A Star is Born (2018)

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From comedy star in ‘The Hangover’ to more dramatic turns in films like ‘American Sniper’, Bradley Cooper has certainly been down many avenues and now he throws his stetson behind the camera for his directorial debut; a musical romance and fourth remake of the ‘A Star is Born’ brand.

Hugely famous country star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) seriously struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. On a desperate trawl to find a bar, Maine staggers into one where waitress by day-singer by night Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing. He quickly falls for her looks and talent and they begin a whirlwind relationship that sees Ally become a singer/songwriter idol.

In the 1950’s Judy Garland headlined the first remake and the 70’s saw Barbra Streisand take the lead in a rock and roll setting, one Bollywood film later and now it’s mega popstar Lady Gaga’s turn to take the cinematic stage. There’s no doubt that she’ll be up for an Oscar nomination because her performance is sensational and she makes the film what it is. The road to success with tricky obstacles and media manipulation is ripe for the times currently in Hollywood and the music perfectly encapsulates Ally and Jackson’s rocky relationship.

This movie is like a biopic of Gaga’s career, you can just see how the films’ content of moulding someone to how the management want them to be, mirrors her Poker Face days, before her songwriting and more heartfelt tunes took flight. The pop music side of Ally’s journey and the SNL showbiz aspect are necessary attributes in showing how the industry works and really demonstrates Ally as a strong individual to stick with all these changes in the dream of being recognised for her talent. She also sticks with Maine because he saw that spark within her, their relationship may be odd and harbour some cheesy moments but it feels real and the pair work beautifully together.

At a certain point it does feel like the film stretches ever so slightly and you could almost check out of the plot but thanks to the music you get drawn back in. Also, there is a very predictable narrative to follow but there’s some stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique which goes from a pristine bathroom to a gorgeously crimson tinged drag club and the films final shot rests on a powerful, stunning image and though it is silent it sings a thousand words. On top of the great DoP work, the musical numbers themselves are toe-tappingly heartfelt and ‘Shallow’; a song penned by Gaga and Mark Ronson is gunning for an Oscar nom as well and rightly so because it screams with drama.

Cooper, with his flushed red cheeks and slurring Western drawl embodies the stereotypical drunken cowboy singer but softens this rough edges with a clear love for his Ally rose. Gaga is incredible throughout, her voice is a God given gift that fills the heart and the speakers with power. It isn’t just her singing talents that sell the film, she makes Ally a fully rounded character and you truly buy into her rise to stardom with a difficult romance aiding the way.

‘A Star is Born’ is a country and western musical for modern times and like TV show ‘Nashville’, it hits with lyrical gems and dramatic characters to soar to the top of the charts.

7/10

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Upgrade (2018)

upgrade

All components of this machine are methodically oiled; the story, the action, the music and cinematography are well constructed parts which make a sizzling cool whole.

In the future where more things can be done with minimal effort, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) still loves mechanics and does up cars for business. A drive home after a meeting ends up in tragedy and Grey is brought back from paralysis thanks to secret tech implanted within him. This upgrade could help him solve the crime that caused the accident but at what cost?

Whenever you have a movie with enhanced technology involved, there’s always going to be that moral question raised of how far the character goes with it. This film takes the usual crime and futuristic model and gives it an awesome face-lift. The chip called STEM, inside of Grey, is a character which hands this film elements of danger but dark humour also. The feel of this future on screen is a warm welcome into utopia before descending into energetic dystopia.

The world on show, from the auto-driving cars to the progressive healthcare is like something from a ‘Black Mirror’ episode, the narrative of this movie definitely fits nicely into the mould of the worrying rise of technology. What ‘Upgrade’ obviously has that Charlie Brooker’s series doesn’t, is a blinding cinematic explosion of action and violence. The fight scenes within this film are sensational, elevated even further by camera movements which follow Grey and shake, rattle and roll through combat, properly throwing you into the mix.

This action does not shy away from bloody grind-house carnage, excess body-horror playfulness and it lifts the moody, troubling growth of the AI element in the plot. It’s not just the hand-to-hand battles which are exciting and special. The lighting is incredible, there are warehouses back lit by yellows and greens and hallways soaked with blood red, these strokes of colour add a superb neon noir to this grim environment that Grey has to wade through in search of answers.

Betty Gabriel is a fantastic watch as a cop on the hunt for who was behind the tragedy but she starts pegging that there’s something else going on with the apparent disabled mechanic, her march forwards is an interesting watch as we know she’s heading into danger. Marshall-Green is great in this, there are times when he seems to degrade into schlock-type forced dialogue delivery but this works in developing his developing technological state.

‘Upgrade’ is an impressive movie to delight in watching, with an ‘Ex Machina’ like tale of humans vs robotics boosted by unique fight scenes and an excellent score, this is surely a sci-fi feature that’ll go down as a cult classic in years to come.

8/10