Review: “A Star Is Born” (2018)

The latest version of the romantic tragedy A Star Is Born (Warner Bros., 2018) opened in U.S. theaters a couple of weeks ago and I finally got a chance to see it.

Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, this is the fourth Hollywood retelling of this classic story of love, sacrifice, and loss. Like the most recent version (the 1976 remake with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this 2018 version is set in the rock/pop music world. (Both the 1937 original and 1954 remake were set in the Hollywood film business.)

Here’s the official plot summary from Warner Bros. (just in case you’re not familiar with the story): “In this new take on the tragic love story, [Bradley Cooper] plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers—and falls in love with—struggling artist Ally [Lady Gaga]. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer…until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally’s career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.”

The MVP award goes to Bradley Cooper, who not only starred in the film, but directed it (it’s his first feature film) and co-wrote the screenplay. The film also marks the first starring role in a major motion picture for Lady Gaga. Both are very credible in their respective roles as lovers and musicians with opposite trajectories. The film also has a stellar supporting cast with Sam Elliott, who plays the older brother and manager of Bradley Cooper’s character, Andrew Dice Clay, who plays Lady Gaga’s father, and Dave Chapelle, who plays Cooper’s friend and former bandmate.

It’s a well-made, high quality film that people are loving and I’m good with that. I really have only two beefs with it. I’m just not a big Lady Gaga fan and the up-close and personal time with her on the big screen did little to change that. And, I don’t see why this story needed yet another retelling. Sure, the music is good and Bradley Cooper and team did a nice job in their adaptation and “modernization,” if you will, of the storyline. Still, the film ends the same way as the other ones did and we’re left with the same sad results.

A Star Is Born is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.”

My score: 4 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s a clip and montage from the film, courtesy of the Warner Bros. Pictures YouTube channel.

All images ©️ Warner Bros.

“Bullitt” Turns 50

It was a serious thrill to see Warner Bros.’ Bullitt (1968) on the big screen again this past week. The film is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

While it’s not necessarily my favorite storyline, it’s all about the 15-minute car chase in the middle of the picture. Steve McQueen (along with some fantastic stunt drivers) in the iconic Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback and the ominous black Dodge Charger (being driven by the great stunt driver Bill Hickman) chasing each other through the streets of San Francisco still holds up as one of the best, if not the best, car chase scene ever put on film.

Recently, one of the 1968 Mustangs driven in the film resurfaced after having been missing for many years (the blonde woman is Molly McQueen, Steve McQueen’s granddaughter).

With the movie turning 50, the Ford Motor Company also has made available a cool “Bullitt” equipment package on their their latest Mustang GT. Check out this video with Jay Leno as he gets to see both the old and new “Bullitt” Mustangs.

Here’s a fun Bullitt homage put together by Ford to celebrate the new Mustang Bullitt (and making another appearance is Molly McQueen as the driver of the Mustang).

UPDATE 10/17/2018: The official Warner Bros. Studios blog has posted a cool article commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bullitt with some great behind the scenes photos and facts from the film’s production. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a Bullitt fan.

And here’s a cool photo from the Ford Performance Instagram feed with the past and present versions of the Bullitt Mustang:

Image ©️ Warner Bros.

“Rebel Without a Cause”

It’s been a couple of weeks, but I’m still thinking about my maiden voyage watching Rebel Without a Cause (1955) in its entirety. 

I think I started watching it a couple of times when the film played on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), but I just don’t ever remember finishing it. Well, that was a mistake which I’ll never do again now that I’ve seen the film on the big screen courtesy of this year’s TCM Big Screen Classics series (the film screened on September 23 and 26).

I found the film to be a riveting, compelling drama that’s worthy of its reputation. James Dean puts in a stellar, legendary performance as Jim Stark, a high schooler with affluent but out-of-touch parents (pictured above; all images ©️ Warner Bros.). He becomes friends with his neighbor and classmate Judy (played excellently by Natalie Wood) and John “Plato” Crawford (also excellently played by Sal Mineo), who also have serious issues happening at home. And, in a departure from most every film ever, while all of the adults seem dysfunctional, the one steady adult in the film is the neighborhood detective, played perfectly by Edward Platt. 

The tragedy that unfolds is, sadly, inevitable, but still heart-wrenching nonetheless. Director Nicholas Ray does such an excellent job with his storytelling. The visual cues of the families’ dysfunction is obvious, yet artfully brought in as part of the unfolding of the plot. The performances are stellar, as are the Los Angeles locations, particularly the beloved Griffith Observatory which is used so perfectly in the film.

I now get it why people were so crazy about James Dean’s performance and why it remains such a classic today. Sorry to be slow to the party, but I’m grateful that I at least arrived. Thanks again to TCM and their outstanding Big Screen Classics series!

Image ©️ Warner Bros. and TCM


Review: “Ready Player One”

Prepare yourself for a truly wild ride with Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One. Based on the popular book by Ernest Cline (Cline also co-wrote the screenplay), this fantasy adventure film is a nostalgic trip into the action films of Spielberg’s past and a futuristic romp into the CGI-heavy filmmaking of today.

The story is set in a dystopian United States of America in the year 2045, where overcrowding, pollution, war, and disease have taken a significant toll on the country.  A virtual reality game world known as the OASIS provides a welcome escape to people everywhere. In the OASIS, you can be anything and anyone (as long as you’ve got the credits and lives to keep yourself going, just like in any video game).

The OASIS was created by a Bill Gates-type figure named James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, a message is delivered to the world that he has concealed the ultimate “Easter egg” (a hidden message or inside joke) somewhere inside the expansive game and that the user who finds the egg will inherit his fortune and become full owner of the OASIS game world. Not only do gamers everywhere decide to try to locate the Easter egg (OASIS gamers looking for the egg are known as “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters”), a corporation named IOI (Innovative Online Industries), run by CEO Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn), uses its tremendous resources and aggressively tries to get the egg as well in order to take control of the OASIS and gain a great competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Our hero, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), a teenage orphan who lives in a poverty stricken area of Columbus, Ohio and who spends much of his time in the OASIS to get a break from his difficult circumstances, decides to be a Gunter with the hopes of finding the egg and greatly improving his life. Known by the avatar “Parzival” in the game, Wade/Parzival enlists the help of his four main virtual friends in the OASIS, together known as the “High Five”: his best virtual friend “Aech” (we learn more about Aech in the movie), a teenage girl named Samantha, aka”Art3mis” (played by Olivia Cooke), and virtual brothers Toshiro Yoshiaki, aka “Daito” (Win Morisaki), and Akihide Karatsu, aka “Sho” (played by Phillip Zhao).

Wade/”Parzival” and Samantha/”Art3mis” in the OASIS virtual reality game in READY PLAYER ONE. (Image ©️Warner Bros.)

What follows is a non-stop pop culture extravaganza as these Gunters in the OASIS try to outwit the other gamers and IOI in order to keep advancing in the game to find Halliday’s egg. Anything goes with the gamers’ avatars and you will have a blast spotting all of the different movie, TV, comics, and video game references during the film’s scenes set in the OASIS. For example, more obvious references include Doc Brown’s famous DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies that Wade/Parzival drives during the car racing games and the Iron Giant replica that Aech is building to use in the game based from, well, Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic The Iron Giant.

Everything from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which is one of my favorite gags in this film) to Gundam is fair game here and used with wild and clever abandon. I’m sure there are plenty of references that I missed but, hopefully, will be picked up through subsequent viewings and from movie fans on the internet (The New York Times prepared an excellent primer here). There are also some great homages to other films as well, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,  Ridley Scott’s Alien, and many others.

Steven Spielberg and his team have done an extremely impressive job with storytelling in this very entertaining live action/CGI film. While most of the action takes place inside the computer-generated OASIS, the film still feels like a Spielberg film. He again enlisted his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and both the live-action and CGI camera work is superb. The great soundtrack by Alan Silvestri is augmented by some fantastic 1980s pop songs which work perfectly in context of the film, too.

A virtual reality racing game in the OASIS in READY PLAYER ONE. (Image ©️Warner Bros.)

Probably what I appreciated most is that Spielberg used his deft and masterful touch in keeping the focus and tone of the film constant, entertaining, and fun, even with the incredible (and potentially overwhelming) amount of CGI present throughout. And the film never loses sight of the important truth that while virtual reality has its place, it’s actual reality that makes life worth living.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the exclusive IMAX poster for the film by artist Orlando Arocena.

(Image ©️ Warner Bros.)

75 Years of “Casablanca”

Welcome to my new movie blog. I thought it would be appropriate for the first entry in my blog to honor my all-time favorite movie, Warner Bros.’ classic Casablanca (1942) which recently celebrated its 75th birthday.

From the “Casablanca” Facebook page (©️Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Casablanca is in the national filmgoing consciousness, whether one realizes it or not. The number of quotable quotes from the film alone make it probably one of the, well, most quoted films ever (just a sample: “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” “Round up the usual suspects,” and the often misquoted line “Play it, Sam”). But it’s the film’s themes of duty, honor, self-sacrifice and finding love within a world gone mad that keep me coming back for more.

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Although Casablanca took home three Academy Awards in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, according to an article on TCM.com, “Casablanca did not truly strike a resounding chord with American culture until about 20 years after its 1942 release. In the 1960s, a few years after Humphrey Bogart’s death in 1957, a movie theater called The Brattle [which still shows classic films; I’ve added it to my bucket list] in Cambridge, Massachusetts started reviving Casablanca for three weeks every year, drawing enthusiastic and increasingly larger crowds. Eventually, fans started showing up wearing trench coats and snap-brim hats like Bogie. These fans would even recite dialogue with the film…”

“We’ll always have Paris.” (©️ Warner Bros. and Turner Entertainment)

Now, Casablanca is available on Blu-ray and on most every Digital HD platform. It is also a staple on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), playing on the cable movie network next in March 2018 (check TCM.com/schedule for the latest information). If you haven’t ever seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I highly recommend taking the time to watch this wonderful, romantic, perfect film.