A Star Is Born (2018)

A Star Is Born

The surprising thing about the new A Star Is Born is how fresh it feels. It is a thrice-told tale, but this version does not scream: “retread.” The film’s stars and (especially) its music energize the storytelling and make A Star Is Born truly satisfying.

Even moviegoers who have zero familiarity with the previous iterations of this plot can guess early on where it’s going. Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a big rock star with booze and pill addictions. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a food service employee who sings for kicks in the gay bar where Maine just happens to stop in for a drink.

He gives her a leg up into the music biz and, as they fall in love, their careers move in separate directions: one up, one down.

If you had doubts that Lady Gaga could handle the female lead, well, those doubts were mistaken. She has two killer musical numbers that bookend the film and several other songs in the film, including duets with Cooper. And… her acting beyond the music is solid. This film marks the birth of her movie stardom.

Cooper is an Oscar-winning actor but his musical chops are also impressive. He wears many hats here: he directed the film and is one of three credited screenwriters. His speaking voice in the film is deeper than in his prior films. It accurately sounds like that of a man who has been a lifelong boozer.

Daddy issues play a role in this A Star Is Born. Maine’s dad—also a heavy drinker—died when Jackson was 13. His older brother Bobby (Sam Elliott) helped raise him, got him into performing and still works to keep the younger brother in line. Their relationship is not just brotherly but also a bit father/son.

Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) points out that talent alone is not enough to be successful in showbiz, that looks matter. He says this to soften her disappointment as her musical aspirations stall. But when Maine offers her the chance to join him on tour, her dad encourages to go for it.

Along with the inspired casting of Clay, director Cooper brings Dave Chappelle to the role of Maine’s old chum who rescues him after a binge.

Sometimes the early positive buzz on a movie, often fueled by those who attend the late summer film festivals, fizzles when the movie finally appears on local screens. A Star Is Born (2018) lives up to the buzz. Strong box office is a sure bet. And this may become one that gets repeat viewings.

 

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The Good Dinosaur

 

Pixar’s winning streak continues! The Good Dinosaur is loaded with cute. It will make kids happy and parents can love it, too.

TGD asks: “What if the asteroids that many claim decimated the earth’s dino population millions of year ago… had missed?” Dinosaurs would have co-existed with early man.

The plant-eating dinosaur family in the story features parents voiced by Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. Of their three offspring, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of the litter. He’s the movie’s central character.

Arlo catches a “critter” in the family’s silo, rustling food. The critter is a small human boy. Arlo and the boy fall into the river and are swept away on a journey of adventure. They face a variety of challenges and peril, including from other animals, as they struggle to return home.

One ally they meet is a dino voiced by Sam Elliott who tells the pair a story about how he got a scar on his face from a battle with crocodiles.

Peter Sohn, who has been a part of the Pixar team for several movies, is the director. This is his first time directing a feature.

The landscapes of an unspoiled world where the story takes place recall parts of the western U.S. The thrilling soundtrack stirs memories of The Magnificent Seven theme and certain Aaron Copland compositions. The old cinematic trick of making pretty pictures with fireflies (as seen in Fantasia and Avatar) is employed beautifully here.

The Good Dinosaur lacks the adult appeal of last summer’s Pixar hit Inside Out. But for adults bringing kids and grandkids, TGD is solid entertainment that you will not find tedious.

The Pixar short that precedes TGD is a trippy thing involving, interestingly, Eastern religion—not the normal subject matter for animated entertainment.

 

 

I’ll See You In My Dreams

As cool as it is to see a 72-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man as the stars of the light romantic comedy I’ll See You In My Dreams, the story is more like one from a romance novel than one from real life.

Don’t get me wrong: ISYIMD is a sweet, fun movie. But much of it does not ring true.

Carol (Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom) is a slim, attractive 70-something whose flirtations with a much younger pool boy (Martin Starr) seem to stir her libido. Then, when complete stranger Bill (Sam Elliott) smiles and pays a passing compliment in the grocery store, things begin simmering.

A nudge from her bridge buddies (Rhea Perlman, June Squibb and the wonderful Mary Kay Place) brings her to a senior speed-dating event, which provides chuckles and eye rolls (plus a quick scene with Max Gail of Barney Miller fame). A later chance encounter with smiling Bill leads to a dinner date and fast-moving romance.

Here’s what doesn’t compute. Carol claims that she’s been uninterested in dating, sex, etc. since her husband died twenty years earlier. That’s hard to buy, considering her appearance and comfortable station in life. Likewise, Bill says he, after his wife left him, cashed in his investments, moved to California and bought a boat. Yet he, too, (he claims) has had nothing going romantically for a while.

For some women, Elliott’s squinty gaze, his bushy moustache, his sly smirk of a smile, his very long unlit cigar and that incredible Dodge-truck-selling voice will be enough to incite a fantasy or two. For some men, Danner’s beauty and figure at 70+ will be a turn on. As the pool boy tells her when they first met, “You don’t look that old.”

I’ll See You In My Dreams features Danner delivering a respectable performance of classic torch ballad Cry Me A River at a karaoke bar. The funniest sequence in the movie involves the four bridge buddies inhaling a bit of medical marijuana and heading out to the grocery store for munchies.

A flaw of I’ll See You In My Dreams is it plods along at a casual pace for the first hour or so, then suddenly sets about to resolve things in a hurry. The film clocks in right at 90 minutes.

For moviegoers of a certain age who sit at home and complain that all the new romantic movies are about young people, stop complaining. Go see this movie! Danner and Elliott look great together and the other cast members add just enough spice to make ISYIMD an amusing reason to head to the theatre.