good as Ally’s father Lorenzo, but is unrecognizable! Rafi Gavron also comes across well as Ally’s manager who has an axe to grind with Jackson. He did a good job in making Rez hateable. Dave Chappelle and Anthony Ramos were also very good in their supporting roles, despite having roles that weren’t that challenging or lacked screen time.

A Star Is Born goes beyond being a simple reboot. The story is made relevant to the times, the actors deliver a believable story and a love with chemistry, and the music is winning. This is not just another reboot. This is a reboot that works big-time!

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Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Lady Bird is about a 17 year-old girl (played by Saoirse Ronan) dealing with her life and her future, and her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) trying to steer her in the right direction.

Lady Bird is a top contender for this year’s Academy Awards. If you’ve seen it, you can see how this film is not a typical ‘teen movie’ and actually a story with a lot packed in.

Christine McPherson is a frustrated 17 year-old girl living in Sacramento in 2002. She has a stormy relationship with her parents as well as her adoptive brother and his girlfriend. To make things more frustrating, she’s put in Catholic school for Grade 12 because there was a shooting at her public school. She appears unclear about her life direction and frequently insists that all people refer to her as ‘Lady Bird,’ including family.

Starting school, she has a close friendship with Julie Steffans whom she joins the drama club with. Through the club, she meets a sweet talented boy named Danny O’Neill. They soon start dating and they appear to be a match made in heaven until Lady Bird catches Danny in a bathroom stall kissing another boy.

Throughout her time at the school, Lady Bird develops a mean streak of rebelliousness. One minute, she’s consuming Eucharist wafers with Julie. The next, she vandalizes the nuns’ car with a sing saying “Just married to Jesus.” Another moment, she lashes out at a pro-life speaker who visits her school, which leads to a two-week suspension. This leads to a lot of friction with her friend Julie who sees her as one who does things for attention.

During this time, it all leads to a lot of friction with her mother Marion, who has a lot of high expectations for Lady Bird and her life, especially with applying for colleges. Marion often feels that Lady Bird lacks goals or appears like she doesn’t want to do anything meaningful with her life. Marion feels that way because she had to work hard to achieve. This generation gap appears to Lady Bird that her mother is an interference to her life and her own goals. To make family struggles worse, her father loses his job and is struggling with depression.

Lady Bird tries to escape from those headaches. She gets a job at a cafe where she meets Kyle Schieble, a boy from school she knows is part of a rock band. She strays away from Julie and starts hanging out with popular girl Jenna Walton. She sees opportunity after Jenna was reprimanded by the school for wearing short skirts. Thus Lady Bird bring Jenna into the ‘just married to Jesus’ prank. However none of her efforts to mix with the ‘cool kids’ works out. She lied to Jenna about her house so she can fit in, but Jenna finds the truth out. Also she agrees to have sex with Kyle, believing his claim that he’s a virgin, only to find out he’s had other girls before.

As graduation nears, things change for the better for Lady Bird. She gets a letter from a college in New York saying she’s on the waiting list, though she tells her mother she’s been accepted. She’s willing to go shopping for a prom dress with her mother. Her relationship with her brother and his girlfriend gets better as he gets a major job. On prom night, she forsakes a party with Jenna and Kyle to meet up with Julie. There, she rekindles the friendship and they go to the prom together. She even attends Danny’s school performance.

Over at the graduation party, Lady Bird admits to her mother that she was on the waiting list to the university in New York, to which Marion appears either hurt or angry. Lady Bird’s 18th birthday comes soon after. Marion has a letter written for Lady Bird to read when she’s settled in her college dorm. Then it’s the flight to New York. Marion does not talk to Lady Bird, appearing like she’s disappointed with her. Marion even drives away when Lady Bird enters the airport, but cries soon after. It’s in her first month in New York after reading the letter and a near-fatal bout of alcohol poisoning that she leaves a heartfelt message to her mother.

The biggest quality of this film is that it’s a story many people can relate to. Sure, it’s about a 17-year-old tart-tongued girl from Sacramento who’s clueless about which direction to go, but one will find themselves relating to this story. Many can watch what Lady Bird is going through at school, through her job, through falling in love, or through her stormy relationship with her mother and say: “That’s also what I went through,” or “That was my attitude at 17,” or “I knew someone like that.”

One of the things is about the character of Lady Bird is that despite her eccentricities, it also captures the essence of being a seventeen year-old well. Seventeen is that bizarre age where one is just a year away from becoming an adult. It’s a bumpy road as they are in the process of defining one’s self and making choices of what direction in life they want to pursue. We see that in all of the seventeen year-old characters in the film like Julie, the best friend who’s a social misfit, Jenna who thinks she’s too cool, Kyle who thinks he’s all that just like every rock star, and Danny who’s struggling with being gay in a conservative Catholic family.

Lady Bird is at the centre of being seventeen. The character of Lady Bird captures being 17 in a lot of its best traits, but also in some of its worst traits too. Lady Bird is all about her self-definition where she feels she has to find herself in the drama club. Lady Bird is one who also still feels social pressures despite her individualism and tries to fit in with the cool students despite leaving close friends behind. Lady Bird is also about her spiritual confusion too. She wants to be an individual and think for herself, even rebel against the Catholic Church at times, but somehow shows that she longs to believe in a god despite her rebellion.

Lady Bird is also about having that teen frustration towards her parents, especially her mother. In fact, the mother-daughter relationship between Lady Bird and Marion has to be one of the biggest elements of the film, if not the biggest. Lady Bird has desires for her life, but Marion has goals for her. Often Lady Bird feels she has to explode at Marion, but she learns to calm down and have the normal frustration a 17 year-old has to their mother. As for parent-teen relations, the film is also about Marion too. The personalities of Marion and Lady Bird are like oil and water trying to mix. Marion had her own upbringing and her own difficulties resonate in her personality and even how she raises Lady Bird. Marion feels that the best way she can steer Lady Bird down the right path is to tell her off about her misdoings and wrong directions. She has expectations for Lady Bird, but often feels she falls short. Over time, Marion becomes more accepting of Lady Bird, but she does show disappointment when she finds out Lady Bird lied about her application. That scene near the end where Marion is unemotional in the ride to the airport but cries after dropping Lady Bird off is an example of her personality.

I’m sure many people first thought that this film would be about Lady Bird Johnson. The funniest thing about this film is that there is not a single reference to the former First Lady! Not even a case of one of her classmates uttering out: “Hey Lady Bird, where’s LBJ?”

The true star of the film isn’t exactly an actor, but writer/director Greta Gerwig. After years of having an acting career of mixed results, she came up with this story that is not completely biographical. There are some similarities in Lady Bird that tie into Greta’s own teenage years, but Gerwig insists it’s its own story. Whatever the situation, Gerwig did an excellent job of constructing an entertaining story about a 17 year-old that anyone could relate to. I’m sure anyone no matter what race or gender can identify with moments in Lady Bird to moments in their own life at 17.

Additional top kudos go to Saoirse Ronan for delivering a character that is quirky, but shares a lot of common traits of teens. She does an excellent job of making the role of Lady Bird multi-dimensional. Also worthy of praise is the performance of Laurie Metcalf. She succeeds in turning this film into Marion’s story as much as it is Lady Bird’s story. She’s good at capturing the essence of the mother of a teenager both inside and out. She also does a good job of blending in Marion’s own personality traits of hardship and having a hard attitude. Laurie’s also very good at leaving out all traces of Jackie from Roseanne. Fans of the show would be surprised how different she acts here.

The actors in their supporting roles also did a great job of owning their moment. The most noticeable being Beanie Feldstein as the best friend who sometimes appears to be Lady Bird’s better half, Lucas Hedges as a boy who loves to act but is troubled by his sexuality in school, Timothee Chalamet as the teenage bad boy girls drool over but parents hate, Stephen McKinley Henderson as the priest that’s troubled on the inside, Jordan Rodrigues as the brother caught in the middle, and Tracy Letts as the father trying to make sense of it all.

Lady Bird is a quirky and humorous film about a mother-daughter relationship and the difficulties of being seventeen. Despite its off-the-wall humor, it’s also deep and touching and will resonate with the audience.

Movie Review: The Iron Lady

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become… habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.

Remember Margaret Thatcher? I remember her well. She was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 80’s. For those who remember the 80’s, who could forget her? The Iron Lady is the movie where Meryl Streep brings Margaret to life. The big question is how good does Streep do it?

The movie opens in the present as Margaret in her 80’s goes out to buy milk and has breakfast with her husband. Problem is when her keepers see her, she’s the only one there. Margaret now has dementia and has people to look after her. She can’t tell the difference between her illusions and her reality. Even her daughter, who she has a strained relationship with, tells her that her son is in South Africa, she’s not the Prime Minister and her husband’s dead.

Margaret tries to adjust to her reality. She knows she has to accept the fact of her husband’s death. It has its difficulties. As she’s autographing books, she signs one Margaret Roberts. This flashes back to the days she’s the grocer’s daughter, working at her father’s grocery store while the town’s girls were having fun. Her father gave political speeches and encouraged Margaret to develop a strong will for herself. Further flashbacks move to when she falls in love with successful businessman Denis Thatcher and when she runs for her first election in 1950. She loses but Denis strongly believes in her.

In 1959 Margaret Thatcher, now married and a mother, is finally elected an MP in parliament. She has the difficulty of being the only female MP in parliament as she is known as the ‘lady of the house’. Nevertheless she does find support in a man, Airey Neive. He’s able to coach out her voice and her image. He even believes she could be the Prime Minister. Margaret doubts it and believes there will never be a woman Prime Minister as long as she’s alive. His death in a car bomb implanted by the IRA changed that. She became leader of the Conservative Party and won the national election in 1979. She didn’t just live to see Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. She achieved it.

Becoming Prime Minister in 1979 was not an easy thing. She had to deal with Britain’s rising unemployment, the Brixton riots, lengthy labor strikes like the seven month-long coal miners strike of 1984, and even an IRA bomb explosion during the 1984 Conservative Party Conference where she and her husband were almost killed. She also faced her biggest challenge when she declared war to reclaim the Falkland Islands. She was determined to win it back and she succeeded. Things improved for Thatcher as Britain had a better economy, she developed a friendship with Ronald Reagan and she emerged as a leading world figure.

By 1990, her reputation as the Iron Lady was starting to wear thin. She went from being seen as an active World leader to being more of a political tyrant who verbally assaults her own colleagues. Geoffrey Howe resigned after being humiliated by her in a Cabinet meeting. Michael Heseltine challenges her for the leadership of the Conservative Party and Cabinet forces her to resign as Prime Minister. She still carries the bitterness twenty years later.

Eventually Margaret does learn to let go as she packs up Denis’ belongings and tells him it’s time to go. Denis does leave and we see her washing a teacup, something she promised Denis she would never do.

The weakness of this movie is that it looks like it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a biographical drama or a fictional story amongst historical figures. No question there are a lot of times when it showcases the struggles, triumphs and defeats of Margaret Thatcher but it often feels like the story is more about her ordeal with dementia instead of the legacy she created. Many times it doesn’t make much sense as I came hoping for a biographical story of Margaret but instead felt like I was watching a movie about Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband. Even now I’m still confused what the main point of the movie was.

There is no doubt the movie did an excellent job in bringing back the legacy of one of the most legendary political heads of state of modern times. History should continue to remember Margaret Thatcher and the younger generations should be familiar with her. Margaret Thatcher sent a strong message of what a female head of state can do. She showed a woman head of state is as capable of being a world leader as a male head of state can be. She proved a woman head of state can have a long powerful term. She proved a woman head of state can transform a country. She also proved that a woman head of state is just as capable of declaring a war as a male head of state. There have been female heads of state before but never before was there a female head of state of a major country. Today the biggest country with a female head of state is Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. American media have strongly hinted there may be a president Sarah Palin in the future. Who knows?

Without a doubt, Meryl Streep delivers another winning acting performance. She never disappoints and always delivers. However this is a milestone for her and ranks amongst one of the best performances she’s ever done. Jim Broadbent was also excellent as her husband. The script however was the difficult part as I stated earlier as it doesn’t make it clear what this movie is exactly supposed to be. In all honestly, it’s another average film where Meryl’s acting saves the day. Director Phylidda Lloyd and scriptwriter Abi Morgan appear like they need more experience in their fields. They both know how to do well in their trade on the theatre but not necessarily too well on film. Even Phylidda’s own Mamma Mia from years ago doesn’t do her justice on film.

If there was one positive point of the script, it’s that it was able to capture Thatcher’s drive and beliefs. Lines like: “(Politics) used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” or even how she talked of the Americans and their drive showed how she was one who wanted to achieve things for reasons beyond her own personal interest. The biggest strength of the script is that the essence of Margaret’s political muscle was very present.

The reception of the film has been mixed. I talked about how the film brought back the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Some may agree with me while some may feel the movie hails her more than it should vilify her. We often forget that there are many people who were unhappy with her way of politics back during her administration and still harbor negative attitudes to her to this day. Even Margaret’s children, Mark and Carol, have said about the movie “It sounds like some left-wing fantasy.” Films about politicians are always going to start lots of talk.

The Iron Lady isn’t exactly as strong portrayal of Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister. It took Streep’s performance as Margaret to save the film from being a major disappointment. No doubt Streep will win the Oscar this year.