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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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Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

hateful-eight

The Hateful Eight focuses on eight despicable people in the same building. It leaves the audience wondering who will still be alive at the end, if anyone at all.

Quentin Tarantino is possibly the most uncompromising director in Hollywood. Even when he’s not at his best, he can still make a statement. I gave The Hateful Eight a look. I have to say I found it had a lot to like.

It starts in post-Civil War America in the frontiers. It’s a cold day and there’ signs that there’s a blizzard coming soon. Major Warren, an African-American bounty hunter, has three bodies to take back to Red Rock. He hitches a ride with a stagecoach despite being told by driver O.B. Inside the current passenger wants to be alone. Warren does get the ride and meets his other passengers: another bounty hunter by the name of John Ruth who has his bounty, the ruthless Daisy Domergue, with him handcuffed to him also headed to Red Rock. The ride is not pleasant as Daisy should racial slurs at Warren. To which Ruth response with a punch in her face. However Warren and Ruth are able to bond as Warren reads him his letter from Abraham Lincoln.

Along the way, the coachman  comes across a Lost Causer by the name of Chris Mannix who claims he’s to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Mannix is welcome but tension between him and Warren start over each other’s war records. However both Ruth and Warren make a pact to protect each other’s bounties.

The blizzard becomes so powerful, the four have to take refuge at the nearby Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge. Minnie’s not there and the four are greeted by Bob, a Mexican who claims Minnie is visiting her mother and he’s in charge. Also at the Haberdashery are Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray, cowboy Joe Gage who’s simply traveling to visit his mother, and former Confederate general Sanford Smithers. Ruth knows they will all be in the lodge overnight and trouble is bound to brew with all these differing and conflicting people. So he gets all but Warren to disarm.

They even try to get the eight to have a civilized dinner of stew at the same table. However Mannix points out to Warren that his letter from Abraham Lincoln is a forgery. Warren admits it, stating his letter gets him respect from white people that he’d otherwise be denied. Ruth is outraged when he hears this. Warren also has another confession, but to Smithers. He provokingly confesses to him that he tortured, sodomized and killed his son in lawful self-defense in revenge for his son executing black soldiers during the Civil War.

Another incident happens known only to Domergue, the coffee was poisoned. She alerts no one of this and allows for Ruth and O.B. to pour a mug. After drinking they both vomit and collapse. Mannix is fortunate enough not to drink the cup he poured after he saw what happened. Domergue is able to kill Ruth but through her own gun. Warren attempts to be the master of justice, determined to find out who poisoned the coffee. Only to uncover that Bob is possibly an impostor because Minnie’s haberdashery does not allow Mexicans. He suspects from the start that Minnie was killed and executes the Mexican. To the surprise of everyone, Warren is shot from below. Further shootouts follow leaving Mannix and Mobray wounded.

The film then flashes back to the beginning of the day when it was to be a typical day for Minnie’s Haberdashery. However a robbery happened where everyone including Minnie were killed. Only Smithers is still alive. The leader of the heist was Jody Domergue, Daisy’s brother, who plans to ambush Ruth knowing they’ll eventually stop here because of the anticipated blizzard and his gang will take Daisy away. Returning back to the current situation, the story goes into various confrontations and leads to an unpredictable ending.

Of all the films that are happening around this Oscar season, this appears to be the one film that shows no real intention of making a political statement or social statement of any kind. Actually what it is doing is telling a story that for the whole of it only takes place not even for a full day. It’s starts with a free African-American major wanting a stagecoach ride only to end up in the same coach as two others. Then another. All of which are polar opposites and you know a fight would start any minute. Then the four get to a shelter during the blizzard which happens to be a haberdashery place with four others, also a set of characters too with traits you know could add to the conflict.With eight spiteful people in the same place at the same time with a bone to pick with at least one of them, you know hell will break loose any minute and you wonder who will be the first to get killed. Even as you watch the whole film unravel, you will end up surprised to see anyone at the end of the movie alive.

Once again Quentin Tarantino delivers. He’s one of few directors that doesn’t have to succumb to the pressures of parental guidance groups, family values groups or even the pressures of Hollywood and be able to deliver his stuff his way. As I said at the beginning, he’s possibly the most uncompromising director in Hollywood. He is no holds barred in terms of the use of profanity and racial slurs in this film and uses no restraint. As is common in his movies, he divides his film into segments or even chapters as he does here. Also like his past films, he plays with the chronology of time as the incidents of what happened before the eight got together is shown as the fifth chapter rather than a simple flashback as most film makers would do.

Another thing Tarantino does here like he does in some of his other films is throw in some subtle humorous moments. One example is the case of a cowgirl from New Zealand. Another is getting all of the eight at a table to eat their dinner in a civilized manner, or as civilized as it can get. Another example of his dark humor is the gory effects of when one gets shot in the face or when one drinks the poisonous coffee. And an additional example is how he has items be a significant part of the film. The same way the watch, Kahuna Burger, suitcase and wallet fit the story of Pulp Fiction to a tee, we have Warren’s letter from Abraham Lincoln. He does the type of movie violence that can even make Martin Scorsese jealous. He always was a film maker who didn’t play by the rules. He always made his own rules.

I will admit being a longtime fan of his movies, I was wondering what The Hateful Eight would be like. His last two films weren’t exactly his best: Inglourious Basterds could dazzle at first but would later be seen as ridiculous in afterthoughts and Django Unchained look both ridiculous and redundant as revenge being rehashed. Here Tarantino takes a chance by having most of the situation happen in a single physical location. Most of the time you have that in the case of student films or feature-length films of rising directors. Here Tarantino uses his experience and his knowledge of directing and writing to create a full intense film that’s predominantly set in a single place. That was very creative of him as he does a good job in the story and directing and delivers a movie that gives you the sense anything can happen any minute.

However the film is awfully long and there are many scenes that seem like they are drawn out. Sometimes there are times you’re actually wondering why something hasn’t happened yet.I do give Tarantino credit for delivering a story that’s unpredictable but I still feel almost three hours is too long for such a film.

SPOILER ALERT: Ending Will Be Revealed In This Paragraph. Bypass This Paragraph If You Want The Ending To Be a Surprise. If there’s one surprise Tarantino gave me, it’s the ending. Usually Tarantino is one film maker that doesn’t usually have sentimentality in his films. I have never seen a sentimental moment in any of his previous films. However the ending as Mannix and Warren appear dying was possibly the most sentimental thing I’ve ever seen in a Tarantino film. Sure, that’s not saying much but it’s still atypical enough to notice. No, I didn’t shed a tear as didn’t anyone else in the theatre but it was still a surprise.

Tarantino may be the brains behind what’s all happening in the film but it’s the actors that make it come alive. All eight of the main actors had to deliver a character that was as likable as they were hateable. Basically the type of characters whom you wouldn’t shed a single tear over when they die. They succeed in doing so and even make you welcome their deaths at times. Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell were the ones able to command the most attention. However the biggest scene stealer will have to be Jennifer Jason Leigh. Her performance as the uncoothed Daisy Domergue really caught everyone’s attention. Her character of Daisy could have been considered annoying or even a distraction but she made it work. Her turn will also surprise you how a woman can be as ruthless as the men. The second show stealer would have to be Walton Goggins as Sheriff Mannix. Goggins also had a character that could have easily been dismissed as annoying or over the top but he became more likable and oddly enough appreciable by the end. If there was one more scene stealer, it had to be Bruce Dern as the spiteful Confederate General. Even the minor roles such as Minnie and Six Horse Judy were played well.

The film also did well in terms of its technical aspects. Robert Richardson did a very good job of cinematography both among the outside shots and inside shots. The natural and created sets works well too. Once again, Tarantino delivers a film with an excellent mix of songs from the past that fit the film well. However it’s the addition of the score from Ennio Morricone that give the film an added boost.

The Hateful Eight is not Tarantino’s best film ever. In fact it’s imperfections are noticeable. Nevertheless the film rarely gets boring and will still please Tarantino fans.

Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: Selma

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma.

David Oyelowo (centre) plays Martin Luther King in Selma about an important part of American history.

Selma appears to be about an important time in US history. However it tells more than what we’ve learned about the whole story including those involved.

The film is about the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. that would pave way to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it was more than that. It starts with Martin receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However it’s just the beginning for Martin. A black church in Alabama explodes killing four young girls. Annie Lee Cooper has been denied the right to vote like most black people in Alabama before her. Meanwhile King is unsuccessful in convincing Johnson to pass a law allowing black citizens to vote.

Instead of accepting defeat, King is undeterred and determined to achieve this. Selma, Alabama is the meeting place for King and other activists to organize efforts to achieve this law. However both Johnson and FBI head J. Edgar Hoover are nervous about this. Hoover uses phone calls to disrupt his marriage to Coretta. Undeterred, King and black residents of Selma march to the registration office only to be confronted by a mob of police and a riot ensues where King and Cooper are arrested.

Things get even harder as state governor George Wallace, a pro-segregationist, speaks out against the marches and even calls police in Marion, Alabama to use force from state troopers during a planned night march. An assault by troopers does occur during the march where Jimmie Lee Jackson, who hid in a restaurant for the safety of him and his family, is shot to death by the police. Jimmie’s death only prompts King to tell people to stick to fighting for their rights. However the Kings receive threats on their children and activist groups are becoming unhappy with him.

A march from Selma to Montgomery to make their message heard is planned especially with the hopes of having all of the United states watching and paying attention, especially as working on ‘white consciousness’ is one of King’s objectives. At first King is hesitant but is convinced by his colleague Andrew Young. The original march takes place with all African-Americans. Right on the Edmund Pettis Bridge they’re stopped by police and attacked. The news goes nationwide. A second march is planned. This time King not only has blacks from other cities but white supporters too from regulars to religious clergy. Just before the marchers reach the end of the bridge, the chief officer and his group are back again. This time they’re allowed to proceed but King kneels in prayer and goes back. The reason was because King was suspicious. He doesn’t trust the mob of police and wants legal permission for them to march. The push for permission is especially stressed as one of the white allies, Rev. James Reeb, was beaten to death. The permission is granted by Alabama Judge Frank Minis Johnson. Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King and the marchers make history.

There’s no question that this is to do about an important moment in American history. Actually coming from Canada, I was never taught about Selma. I knew about the I Have A Dream speech but was never taught about Selma. However the film is also about Martin Luther King himself. The movie begins with him accepting his Nobel Peace Prize which came months after his I Have A Dream speech. However we would be reminded that King had more work to be done. Selma was a new challenge for him as his people needed the right to vote. However there was the constant threat of police brutality and even death. He stood firm in his non-violence stance and his plan was to work on ‘white consciousness’ and he knew it was the only way to work. He also knew he had to work with the tough minds of President Johnson and other politicians including Alabama Governor George Wallace. Each death linked to the marches would make him more fearful but it would make him more convinced this is something that needs to be done. We all know it was achieved but this is a reminder of how King and his people had to achieve their right.

The film also takes us back to the time and place. It reminds us just how hard it was to be black in southern US states like Alabama. Living in segregation was one thing. Being denied the right to vote was another. The only time in my life I knew of black people being denied the right to vote was in South Africa up to 1994. Apartheid riots were common news stories in the 80’s. I was shocked to learn that it was happening to black people in the 60’s in the Southern US. I always thought the US was supposed to be the ‘land of the free.’ It showed the red tape black people had to face in the justice system and especially with the police. We are all shocked and disgusted to hear about the fatal shootings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in recent years and their killers getting away with it. This was happening in Alabama in the 60’s all the time. Especially shootings by police on young unarmed black men like Jimmie Lee Jackson. You couldn’t blame them for having had it. They couldn’t be denied this anymore and this was a must-win situation for them and King.

Just as much of a focal point as blacks fighting for their right to vote is also the focus of the bigoted attitude of the whites in Alabama. King made it his duty to work on ‘white consciousness’ in order to achieve this victory. Alabama, especially in the city of Selma, showed what type of ‘racial battleground’ they had to deal with. The first sign was the church explosion but we’d see it all throughout. We’d see it in the police brutality, we’d see it as a restaurant proudly advertises itself as ‘a whites-only restaurant since 1883,’ we’d see it as a white man ‘introduces’ himself to King and punches him in the face, we’d see it in the taunting of white people from all around. That’s the type of environment the black people had to fight. We should forget that Alabama has segregation removed years ago but the white people weren’t happy. They felt that segregation was right and they reacted in frustration with taunting and even violence. Even when white people joined the blacks in their march, that didn’t change a lot of people’s minds. In fact they found white supporters to be a threat and reacted with the same violence on them, even killing some. Another reminder that white supporters of the Selma marches would also be at risk to the same violent reactions as blacks. The film takes us back to the time, place and the hostile attitudes at the time. An ugly reminder but necessary to show.

Even though the film was about Martin Luther King, his crusade for human rights and the bigoted attitudes in the area, the film also showed another factor: the strength of non-violence. King’s use of non-violent means to achieve human rights may appear radical to many and even ridiculous to some at first. In fact it explains why he had a rivalry with Malcolm X as seen near the beginning of the film. Because Malcolm believed: “by any means necessary.” However it was shown to be successful in the actual event and in the film. In fact I noticed the film to also show violent means to look cowardly. We see it in the police who try to use it to strike fear in the protesters in hoping they’d quit. We see it in the white Alabamans as they use it to strike fear in the blacks and their supporters. Most of the times it’s seen they do it on impulse because they just don’t know how to deal with the situation. Funny how we’ve seen a lot of Hollywood movies, especially in the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s, where the leading man uses vengeance and violence to become the hero. Here violence looks very cowardly.

Without a doubt, this film has to belong to Ava DuVernay in directing and co-writing the story with Paul Webb. She did an excellent job in recreating the story of the marches, the people involved with them and the atmosphere of the time and place. The end result is an excellent film that won’t leave you. It’s not without controversy. There are many questioning the depiction of Lyndon Johnson in the film. Historical documents show he was actually supportive of Martin Luther King and his mission. Even I myself believed for a second that Johnson may have had some difficulty at first, knowing Johnson was originally from Texas: a state that formerly had segregation. DuVernay simply responded: “I’m a storyteller. Not a historian.” Whatever the situation, it was still a very good film put together.

David Oyelowo was excellent as Martin Luther King Jr. as she showed him in both his convictions, his inner strength and even his own personal frailties at times, like that time he relied on Andrew Young to go through with the march. Even that scene where he calls gospel singer Mahalia Jackson for inspiration and she sings to him shows that King did have fears which he needed support for. Tom Wilkinson was also very good as Johnson. Even if you feel his depiction of Johnson wasn’t that truthful, it was still a very good performance. Carmen Ejogo was excellent as Coretta. She did more than just simply play Martin Luther King’s wife. She played a young woman who herself grew in courage: a courage Coretta would need after Martin’s assassination. Oprah was also surprisingly well as Annie Lee Cooper. Right at the beginning we could see a character completely opposite to the Oprah we know. A character that looks like she’s been through the hardest life offered her. You could see it in her face. The cinematography and music added to the environment of the story. You could feel that this was a struggle worth winning.

Selma is a film retelling an important moment in history. It gives us insight into the people involved and the environment they had to fight in order to achieve their rights.