Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: A Star Is Born (dir by Bradley Cooper)


Happy birthday, Bradley Cooper!

Bradley Cooper is 45 years old today.  With all the recent talk about how people’s lives have changed over the past decade, let’s take a minute to appreciate just how spectacularly things have gone for Bradley Cooper, career-wise.  Ten years ago, Bradley Cooper was probably best-known for playing the smarmiest member of The Hangover‘s quartet of friends.  Now, Cooper is known for not only being one of the best actors working today but also for making an acclaimed directorial debut with the 2018 Best Picture nominee, A Star Is Born.

Cooper not only directed A Star is Born but he also starred in it.  He played Jackson Maine, a country musician who has been drinking for as long as he can remember.  He used to drink with his father and when his father died, Jackson continued to drink alone.  (At one point, Jackson says that he was a teenager when his father died.)  Managed by his older brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), Jackson became a star but his career has been in decline for a while.  For all of his talent and for all of his belief that he has something worth saying, Jackson is drinking his life away.  He stumbles from show to show and is often dependent upon Bobby to tell him what he missed while he was blacked out.

When Jackson stumbles into a drag bar and sees Ally (Lady Gaga, making her film debut) singing a song by Edith Piaf, he is immediately captivated by her talent.  Ally, whose father (Andrew Dice Clay) is a limo driver who once aspired to be bigger than Sinatra, is at first weary of Jackson but he wins her over.  After she punches a drunk and he takes her to a grocery store to construct a makeshift cast for her hand, she sings a song that she wrote and Jackson decides to take her on tour.  Soon, they’re in love and, before you know it, they’re married!

Unfortunately, Jackson’s alcoholism threatens both their happiness and their future.  While Ally’s star rises, his continues to dim.  Will Ally sacrifice her career for Jackson or will Jackson sacrifice his life for Ally?

It’s a familiar story, one that’s been told many times.  The first version was 1932’s What Price Hollywood, which featured aspiring actress Constance Bennett falling in love with an alcoholic director played by Lowell Sherman.  In 1937, What Price Hollywood? was unofficially remade as A Star Is Born, with Janet Gaynor as Esther, the actress who falls in love with faded matinee idol, Norman Maine (Fredric March).  The next version came out in 1954 and featured Judy Garland as Esther and James Mason as Norman.  Significantly, the 1954 version added music to the plot, with Judy Garland singing The Man That Got Away.  

In 1976, the story was told a third time.  This version of A Star is Born starred Barbra Streisand as singer Esther Hoffman and Kris Kristofferson as a self-destructive rock star named John Norman Howard.  The 1976 version was terrible, largely because there was zero chemistry between Streisand and Kristofferson.  And yet, one gets the feeling that the 1976 version is the one that had the most influence on the 2018 version.  Not only does Bradley Cooper’s version of A Star Is Born make the story about aspiring singers but one gets the feeling that Cooper watched the 1976 version, saw the lack of chemistry between Kristofferson and Streisand, and said, “There’s no way that’s going to happen in my movie!”

Indeed, it’s the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga that makes the latest version of A Star Is Born so compulsively watchable.  I mean, we already know the story.  From the minute that Jackson and Ally meet for the first time, we know what’s going to happen.  But Cooper and Lady Gaga have got such an amazing chemistry, that it almost doesn’t matter whether the movie surprises us or not.  There’s a scene where Ally says that she’s always been told that her nose is too big and Jackson responds by nonchalantly touching her nose and, with that one simple and very naturalistic gesture, the film convinces us that Jackson and Ally are meant to be together, even if just for a while.  It also makes it all the more upsetting when a drunk and jealous Jackson later uses Ally’s insecurities against her.

(Of course, I should admit that I’ve always been insecure about my own nose so, at that moment, I totally understood what Ally was feeling.)

It’s an unabashedly romantic and sentimental film but it works because, as a director, Cooper brings just enough of an edge to the story.  Cooper, who has been sober since 2004, has been open about his past struggle with alcoholism and, as both an actor and director, he’s smart enough not to romanticize Jackson’s addictions.  In many ways, Jackson Maine is a pain in the ass to be around.  We watch as he goes from being a fun drunk to a sad drunk to a mean drunk, all the while lashing out at anyone who gets too close to him.  At the same time, Cooper also captures the spark of genius and the hints of inner goodness that would explain why he is never totally rejected by those that he’s hurt.  Cooper offers up hints of who Jackson could have been if he hadn’t surrendered to pain and addiction.  We understand why Ally and Bobby stick with him, even if we wouldn’t blame either one of them if they refused to have anything more to do with him.

Lady Gaga, meanwhile, gives a performance is that is down-to-Earth and instantly relatable.  Anyone who has ever been insecure or who has ever felt as if she was being punished for being independent or thinking for herself will understand what Ally’s going through.  At some point, we’ve all been Ally and we’ve all had a Jackson Maine in our lives.  Sadly, these stories rarely have happy endings.

For most of 2018, it was assumed that A Star Is Born would be the film to beat at the Oscars.  While it was eventually nominated for 8 Oscars, Bradley Cooper did not receive a nomination for Best Director.  (Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliott were all nominated in the acting categories.)  In the end, Green Book won Best Picture while A Star Is Born only won one award, for Best Original Song.

Of course, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of that song was perhaps the highlight of the entire Oscar ceremony.

That’s the power of good chemistry.

 

 

A Movie A Day #41: No Contest (1995, directed by Paul Lynch)


8348-no-contest-0-230-0-345-cropUnder the direction of their leaders, Oz (Andrew “Dice” Cay) and his second-in-command, Ice (Roddy Piper), a diverse group of terrorists have taken the Miss Galaxy contest hostage.  If they don’t receive a ransom of diamonds, they will kill the Miss Galaxy contestants, including the daughter of a powerful senator.  What the terrorists didn’t count on was that the show would be hosted by actress and kick boxer Sharon Bell (Shannon Tweed).  Now, it’s up to Sharon to sneak through a locked-down hotel, killing the terrorists one-by-one.  Her only help comes from a battle-scarred but supportive security officer (Robert Davi) locked outside of the hotel.

No Contest is so much of a rip-off of Die Hard that it almost qualifies as a remake.  (It is probably not a coincidence that Robert Davi appears in both movies.)  Despite being such a blatant rip-off, No Contest is redeemed by the combination of Andrew “Dice” Clay’s Broolyn-accented villainy and a surprisingly convincing performance from Shannon Tweed.  Toss in Roddy Piper and Robert Davi and the end result is one entertaining direct-to-video thriller.

Shannon Tweed’s best film?  No contest.  It’s No Contest.

vlcsnap-2011-08-02-15h19m14s75

Insomnia File No. 20: Casual Sex? (dir by Geneviève Robert)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you had insomnia at one in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz Comedy and watched the 1988 comedy, Casual Sex?  That’s what I just did!

I have to admit that I’m a little bit surprised that this is the first insomnia file that I’ve written since last July.  It’s not like I haven’t had insomnia between then and now.  However, I guess I’ve been busy either going on vacation, writing about horror movies, writing about the Oscars, or, of course, writing about reality TV over at the Big Brother Blog and Reality TV Chat Blog.  That said, I’ve always enjoyed writing these insomnia files and I’m happy to finally have the chance to do a new one.

I’m also happy to have the chance to write about a film called Casual Sex?, if just because I know that it will lead to the site getting a lot of hits from people doing google searches.  They probably won’t actually be looking for a movie review but a hit is a hit!

Anyway, Casual Sex? is an 80s film.  In fact, it’s such an 80s film that it probably spent the 90s recovering from an expensive coke habit.  It’s a film about two best friends who have decided that they’re tired of being single.  Stacy (Lea Thompson) is the promiscuous one, the one who has had many partners, has gotten involved in way too many needy relationships, and who is now freaking out over the spread of AIDS.  Melissa (Victoria Jackson) is the sweet but ditzy one.  Melissa has had boyfriends but she’s never had an orgasm.  When Stacy tells her about an article she read about AIDS, Melissa replies that at least now she’s “not the only one who is afraid of sex.”  Hoping to each find a permanent mate, Stacy and Melissa go to a health spa.  Stacy immediately falls madly in love with Nick (Stephen Shellen), an aspiring musician.  Melissa, meanwhile, meets the sensitive and sweet-natured Jamie (Jerry Levine), who works at the spa and gives a killer massage.  Meanwhile, an annoying guy named Vinny (Andrew Dice Clay) pursues both of them and everyone else as well.

(Vinny leers at every woman that he sees and prefers to be known as the Vin Man.  I know, I know.  It’s hard to believe that he’s still single.)

Casual Sex? actually get off to a really good start.  It opened with both Stacy and Melissa standing on an empty stage and discussing their sexual histories.  Usually, I cringe whenever a movie opens with a character standing on a blank stage and talking directly to the audience.  It usually feels like a lazy storytelling technique to me.  (Can’t figure out a natural way to let the audience know a character’s backstory?  Have them talk to directly to the audience!  It’s easy and lazy!)  But in Casual Sex?, this technique actually works.  Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson both give very natural and believable performances and the flashbacks to their previous experiences are all well-done and sometimes painfully relatable.  Despite the fact that the film was made 30 years ago, their experiences and emotions felt timeless.

After that strong opening, the rest of the film was much more uneven.  I have to admit that I had trouble telling how much of the film was meant to be satirical and how much of it was just a reflection of the time in which it was made.  For instance, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be rolling my eyes at Nick, with his feathered hair and his overdramatic style of singing, or if that was just what was considered to be hot in the 80s.  It was very confusing but, regardless of whether it was intentional or not, it was hard to take Nick seriously as anything more than a plot device.  As a result, it was difficult to care about his relationship with Stacy.  Melissa’s relationship with Jamie was far more interesting, largely because Jerry Levine was so likable in the role.

(Just in case anyone was wondering, Casual Sex? does feature a lot of sex but very little of it feels casual.  Perhaps that’s why the title ends with a question mark.  “Casual sex?” the film asks before answering, “No.”)

The film was ultimately too uneven to really be considered to be a success but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  That was largely because of the performances of Lea Thompson, Victoria Jackson, and Jerry Levine.  There’s a few scenes where Vinny drops his bluster and reveals a sensitive side and Andrew Dice Clay does well with these scenes but, ultimately, it’s hard to like anyone known as The Vin Man.  I mean, he even has “Vin Man” written on the back of his jacket.  Strangely, Clay’s performance here felt like an early version of his performance in Blue Jasmine, almost as if the Vin Man eventually changed his name to Augie and ended up marrying the sister-in-law of a Ponzi scheme manager.

Casual Sex? may not be great but it’s good enough for when you’re awake at one in the morning.

casual_sex_poster

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations

Back to School #41: Pretty In Pink (dir by Howard Deutch)


pretty_in_pink-2

“Blane!  That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance!” — Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty In Pink (1986)

(SPOILERS!)

Blane or Duckie?  Duckie or Blane?  Which one should Andi have gone to the prom with?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1986 film Pretty In Pink.  In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried (which, incidentally, has been an important source of information for this entire Back to School series of reviews), a good deal of space and debate is devoted to whether or not Andi (played by Molly Ringwald) should have ended up going to the prom with either Duckie (Jon Cryer) or Blane (Andrew McCarthy).  What’s interesting is just how passionate the arguments on both side of the debate get.  Those in the pro-Duckie camp, like producer Lauren Shuler Donner and director Howard Deutch, frame the debate as almost being a moral one.  Those on the pro-Blane side — people like John Hughes (who wrote the film’s script) and Andrew McCarthy — make a convincing argument that the audience wanted to see Andie with Blane.

Perhaps most importantly, Molly Ringwald — who not only played Andie but upon whom the character was largely based — makes little secret of which suitor she preferred.  Molly Ringwald is pro-Blane all the way.

Myself — well, I’m going to hold off on saying which side I come down on.

pinkdvd5

Both Blane and Duckie have their flaws and their strengths.  Blane, for instance, comes from a wealthy family and spends too much time worrying about what his loathsome friend Steff (James Spader, who gives a wonderfully evil performance that justifies why he is quoted in Gora’s book as saying, “I figure I got a lock on this whole teen asshole thing,”) thinks.  But, at the same time, Blane is obviously more sensitive than the rest of his rich friends.  There’s a soulful sincerity to McCarthy’s performance and, until he breaks Andi’s heart by giving into peer pressure, he truly is every girl’s dream boyfriend.

124139__pretty_in_pink_l

And then there’s Duckie.  As played by Jon Cryer, Duckie is the type of best friend that we all hope we’re lucky enough to have.  You never have any doubt that he’ll always be there for Andie and it just takes one look at how he’s dressed to understand that Duckie doesn’t care about peer pressure.  Duckie may be an outcast but, unlike Steff and Blane, he’s confident in himself.  And whereas Blane is always wrestling with doubt, Duckie knows that he loves Andie.  And if your heart doesn’t hurt a little when he confesses that fact to Andi, then you probably don’t have one to begin with.  Add to that, as cute and charming as Blane is, you know he’d never break out into a random dance routine.  Blane is no Duckie but, at the same time, Duckie is also no Blane.

And who Andie should take with her to the prom (or if she should even go at all) is an important question because, if anyone deserves to have the perfect prom, it’s Andie.  Not only does she work hard to support her alcoholic and depressed father (the great Harry Dean Stanton) but she has great taste in music (or, at least, she does for someone living in the 80s) and she makes her own clothes.  One reason why we love Blane is because he discovers that, even if Andie isn’t rich, she’s still the most interesting girl in the entire school.  One reason why we love Duckie is because he didn’t have to discover this.  He already knew it.

Pretty-in-Pink-pretty-in-pink-21203179-497-278

The film, of course, originally ended with Blane giving into peer pressure and canceling his date with Andie.  Andie is heart-broken but refuses to surrender.  Wearing the pink dress that she specifically made for the event, Andie still goes to the prom and, as the film ends, she shares a dance with Duckie, the one who, all along, loved her unconditionally.

As is recounted in Gora’s book, test audiences loved the movie but hated that ending.  And so, a new ending was shot.  Blane shows up at the prom without a date.  He apologizes to Andie.  He shakes Duckie’s hand.  He tells Andie that he always believed in her, he just didn’t believe in himself.  (Watching at home, Lisa says, “Oh my God!” and wipes away a tear.)  As he leaves, even Duckie realizes that Andie belongs with Blane.  Andie and Blane are reunited in the parking lot and Duckie goes off with Kristy Swanson.

And you know what?  That ending — that ending is perfect.  Because yes, Duckie did love Andie but Andie loved Blane and the prom is a time to be with someone who you think you’ll love forever.  (Little realizing, of course, that you’ll eventually only think of your former prom date as being that guy who keeps inviting you to play games on Facebook.)  Pretty in Pink is one of the most romantic high school movies ever made and one reason it works is because the ending is all about celebrating that romance.  It may not be realistic and yes, it might even be borderline immoral to allow Blane to be so easily redeemed after breaking Andie’s heart but who cares?

The wonderful thing about romance is that it doesn’t have to make sense.

It just has to be.

61SL9To9GLL._SY300_