This Is a Movie Review: ‘A Star is Born’ is Reborn Eternally

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle

Director: Bradley Cooper

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Mumbled Profanity, Intense Alcoholism, and a Few Intimate Moments

Release Date: October 5, 2018

Bradley Cooper’s dialogue is often difficult to understand throughout A Star is Born, and I think that is part and parcel of the sort of storytelling he is presenting here in his directorial debut. This isn’t a film that is meant to be processed perfectly concretely, in which you hang on to every last word and every frame is a piece in the puzzle. Instead, it is about the overall experience, in which you let all wash over you. Logic and slavish accounting of details are beside the point. Does it make sense that someone could so suddenly become so famous and beloved on the basis of talent alone? And how come we never know how much time has passed? These are often worthwhile questions, but A Star is Born is more concerned about emotional and aesthetic truth within its improbable framework.

This is the fourth Star is Born film, with each of them telling the story of an unknown female entertainer discovered by a famous male performer who is on a bit of a decline. In this case, country-blues-rocker Jackson Maine (Cooper) stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga) at a drag queen bar after one of his concerts. Immediately enthralled, he brings her onstage during his show the very next night, and thus begins a massively successful career and a whirlwind romance. This edition does not introduce anything particularly groundbreaking to the Star is Born template, but it is in the retelling that it derives its power. By emerging once again into the popular consciousness, it reaches the level of myth, as the rise-fall-endure narrative is how we continue to understand and process the fame narrative.

A myth story tends to work best when it is timeless. The fact that A Star is Born is set in the present day thus makes things a little tricky. Whenever specific markers of this day and age (Ally signing to Interscope Records, Ally performing on SNL with Alec Baldwin hosting, Halsey appearing as herself as a Grammy presenter) appear, it’s a little jarring. But these moments could be even more unsettling; instead, they go along with a dreamlike quality in which everything is woven into the timeless fabric. The details could be specific, as when Ally’s first duet with Jackson goes viral and her father (Andrew Dice Clay) marvels at how many views the video has gotten online, without ever mentioning the actual number of views. But that’s the thing about a star being born: it’s not a specific number of viewers that determine it, but when enough people are watching, you can feel that the birth has happened.

A Star is Born is Recommended If You Like: Creation and Rebirth myths, Lady Gaga as person and entertainer, Actors really flexing their directorial muscles

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Discoveries

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Monsters and Men’ Knows How to Recreate a Tough Reality, But It’s a Little Undercooked

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CREDIT: NEON

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Language, But Nothing Particularly Explicit Given the Subject Matter

Release Date: September 28, 2018 (Limited)

Monsters and Men, which details the fallout of a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man in Brooklyn, is emblematic of a certain strain of realistic film that leaves you hanging but justifies its anticlimax by ensuring verisimilitude. While its lack of a firm ending – or even a firm thesis statement – may be true to life, it is not exactly a formula for great cinema. It is respectable enough and hard to get angry at, but it is entirely legitimate if, as a filmgoer, you would prefer more satisfaction. A happy ending is not necessarily what we’re looking for here, but a firmer political stance or a clearer artistic point of view would have been beneficial.

The action is divided into three vignettes centered around three young men of color in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. There’s Manny (Anthony Ramos), the boy who recorded the shooting on his phone and struggles with the potential consequences of releasing the footage; Dennis (John David Washington), a black police officer who explains the racism he has experienced to his colleagues and the officer’s perspective to his friends and relatives; and Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high school baseball star being courted by the major leagues who feels drawn to activism despite his father’s fears for his safety.

Manny and Zyrick’s dilemmas are compelling but ultimately thinly sketched. Dennis’ predicament, however, could have been meaty enough to build an entire film around. Washington has already played another code-switching cop this year in the much rowdier and more effective BlacKkKlansman. That film, in attempting to explain how a black man could justify a job in law enforcement, had the benefit of digesting the past, noting for one thing the significance of breaking racial barriers. Explaining this dilemma in 2018 may be an even thornier issue; it’s a topic worth tackling by a bold film, but Monsters and Men isn’t quite bold enough.

Monsters and Men is Recommended If You Like: The long journey of racial equality, Slice-of-life short stories

Grade: 3 out of 5 Dilemmas