“A Star is Born” (2018) Full Film Review

This “ageless and evergreen” movie musical will move your very soul from “the shallow” to the deep. Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is the fourth version of this story, and the strongest of the group. Now, the Streisand version will always have special place in my heart because I’m a lifelong Streisand fan. But other than Streisand herself, the rest of the film is largely forgettable. However, Cooper’s A Star is Born is a mind-blowingly, unapologetic movie musical that delivers a genuine authenticity rarely seen in movie musicals. With all the hype that this film received out of the Venice Film Festival and others during September, there is often the question that IF the film lives up to the hype? The short answer is YES. Fixing some of the plot holes in the Streisand version and providing more comprehensive character development, the screenplay co-written by Cooper harnesses the power of a simple plot with complex characters dealing with the positive and negative affects of stardom on two different people caught in a “bad romance.” With two charismatic performers with outstanding vocals and music plus a gripping story that will have you hooked from the first bar to the last, A Star is Born is an etherial cinematic experience equivalent to that of a shooting star. A star that will shoot its way to the Oscars next year.

Loving the bottle as much as he loves the stage, alt-country rockstar Jackson Maine (Cooper) wonders into a drag bar where he arrives just in time to see the performance of Ally (Gaga). Blown away by her incredible vocals, Maine finds her in the dressing room to introduce himself. Maine is taken back by her street smarts and homespun humility, but sees an undiscovered star. Although Ally has all but given up on her dream, Maine is determined to coax her out onto the stage Determined to provide Ally with the stage she needs to showcase her uncanny ability to create magic with her voice, a magic that has profound, authentic meaning behind it, Maine invites her to join him at a gig. When she refuses the invitation, Maine sends his chauffeur to follow her until she gives in. And gives in, she does. Already smitten with Ally, Maine falls madly in love with her after their voices make incredible music together. Soon, Ally’s career takes off like a shooting star, while Maine deals with his inner demons. Just like careers have ups and downs, so does the relationship between Ally and Jackson Maine.

As a star rises, a comet falls. While the basic plot of this, and the other versions of A Star is Born are similar in nature, this one feels the most cinematic. Cooper’s screenplay takes what the previous versions did well, and then improves where the others did not perform as well. With three previous ones to analyze, Cooper certainly had plenty of source material to pour over. What I appreciate most about this version is the foreshadowing and poetry that provide a rich subtext. One of the most important parts of plot development in a screenplay is the strategic placement and execution of emotional beats. Much in the same way the original songs in the movie drive those emotional beats home, the screenplay follows in suit. Although I will argue that the first half of the movie is stronger than the second half, the story is a powerful one that shies not away from depicting real issues that celebrities, especially in the music industry, face. There is an unapologetic approach to both sides of the stage. The beginning scenes pack a powerful punch. And I was completely sold on Ally’s ability to delicately balance toughness against vulnerability. Jackson Maines character development is gritty and believable. Fortunately, after the 1976 (Streisand) version shifted the focus from Hollywood to the music industry, that shift provided the foundation upon which 2018’s A Star is Born is built. For all this story has going for it, paving the way to a likely Oscar nomination, Cooper is unable to sustain the energy from the first act all the way through the rest of the movie. While the first and third acts are strong (especially the first), the second act lacks the charm and energy of the first but does effectively lead us into the showdown and realization. Whereas the pacing looses footing a little in the middle, there is no mistaking that this is a phenomenal retelling of a classic plot for a new generation, complete with humiliation, redemption, heartbreak, and love.

The cinematography is incredibly strong. While not heavily stylized in a particular manner like other filmmakers, who’s direction is part of that filmmaker’s identity, the cinematography in this film incorporated a variety of approaches from wide shots of real concerts to intimate closeups that work seamlessly together in order to provide the film with an outstanding and comprehensive visual appeal. One of the elements of the cinematography that stood out to me the most was just how natural and relaxed the camera movement felt. There were plenty of moments that I forgot the camera was there because it felt that I was present–in those moments–witnessing the plot unfold. While some directors may have felt the need to approach most of this movie as a music video (instead of a musical), Cooper allows the camera to linger in a moment to drive the emotion of that moment home. During the musical performances, there is certainly a music video feel to it, but it never takes you out of the story, at large. From beginning to end, the cinematography flows naturally across the movie.

Cooper and Lady Gaga’s respective performances are incredible. They will certainly wow you from beginning to end. Not surprising after watching the movie last night, Cooper delivers a command performance that is sure to land him a Best Actor nomination. He looks and sounds like an alt-country rockstar. I had no idea that he could sing! At no point does it ever feel like he’s acting. Such power in subtlety. It’s the little things he does that serves as evidence of his commitment to character and never acting like a Jackson Maine type but legitimately becomes Maine with all his problems with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Because the subject of celebrity addictions leading to untimely deaths has been in the news a lot, this was a great opportunity for Cooper to comment on this issue by depicting how tragic it is, and the affects on others.

Whether you are a fan of Lady Gaga or not, there is no doubt that her acting and vocal performance will leave you speechless. Of course, being speechless never stopped me. Without breaking character or forcing her real-world persona and fandom into the diegesis of the film, there is a nod to her status as a queer icon. One of the early scenes in the film features her at a drag show. This scene fits into the story perfectly, and successfully sets up some of the subtext and commentary later on in the film regarding how the music industry (and Hollywood to an extent) package female performers. The character of Ally allows fans of Gaga to explore a different side to her through most of the film. During the second act, there are moments that remind us of what makes Gaga so popular–very similar to her real-world celebrity self–but these moments never detract from the more organic, intimate ones. Although Ally’s quest for stardom does play out a little cliche as it points us back to the real-world Lady Gaga, Ally’s character finds herself back to her true self at the end of the film. As a side note, I love the nods to the the 1976 one by way of Ally talking about how her nose was considered too big by talent scouts. A brilliant nod to Streisand’s trademark nose.

With a very strong start, mediocre middle, and relatively strong recovery, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is a don’t miss film! If you were worried that the film was not going to live up to the hype of the festivals, no need to worry any longer. From what I have gathered from other critics, members of #FilmTwitter and the #PodernFamily (podcasters), there appears to be an agreement (mostly anyway) that this film is an outstanding work that will be one to watch for this upcoming awards season. Perhaps it won’t be the next Silence of the Lambs and take the Big 5 Oscars, but it will likely still do very well.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Deadpool 2” movie review

“Deadpool, can you hear me?” Subversive, irreverent, brilliant, meta. It very well may be better than the first. How often do we get to say that about direct sequels? Ryan Reynolds’ witty, crass, charmingly naughty superhero is back to take even the most unrelentingly serious movie patron, and drive them to complete laughter. The square peg of the X-Men’s round universe returns with non-stop action, antics, and fourth-wall breaking humor virtually deconstructing everything from the opening credits to the post-credit scenes. Nothing new there; however, Deadpool assures the audience that the story they are about to see is a family movie. And after watching it, it may be unconventional, but it’s a solid family film. Maybe not “family entertainment,” by the Disney definition, but about family nevertheless. Speaking of which, we may have just watched the final Deadpool as we know it before it gets the Big D sanitization treatment, should Comcast (NBC Universal) not swoop in to save 20th Century from the otherwise inevitable Disney acquisition. Deadpool 2 isn’t just better than the first one simply because it’s funnier, more risqué, or more clever; in measurable ways, it possesses stronger villain(s), stronger opposition to the goal, and a better plot overall. Not your everyday “family” film, but filled with emotional tugs at your heart strings, all the same. Just with a heaping helping of self-aware and self-deprecating bawdy humor.

For two years, Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has continued his mercenary work, taking down villain after villain, crook after crook; but, after he fails to kill one of his targets on an extra-special day to him, he is faced with tragedy. Through a series of bizarre events–yes, even bizarre for Wilson–Wilson finds himself in a maximum-security prison ran by the DMC (Dept of Mutant Control) along with a renegade 14yo mutant named Russell. When Cable (Josh Brolin), a high-tech assassin, arrives from the future to take out a target that he claims leads to total destruction, Wilson must battle inner and outer demons in order to get his heart into the right place. Knowing he’s facing the most dangerous villain he’s ever encountered, Wilson forms the X-Force, a diverse “superhero” group of many talents in order to apprehend the target to prevent the world from plunging into complete chaos.

There is a comedic power in the plot of Deadpool 2 that invites the audience, at every turn, to laugh with the movie as it laughs at itself. There are a few running schticks throughout the film, but my favorite is the continued references to Barbra Streisand’s groundbreaking film Yentl featuring the iconic Streisand ballad Papa, Can You Hear Me? To which, Deadpool points out sounds an awful lot like Do You Wanna Build a Snowman from Disney’s Frozen. And it’s the implication of Disney appropriating Streisand’s song where the “Disney joke” was likely cut from the movie. Other jokes carry over from the first film such as the X-Men mansion with only Negasonic Teenage Warlord and Colossus roaming around. Some of the schticks from the first movie are transformed for this direct sequel. Contrary to the Wade Wilson from the first film, this one, this one diverts from his persistent aversion to companionship and a desire to be the “lone ranger,” as it were, and expresses a need for family. This desire for family serves as the backdrop of running jokes, gags, and extreme snark.

Streisand isn’t the only female vocal artist highlighted in the film, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, Pat Benatar’s We Belong, and Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time are all featured, all that we were missing was Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. Unlike the completely unconventional opening credit sequence from the first Deadpool, this sequel’s opening credit sequence takes a page out of the James Bond handbook, complete with the new single Ashes by Celina Dion. Like the opening credit sequence from the first film, this one also replaces the names with jokes that certainly aid in setting the irreverent mood of the film. Although a film should never primarily rest upon the music, as the plot should stand on its own, the score and featured songs are incredibly important assets that can greatly enhance the experience. Deadpool 2 contains a few montages set to song that will certainly have you rolling over laughing. Sometimes it’s the complete contrast or juxtaposition that the lyrics provide against the action in the foreground that drive the audience to complete hysterical laughter.

For all the first film got right, one of the elements missing from it was a well-developed, dynamic villain (more specifically, opposition to the external goal). Deadpool 2 provides solid central opposition to the external goal (which, for spoiler sake, I won’t mention) flanked by two villains taken directly out of the X-Men comics (and X-Men: the Animated Series). Cable, mentioned earlier, and the Juggernaut. Not to pigeonhole Cable into the villain category, there is more to this villain than first meets the eye. He can be more accurately described as an anti-hero because of his reasons for returning to the past to stop Armageddon, so to speak. Knowing Cable’s backstory, his goals, and that which he sees as opposition to his goals, gives him a character depth seldom seen in many superhero villains. When a villain (or anti-hero) can get the audience to empathize with his or her plight, then the villain succeeds in being well-developed and complicated. Having a complicated villain enables the audience to love or love to hate the villain. But in both cases, the audience loves to see the villain (or anti-hero) on screen. Supplementing the cast of villains in Deadpool 2, is the iconic X-Men character Juggernaut. His introduction into the film comes at a strategic turning point that launches the plot into the showdown.

The film makes an important observation about the lack of plus-sized lead characters in superhero movies. Russell is a plus-sized mutant who wants so desperately to be a superhero, but sends the message to Wilson (and by extension, the audience) that there should be room for non-athletic types in the superhero universe. It’s an important message that I think would have played out more effectively had the actor not been so childish. I understand that the character is a 14yo mutant who is still struggling to find his place in this world and understand his powers, but I kept seeing the actor and not the character. The ability to bring a character to life without the actor showing is part of the art of acting. In most cases, the audience wants to see the character, not the actor playing him or her. I liked the character of Russell, just think he could have been portrayed by another actor who could have more effectively driven the message home that diversity in the superhero universe mans more than male, female, straight, gay, etc. It should also incorporate a diversity of body types. Having non-athletic body types represented in lead characters–superheroes specifically–is an element that I hope continues to improve.

There truly is so much to enjoy about Deadpool 2. Behind the ballsy jokes, suggestive poses, and hilarious meta observations, is solid writing and direction. With the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox all but complete, with the wild card of Comcast’s (NBC Universal) bidding 19% more than Disney in cash that could alter the direction of the deal, I hope that we did not witness the last Deadpool free of Disney sanitization. Knowing that they strong-armed Fox into cutting a Disney joke from the film during post-production, does not help matters any. Hopefully, the third installment of Deadpool will be just as funny, if not funnier than the first two. Oh yeah, it should go without saying but this NOT a superhero movie for kids.