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Film Review: A Star Is Born

“Almost Every Single Person Has Told Me They Like The Way I Sounded But Not The Way I Look…”

Synchronising spectacularly with the transformation of cinema across both the twentieth and twenty first century, A Star Is Born, the fourth adaptation of the well versed tale first brought to the screen by William A. Wellman in 1937, sees Bradley Cooper both star and take the director’s seat for the very first time for a contemporary adaptation of the source material which follows Cooper’s (Silver Linings Playbook) alcohol and drug dependant rock and roll star, Jackson Maine, and his discovery of Lady Gaga’s (American Horror Story) equally talented Ally, a live-at-home dreamer whose musical career consists of drag bar shows and refusals from music executives who see her solely from the surface without understanding her true potential. Whilst one familial generation may fondly remember the 1976 version of A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, another generation may go even further and recall the 1954 remake starring the one and only Judy Garland, and whilst it can be easy to dismiss remakes of classic Hollywood pictures before they even arrive onto the big screen, the fact remains that when done right, contemporary adaptations can explore fresh new ideas and offer the chance for younger audiences to experience a tale that they may have never witnessed before.

In the case of Cooper’s vision of A Star Is Born, the American’s directorial debut is a modern musical masterpiece, a deeply emotional and thoroughly engaging piece of cinema which revels in the passion of the film’s central relationship between a desperate, troubled musical star and the doe-eyed freshness of another who swiftly begins her journey into fame and fortune under the watchful eye of her mentor and lover who soon realises she may just outpace his own success with relative ease. With the first quarter of the movie primarily focusing on Cooper’s Jackson, his constant alcohol abuse and apparent mental health issues caused by a fractured family upbringing results in laboured live performances and the constant need and support from his older brother and father figure, Bobby Maine, as played by the ever magnanimous Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski). As soon as Jackson drunkenly stumbles across the enviable talents of Gaga’s Ally however, the narrative becomes obsessed with portraying the most believable and stunningly acted on-screen romance since Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, and with Cooper managing to brilliantly balance directing with acting duties, A Star Is Born is the American’s finest on-screen role to date, a performance riddled with inner turmoil and self-loathing which is perfectly balanced by the equally stellar Gaga, who although is not exactly new to the world of acting, with credits most famously on the likes of American Horror Story, gives it her absolute all to a character in which she obviously relates to on a human level, resulting in a performance which is expressed on-screen in, let’s face it, award winning pedigree.

Blending raw, hotly charged emotion with brilliant realism, Cooper’s movie isn’t just happy with portraying the central couple alone, with deep thematic contemplations on the effect of mental health and substance abuse threatening to suffocate both Jackson and Ally as the latter attempts to build her own career out of Jackson’s spotlight, and with a superb level of pacing which lets the characterisation flow and expand freely, Cooper’s understanding of when and where to guide the narrative’s path is truly remarkable for a debutante director. Add into the mix a simply wondrous and immediately catchy soundtrack, with each track seemingly performed fully from the depths of our stars’ heart and soul, the music is enhanced by the insistence from the cast that the tracks be performed live, and with the added brilliance of cinematography from frequent Darren Aronofsky collaborator, Matthew Libatique, the audience becomes transfixed on both the audio and visual splendour as we follow our leading duo travel across the world, from America to the immediately recognisable flag-filled horizon of the Glastonbury crowd, with each performance bearing the same riveting energy which made Straight Outta Compton so gloriously entertaining. With a sombre, heartbreaking conclusion which will result in even the toughest audience member reaching for the nearest pile of tissues, A Star Is Born is everything a remake should be, fresh, invigorating and contemporary, and whilst award buzz is inevitable for everyone involved, Oscar’s are only the start to appreciating how good A Star Is Born really is. Cooper, you’ve done good.

Overall Score: 10/10

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

“Sometimes, The Thing You’ve Been Looking For Your Whole Life, Is Right There Beside You All Along…”

Whilst the first Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which expectations were not exactly of the highest order, the finished product was ironically one of the best the franchise has had to offer so far, introducing expertly characterised leading heroes amongst a crowd-pleasing narrative which managed to balance the irregularity and oddness of the source material whilst serving up arguably the best jukebox soundtrack this side of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With power comes increasing levels of responsibility however and a sequel to the biggest surprise of 2014 was downright inevitable, yet with James Gunn returning as director and the added involvement of iconic screen presences such as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Vol. 2 is indeed up there with the most excitable releases of the year and a movie which is lynch-pinned within a period of twelve months in which there are so many superb upcoming movies to look forward to and a year in which Vol. 2 begins the triage of MCU movies which are set to be released over the course of 2017. What we have with Vol. 2 however is a sequel which is indeed as inventive and magical as it’s predecessor, playing all the cards in all the right areas to keep its’ intended audience more than happy, but too a movie which suffers from the issue in which many sequels tend to have, with it not entirely being up to the critical level of the original but still being an excellent new addition into the MCU.

With the added input of Kurt Russell as Ego, the long lost father of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Vol. 2 thrives on the same sense of retro-loving freedom which encompassed the original, nodding its’ head at a wide range of nostalgic avenues alongside yet another successful jukebox soundtrack which ticks off everything from E.L.O to George Harrison across a two-hour plus runtime which does seem a tad too drawn out come the final act. Furthermore, in a similar vein to that of Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 attempts to differ slightly from its’ predecessor by sticking to a driving narrative which comes across as a much darker and melancholic tale, focusing upon a wide range of notions such as the meaning of family alongside a deeper sense of characterisation for each of the leading guardians who individually have enough substantial screen time between them to sway off arguments of favouritism from fans, even when the superbly managed inclusion of Baby Groot manages to steal every scene in which he is involved in. Whilst not setting up anything major in terms of the future of the MCU, Vol. 2 is a substantially entertaining blockbuster which although features arguably a higher dose of comedy than the first, is inevitably not as surprisingly awesome than one indeed hoped for, yet with a core character base in which you could happily spend an entire lifetime with, James Gunn’s second helping of galaxy saving guardians is entertainment galore.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: War Dogs

“When Does Telling The Truth Ever  Help Anybody…?

One of the most crystal clear components of War Dogs, the latest comedic drama from Hangover Trilogy director Todd Phillips, is the obvious and sometimes uncanny influence of Martin Scorsese, particularly that of Goodfellas and Casino, with the fast-paced formula and quick-fire editing of War Dogs being the staple within a blueprint which verges on the edge of daylight robbery. Saying that, although the principle layout of War Dogs is not exactly the most original, the film is saved two-fold by the inclusion of Miles Teller and Jonah Hill in the films’ lead roles, lead roles which are characterised clearly by each side of a coin, with Teller’s David Packouz being the twisted moral compass in partnership with Jonah Hill’s greed-infested monster, Efraim Diveroli. Adding to the Scorsese influence is the notion that War Dogs is essentially Lord of War meets Wolf of Wall Street, a film in which Hill also starred in and a film which too has a black heart at its’ core, showcasing the evilness of greed and the consequences certain actions inevitably lead towards. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun though.

In a year in which The Big Short gave us a comedic insight into the downfall of the economy and America’s presidential race being wholeheartedly in the spotlight, War Dogs does seem rather timely. A satire into the gun-ho nature of the US war efforts, War Dogs does feature some rather top-end black humour and although the movie does suffer when heading into the direction of vulgar, laddish type humour between our two leads, reminiscent of the director’s previous work, its’ the dramatic seriousness within the movie which makes the film work as a whole, particularly the third and final act in which we witness the inevitable downfall of our two leads who realise to what extent their “illegal” doings have had on not only themselves, but the country as a whole. War Dogs is by no means perfect, but it is very entertaining and a double-bill with a film like The Big Short would be a quickfire lesson into the politics and principles of the world as we know it today. Nihilism is a bitch.

Overall Score: 8/10 

Film Review: Joy

“Don’t Ever Think The World Owes You Anything, Because It Doesn’t…”

Although I’m fundamentally confused and sometimes disorientated at the sheer amount of Oscar-waving movies that are dumped upon our screens within the space of around eight or so weeks at the beginning of each year, there is a sense of wonder when examining what makes the blueprint of a film destined for awards from all corners of well, Hollywood. Beginning my venture into the year of film in 2016 is Joy, the new film by David O. Russell, the man behind the simply brilliant one-two of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and the rather tedious twiddle that was American Hustle, but hey, you’ve got to take the bad with the good. Ever since the success of Silver Linings Playbook, there is always a guaranteed set of events that are set to follow when a O. Russell film is announced. One. a cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in a supporting role. Two, a story that is overtly dramatic but relies mainly on performance rather than a presence of underlying depth, and finally, Oscars. With Joy, Russell’s latest indeed features the first two and may indeed end with the latter but in an overall summary, Russel improves on the no-show of American Hustle but fails to live up to the exceedingly high watermark of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.

Loosely based on the real-life tale of Joy Mangano, Joy, features Jennifer Lawrence in the titular role, a over-worked single mother, basked with the responsibility of not one, but three generations of family from grandmother down to daughter and son, but with mother, father and half-sister seemingly being the hardest to comprehend and control. After a ring of unsuccessful attempts to spring out from obscurity, Joy begins to design the “miracle mop” with the financial help of her father’s partner and the advertising of Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper), a leading executive at QVC, yet it soon begins to materialise that perhaps Joy’s attempts at gaining success and riches are as difficult as controlling her stereotypical family of madness. Much like the life outside the ring for both Dickie and Micky in The Fighter, Joy is at its’ best when the real-life trivialities of family life is exposed, with its’ surprisingly limited comedic element only being adhered too during such scenes, scenes in which sibling rivalries are effectively propositioned by the acting talents of Robert De Niro and Diane Ladd as the one-two mother and father, and Elisabeth Rohm as Joy’s estranged and slightly jealous half-sister.

Where the film ultimately succeeds is it’s reliance on the strength of Lawrence’s leading performance, a testament to her incredible abilities as an actress who, at the age of 25, seemingly has accomplished much more than most of the veterans of today’s acting establishments, yet Joy not only gives her room to expand her vast array of acting talent in the titular role of her character’s single mother lifestyle, it also proves that even with a minimalistic plot that Joy unfortunately has, Lawrence can propel a film into something actually quite good rather than just being okay. Saying that, Joy indeed is the best film you will see this year about the creation of a mop, and as a starter for the year in film, it’s not a bad one. Not quite The Fighter, but definitely better than American Hustle, Joy is a heartwarming addition to the filmography of both Lawrence and Russell.

Overall Score: 7/10

87th Academy Awards: Best Actor

Oscars 2015: Best Actor

Second on this Oscar blog, is the Best Actor category, which features some brilliant performances, particularly from the two British representatives, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne (Or benedict XCuebrvatch and Eddie Redmaybe, as the Guardian call them*) portraying the iconic Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively. In terms of bookies favourite, Michael Keaton is top of the list for this years gong, for his portrayal of Riggan Thompson in Birdman. In terms of my own particular choice, it’s hard to shy away from Eddie Redmayne, whose transformative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything is just a wonder to behold, and after winning the Golden Globe, where for the last three years the winner has gone on to win the Oscar, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lift the golden guy next month. In the category of “overlooked”, is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brendan Gleeson in Calvary, and unbelievably Jake Gyllenhaal, for both Enemy and Nightcrawler. Don’t worry Jake, I thing you’re fab. Anyway, we have:

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

Next… Best Actress

Film Review: American Sniper

Born In The USA

Now that the Oscar nominations have been let loose on the world, it is time for me to catch up on all the films that I haven’t seen which have been nominated for ‘Best Picture’. Beginning my journey, albeit a very small one with only three films needing to be watched, is American Sniper, the new movie directed by The Man With No Name, starring Bradley Cooper, last heard as a gun-toting raccoon in last years’ wonderful Guardians of the Galaxy. Shall we begin?

American Sniper focuses on the life of Chris Kyle, the “deadliest marksman in US military history”, who during his time as a Navy Seal, racked up 255 kills. 160 of which were confirmed, whilst attempting to highlight the effects war can have on soldiers, both in a wartime environment and a ‘normal’ one. The word, “attempting”, is probably the key fulcrum on which this review is based as the movie fails to paint a picture of how horrific war actually is, and instead, relies too many times on scenes that go full-on Call of Duty, with Black Hawk Down being the obvious inspiration, which in my mind, is something I have seen too many times before.

In terms of the good, Bradley Cooper does a solid job portraying Kyle, whilst Sienna Miller, who subsequently has seemingly reappeared out of nowhere in American Sniper and Foxcatcher, does an equally as good job playing the role of the estranged wife who is caught between Kyle’s love for her and his love for war. Aside from the two Kyles, the rest of the film is seemingly enriched with 2-D characters who come and go in relatively forgettable fashion, whilst the contrast between Kyle and the enemy sniper is rather poorly done and should have had more depth in order for me to actually care for the twisted relationship between the two. The word “depth”, in general, springs to mind, as their simply wasn’t enough in this film to justify its’ two hour plus run-time, and it seemed to drag on and not really grip me like I wished it would.

Overall, American Sniper, is a solid, yet unspectacular, flag-waving war film that attempts to show the true horrors and effects of war yet only succeeds in falling flat on its’ face. Although it has been nominated for “Best Picture” at the forthcoming Oscars, it is probably the weakest of all the films in that category and in my opinion, should easily be replaced by Foxcatcher.

Overall Score: 6/10

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Review – SPOILERS

GOTG 1As some of you may have already noticed, I was a little worried about Guardians of the Galaxy. The trailers made it feel as if it was more of a comedy rather than a gritty and action packed thrill ride like Winter Soldier was. Having not read the comics, I can’t compare them to the film version so had little understanding of the world I was about to enter. Upon watching the movie, I’m elated. The movie has very few issues and those that exist are mere in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re like myself, you’ve never read the Marvel comic book series about the Guardians of the Galaxy. “In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.” – IMDB. Ronan’s desire for this orb is to give it to Thanos (Josh Brolin) who we see at the very end of The Avengers movie. Once Ronan (Lee Pace) delivers the orb to Thanos, the deal is that Thanos will destroy Ronan’s enemy planet. However, not everything goes to plan when Star Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) steals the orb and lands a bounty on his head, thus drawing the attention of a pair of bounty hunters, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) and Ronan’s supervisor – supplied by Thanos – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Eventually the group end up together in prison and learn of the true power of the orb and try to shut down Ronan for good with the help of another prisoner, Drax (Dave Bautista) they embark on an adventure to vanquish this foe. In true Marvel fashion, the ending is absolutely incredible. Things turn quickly and we really don’t know how it’ll pan out with such a devastating blow. In reality, the basis of the movie is very reminiscent of the recent Thor movie just with a few little tweaks but stands very much on its own.

As with every Marvel film, capturing the right actor for the role is very important. Being able to act is usually a good start. Chris Pratt is a man I’ve never really come into contact with apart from his vocal contribution to the Lego movie and a host of Parks and Recs memes that cycle round like the Tour de France. Taking his comedy background and general stature into consideration, I personally couldn’t see a better man playing him. Quill was a fun character who still lived in the past with his tape player trucking on further than the half-life of a prostitute in the Ripper era. Dancing his way through life since the day he was taken from Earth, he is very much “a player”. With Zoe Saldana’s track record, acting is no worry. Being the colour of Kermit the Frog, you would suspect it to be quite unflattering (Just wait until you see the bright pink folk, you’ll see what I mean) but she doesn’t look bad. The 3rd live actor is Bautista. With his WWE/F past, acting isn’t really is his forte even though a lot of it is faked. However, in this, I actually liked Bautista. Sure he was the blunt instrument but the character was practically written for him. A giant tattooed alien with anger issues, little emotion and a love for action has Bautista written all over it. Now to the 2 vocal additions to the group, Rocket and Groot. GOTG 3For Rocket, Bradley Cooper was actually a really good fit. The trailers did little justice but he does a damn fine job at conveying the emotions of a raccoon that doesn’t have many facial expression. My issue lie with Groot. An awesome character whose vocabulary only includes 4 words. With his limited vocab, he is like a pet and is adored by many. The problem is Vin Diesel. Very rarely could you distinctly hear his voice and its such a huge waste of money when someone could easily replicate it without the price tag. But as ever, the investment in him as a brand is what is most likely the reason he was selected for the role. Alongside the issue of the use of a brand rather than a more efficient actor, I felt that the character development was a little dry. With 5 characters sharing the screen I can see that being difficult but the only real character development is shouted between each other when characters are emotional or angry. The lack of the normal bonding between characters meant that we still don’t know much about any of the characters we follow apart from the basics. Quill’s mum died and he was abducted by aliens the same day, Gamora is the “daughter” of Thanos who killed her real family, Drax’s family was killed by Ronan, Rocket is a genetic experiment and Groot is a tree. A talking, walking tree. Yet there is a huge cast of actors also supporting the movie such as the Walking Dead’s Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker).

Visually flawless, the movie stands at the pinnacle of finesse that they have dominated for many years. The music is also something that catches the attention. Like Iron Man’s AC/DC soundtrack, Guardians has a whole mix of music from the 60’s ending with Jackson 5’s “I want you back” in an amazing scene that is guaranteed to make anyone smile and laugh. We all know Iron Man movies to be very funny, but never have I seen such an audible response to jokes with eruptions of laughter and momentary gasps.

Defined as one of the greatest Marvel movies to date, I have to agree. The huge successive launch and rave reviews give credit to this claim. With confirmation that there will be a second Guardians of the Galaxy and a potential cross-over with the Avengers (It will have to be the 3rd rumoured for 2018) we may see Thanos eat dust in the 3rd outing of both groups. Albeit predictions, it seems the most logical approach after Age of Ultron. Now we simply have to wait for more information to surface and marvel at this Marvel. 9/10 for Guardians and stands to be the biggest blockbuster this year! Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

GOTG 2

Hangover Part 3 Review -SPOILERS-

Hangover 3Hangover, part 3 was one of my hotly anticipated films finally came out today. I was unlucky enough to miss out on the first two and resorted to the original DVD format and I’m extremely glad I didn’t let Hangover sit on the shelf until the last minute. I did however miss out Due Date which ties in within the movie for a short scene but it is nothing that is to drastic.

Surprisingly, this movie doesn’t begin with the obligatory piss up that ends up with the Wolf pack running around to find Doug and explain the drug fuelled night. This one focuses on the capturing of Chow; the cocaine loving psychopath. The final instalment in the Hangover trilogy is one that wraps up the connection to Chow and why he kept appearing throughout the series and his criminal activities. To fuel his lifestyle and addiction, Chow robs another criminal boss named “Marshall” of several million dollars worth of gold bars. After spending fortunes and ending up in a Bangkok prison after part 2, he escapes and becomes an international villain on the run from both the police and Marshall. Marshall then captures the Wolf pack and forces them to hunt down Chow and capture him or Doug dies.

In terms of story, you can see that it has taken a different turn and has become a little more serious. Although, in the ending credits, we are greeted with the day after a heavy night out to find everyone hanging and Stu with a new rack (I will let you figure that one out). I certainly enjoyed the reversal of the story and the introduction of a truly deadly force that will and does kill and the introduction of a new love interest. The danger was amped up and the twists within are very precise and quick. As I mentioned prior, the story blends with the past movies and is great at entwining old characters and stories to close the final movie. However, at the end we do see the possibility that the franchise has been left at a point that could be ridden upon if money gets tight for Legendary studios and Green Hat.

"I'm sorry, I can't quite hear you over the noise of my good looks and money"

“I’m sorry, I can’t quite hear you over the noise of my good looks and money”

The comedy throughout was a constant and didn’t wear thin. Yet it wasn’t rip roaring and I wasn’t gasping for air or tearing at the excessively stupid antics. The jokes were written well, flowed well without interruption and were executed brilliantly. The collection of actors could hold themselves without losing form. The examples of this are Zach Galifianakis and Melissa McCarthy who can hold a room with a simple longing

gaze, their ability to ignore their surroundings and create an unbelievably awkward situation without actually saying anything is flawless. Bradley Cooper also fills his role quite well, managing to retain the badass persona to life that made him so popular with the crowds (his looks

also help).

The film was also shot brilliantly. I enjoyed the contrast and the lighting that rolled throughout the movie. Close up shots filled space but felt natural in their surroundings. The landscape shots where expansive and incredibly strong. Jumping from bright desert wasteland of Mexico too the luminescent city of Las Vegas was gorgeous. Colours bounced around of the screen and seeing the iconic city at a height like that at night is something that only some have done. It is the stereotypical way that we perceive Vegas to be.

Overall, the movie was great fun. It’s got plenty of laughs and has some brilliant actors to back it up. I am rating this movie as a 7.5/10, simply because I wanted to harder hitting jokes and a little bit more in the story franchise. I felt myself wanting a little extra from the movie but it is still an enjoyable film.