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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Star Is Born: An Evolution in Four Films


They say that there's a version of A Star Is Born for every generation - a statement which isn't technically true since the 1990s never produced a version, resulting in a 42 year break between the most recent two, but which seems true enough in spirit. While the knee-jerk reaction to movie remakes is generally something along the lines of, "Ugh, why?" (unless it's a reboot of Ghostbusters, in which case it will be met with hysterical wailing about childhoods retroactively ruined), there's something endlessly compelling about this love story of a star in decline and a star on the rise. When you strip these four films down to the absolute bare bones of their stories, there is no fundamental difference between them. It's the same story - and, indeed, the same story beats - each and every time, leaving no reason why it shouldn't become stale after multiple outings. And yet there still manages to be something unique and compelling about each version, something which makes it worthwhile to keep coming back to the story again and again. So let's take a look at the fundamental similarities, and the specific differences, between these four films.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: A Star is Born (2018)

* * *

Director: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper

One of the most pleasant surprises so far this year is how good A Star is Born really is. I doubt many people would have expected that when the project was first announced, and when the studio released the trailer, which to my mind is one of the best trailers of the year, I don't know that most of us would have expected anything more than an okay movie with a really good trailer. So here it is and it's not only as good as its pre-release hype would suggest, it's as good as its tremendous post-release hype has been. I don't remember the last time that a non-Marvel, non-Star Wars movie prompted such a wealth of posts on pop culture sites, burning bright like a supernova of publicity. It's difficult to say that any movie could live up to this much chatter, but A Star is Born comes close enough. It's just a damn good movie; it really is.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

* * *

Director: Michael Moore

The first 10 minutes of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9 are brutal. Taking us back to the eve of the 2016 election, when for many of us it seemed inconceivable that a candidate who was openly racist, an admitted sexual assaulter, and who actively incited violence at his rallies could be elected President, the opening minutes of Fahrenheit 11/9 are awash in people gleeful at the prospect of a Democratic victory, having counted the chickens before they hatched. It's like seeing that two cars are about to collide and being utterly helpless to stop it. And in the end, it's far from the most upsetting thing in this documentary, a polemic that, despite the advertising's heavy focus on Trump, is not really focused on Trump specifically, but the political system that made his ascension to the United States' highest office possible. If you hate Michael Moore you aren't likely to be won over by this film, which is a shame because he makes a lot of solid points.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: The Children Act (2018)

* * *

Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

The Children Act, based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan (who takes on screenwriting duties here), is a rare breed of modern film. Unlike so many films released now, which are designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible because transcending the boundaries of demographics is the only way to recoup increasingly astronomical production costs, The Children Act squares in on a specific audience and is content to cater to it alone. It's a movie for adults, a drama about morality that centers on a woman in a position of power who comes to doubt the way that she has used that power. It's headlined by Emma Thompson, whose performance is reliably profound and raises the film up even in its weakest sections.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

* * * 1/2

Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding

You have to play to win, which is exactly what Crazy Rich Asians, adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, does. Proving a couple of important things right out of the gate - that the romantic comedy isn't actually dead if the effort is there and the product is good, that there is literally no good reason why a big studio feature can't be comprised of an entirely non-white cast - it doesn't buckle under the weight of its potential as a watershed film, focusing instead on just being a good film, period. Crazy Rich Asians is one of the cinematic highlights of 2018, an enchanting romantic comedy that relies on a good story and strong characters, rather than on the audience accepting dumb plot contrivances, in order to work. Crazy Rich Asians is a great way to bring the summer movie season to a close.