‘A Star Is Born’ 2018

‘A Star Is Born’ 

Seduction, love and heart-brake: an old Hollywood tale becomes a Modern Classic. 

When the credits rolled on Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, I sat an emotional wreck in stunned silence. I then looked at the gay couple sitting behind me holding hands both with tears streaming down their faces. I had heard from word of mouth that it was a powerful film, but no words could have prepared for what I watched. From the moment Lady Gaga takes the stage it hit me that I was watching something rare. By the credits I knew I had just seen the best film of 2018 so far and a modern classic. 

I remember vividly, as a student of cinema of seeing one of the original versions of ‘A Star Is Born’, the 1954 version with James Mason and Judy Garland as the leads. I was, as always, blown away by the power of Judy Garlands voice and cried at the melancholic end of the film. A true classic. How could an actor, who up until this movie I thought was a bit overrated good not great, how could this first time directing actor Bradley Cooper, remake one of the most retold stories in cinema history with not 1 but 3 pervious retellings and match is not exceed in emotional power the 1954 original. How many remakes if ever exceed the original? Very very few. How can you retell a story told in the 30s, 50s and 70s and still have something fresh and vital to say. Bradley Cooper along with an astounding performance by Lady Gaga just showed us how. Let the songs speak for the emotion of the story and cast a great singer in the performance of a lifetime, that’s how. 

Far and away the greatest strength of the film lies in the power of the songs, in particular the headline song, ‘Shallow’, to poetically say all that could never be said in clever dialogue. Combine these astounding songs with the best scenes in the film: the scenes with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans and you have the setting for an emotional sucker punch that would be almost impossible to achieve by other means. The sheer amount of scenes on stage, not one but a a few, that wow you with their power is remarkable. In musicals songs are mainly used as a device to further plot, this film uses songs to get to the core of the beauty and pain of the characters. To have a song like ‘Shallow’ which articulates so perfectly the feeling of depression, sinking and then overcoming and empowerment, in only a few lines, is what the greatest songs in movie history do. 

The story of an established stars descent into oblivion as another star rises is almost a mythic fable in Hollywood folklore. ‘A Star Is Born’ though set today has an old Hollywood epic feel to it. And unlike previous versions manages to fine a great live story that outshines the fable all together. From beginning to end this film is a great love story that happens to be set in the entertainment world. 

‘A Star Is Born’ undoubtedly the frontrunner to win Best Picture at the Oscars. As night follows day ‘Shallow’ will win Best Original Song. It is also likely that Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will not only be nominated in acting categories and may well win both. Sam Elliot in a humane, moving and subtle performance next to the lead powerhouses is assured a Best Supporting Actor nomination. 

I knew Cooper could act, I had no idea he could sing so hauntingly, and I’ve witness live the majesty of Gaga’s singing but I never knew she could really act. Their combined on screen chemistry, vulnerability and raw power play off each other so extraordinarily well that if either one of them had been played by someone else it would not have worked. Most noteworthy is the power of Gaga. She takes you on a journey to stardom which makes you feel as though you are her, being brought on stage in front of thousands of fans. She also in her performance seems to really reveal her own personal story of what it must have been like becoming a superstar. Her line that ‘people always liked the way I sang but not how I looked’ is the voice of Gaga herself. Some might say this is a flaw, I wholeheartedly disagree. Her obvious experience of rising to stardom enriches her performance by brining believability that transcends acting. 

In our dark times today its hard to make a believable love story. It’s harder still to make a big feeling musical in a cynical world. But it’s virtually impossible to do both in a remake that surpasses the original. This is an impossible film by first time director that is somehow unbelievably possible. Some will find flaws with aspects of the film or reject the unabashedly old Hollywood romance feel of it. To those people I can only say that films like this are as vitally necessary as a hard hitting documentary or a gritty social drama. Cinema at its best not only informs or changes society but also speaks to our collective truths, our dreams and importantly our deepest emotions. ‘A Star Is Born’ does that by seducing you, making you fall in love and breaking your heart. 10/10


‘Alien: Covenant’ (2017)

‘Alien: Covenant’

A darker more primal addition to the franchise, that seeks to juggle the series long push and pull between philosophy of creation and entertaining horror. Unfortunately ending up doing neither very well. Where ‘Alien Covenant’ succeeds is as a origin story to the xenomorphs from the original films, as a relatively jumpy dark entertaining horror and in being more easily understood and accessible than ‘Prometheus’. But precisely these successes lead me to be disappointed. The Ridley Scott prequels to the original Alien series are caught between two competing desires. On the one hand you have the haunted house in space trope, of the Alien breaking out of chests and staking people, pure horror, done so well by both ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’. On the other hand you have the more philosophical creation story, the themes of humans vs. artificial intelligence, made in God’s image biblical musings that go all the way back to Scotts work on ‘Blade Runner’. ‘Prometheus’ attempted more than any other in the series to deal with the more philosophical side and was both criticised and praised for its complexity, enigmatic unanswered questions, and confusing plot lines. ‘Alien: Covenant’ tries to juggle both. With the good old jump scares, gore and horror, mixed with larger questions of creation and AI, and of course feminist agency. It does none of these very well. Both ‘Promethus’ and ‘Alien Covenant’ try to top the horror of the originals which is just not possible. To me ‘Alien’ is still the scariest by far. But whereas ‘Prometheus’ to varying success asked questions about creation, AI, ‘Alien Covenant’ frustratingly does not answer any of those questions raised but rather answers totally different questions by giving an origin story to the aliens themselves. This is the most frustrating aspect, it’s as if after the criticism of ‘Promethus’ being too obtuse and hard to understand this film attempts to be more accessible without answering those questions!! Bottom line by trying to be a bit of all the previous films in the franchise ‘Alien: Covenant’ ends up being one of the weaker of the series. The best part of the film has to be Michael Fassbender’s performance as the artificial intelligence David, who has surely created one of the best science fiction characters in decades. My main issues with the film revolve around the plot and structure of the film. Visually the film is stunning to watch, the horror elements are good and the origin story is compelling. If you are a fan of the series I’m sure you may be pleased with elements of the film. And yet this fan walked away feeling very disappointed indeed. I feel as if sometimes great director Ridley Scott has so much more to say but has been curtailed by studio intervention to make a true to form entertaining sci fi horror. He struck gold with ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ but seems unable to recreate the glory of those films, or even sadly to have the integrity to stick to the original story ark of ‘Prometheus’. Perhaps it is a good thing that he is not directing the sequel to ‘Blade Runner’ after all. 7/10