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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Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

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So, normally I’m not a fan of rom-coms; the calculable nature of them and how cheesy the dialogue can often be, puts me off them. Surprisingly this film won me over, sure there are cheesier moments but there’s smart writing and spectacular production quality which made it a more satisfying example to come out of the genre.

Economics professor and New York resident Rachel (Constance Wu) is invited to her boyfriend’s best friends wedding. Nick (Henry Golding), the best man, hopes that his large family will love Rachel as much as he does. As the celebrations get under way in Singapore, Rachel faces difficulties living up to the high hopes of Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ brings together a massive cast of talented actors who offer comedy and emotion to a rich story adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel. This tale of romance and acceptance may have slight touches of being over-sentimental but that in no way jolts us from the dazzling charm, which the stars and story convey. The screenplay also ends down familiar territory but there’s so much to cheer on in this picture, that the predictability becomes a muted backseat passenger in a joyful experience.

This is an extremely extravagant and beautiful movie. A wedding sequence is torn straight out of a jungle and is perhaps one of the most ridiculously over the top ceremonies but it fills the heart and it’ll likely fill some eyes with tears. The many lush settings and cinematography are crackling with a luxury that will do wonders for the tourism board of Singapore.

On the flip side of the romantic coin is the comedy sparkle, which does work well throughout. It is not solely ‘Community’ alumni Ken Jeong that gifts some funny to the movie; but a gay fashionista, a snap-happy single lad and Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin all bring a delicious amount of humour to the table. The latter is bursting with a comic energy that lifts the film even higher than it already is.

Constance Wu is the bridge to the audience; she grounds us to the glittering, affluent world we’re stepping into. She makes her fish out of water character a heart-warming and believable figure to follow. Wu isn’t just stunning and likable but she’s headstrong and smart too which make her moments facing adversity a strong example of women standing strong and proud. Henry Golding is the handsome and charming boyfriend but isn’t the lead usual movies would stumble to. The actor is confident in playing this caring man but doesn’t ever overshadow the brilliance of his leading lady. This movie features the incredible Gemma Chan and unlike her synth days from ‘Humans’, she demonstrates a wealth of touching emotion as Astrid.

Like the dumplings that a family make within the plot, this film is a sweet and often loving romantic filling wrapped up with fluffy comedy and pinched together with a stroke of drama and judgement. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ has blown the box office apart and with it’s affable cast and elegant, delightful storytelling it’s not hard to see why.

7.5/10

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

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Adapted from a bestselling novel; where it spent 40 weeks in the NY Times Best Seller list, comes this Netflix feature which is an adorable romance but looking past the teen loves and dramas, there is unsurprising predictability to be found.

16 year old Lara Jean (Lana Condor) daydreams about sweeping romance from the books she reads but has never had a boyfriend. Tucked away in Lara Jean’s bedroom is a box hiding letters she’s addressed to past crushes and unluckily for her they get sent out. Peter (Noah Centineo) is one of those recipients, he and L-J begin a false relationship to both make certain people jealous.

To start with, this film feels like a slight slog to get through. The acting is unbelievable and some of the dialogue feels extremely off. On top of this is the excruciating foreseeable nature of the plot, as soon as Lara Jean and Peter sign their makeshift contract it’s blindingly obvious where the narrative will end up. Fortunately, even though the story never goes somewhere unexpected, I found myself warming up to the film and characters.

Some further annoyances almost make the film something you’d regret, such as a scene in a high school bathroom that has such terrible audio laid over making the conversation sound like something from a Bad Lip Reading video on YouTube. Lara Jean’s sister Kitty is highly precocious and somewhat annoying in places but far less soul-crushing than Charles Wallace from ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. I only bring that brat up because Kitty has the same smarter sibling characteristics of CW and this streaming movie refuses to reference Lara Jean without saying the names every time…a personal gripe I know but it’s just vexing.

Other than the major issue of it being a romance that doesn’t really try to subvert expectations, the film isn’t a weak one. The central pair are a charming delight on screen and there’s some kind of comforting vibe to felt throughout this movie. The film isn’t solely about her quest to find someone but Peter becomes just as important in the way he shakes off jock imagery as he plays pretend dating with L-J.

‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ isn’t going to break the mould and I’ll likely forget I ever saw it by the end of 2018 but for the time being it’s a satisfying, if just alright teeny-bop romantic flick.

6/10

Mary Shelley (2018)

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“It’s Alive!” Yes, Dr Frankenstein, the story of how you and your creature came to be, comes almost alive in this Irish/British/Luxembourgian joint production captained by Haifaa al-Mansour.

Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) has a writer for a father and works in a bookshop, so it’s no surprise that she loves to read and someday she hopes to be a writer. After a trip up to Scotland where she meets poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), Mary becomes besotted with the man and he too returns those romantic affections. It isn’t long before fractures in their relationship show and these darker moments lead Mary to find her voice and write her story.

Alternatively titled ‘A Storm in the Stars’, this period drama seems to be lost in space at points. It’s a two hour run-time and a good portion of the film feels like a slow crawl. There’s no dazzling spark of a star in the story to be found, it’s almost like the movie is making her hectic late-teenage years feel more mundane than they clearly were. It definitely reached a point where I was internally begging Mary to write the damned story.

Emma Jensen has a good grasp on the poetic language and manages to weave in some nice moments between Mary and her sister Claire but amongst that are a lot of examples that come across with a pretentious tone, which I guess when you have a story featuring English Romantics is to be expected. The script itself isn’t helped further by the actors delivering their lines in a way that’s reminiscent of a stage play, as if they’re projecting their voices up into the rafters which isn’t necessary in cinema. It gives some scenes a distracting hammy quality.

Gladly, ‘Mary Shelley’ the film and the figure herself progress as we enter the stages of the second half. As a Geneva-set ghost story challenge swings into action and Mary’s keen, blossoming interest in science plays on her mind, the film gradually lifts itself out of the dragging mire and lights up a creative bulb within the title character. Haifaa al-Mansour’s previous works that feature strong women help her direct the learning curve of Mary; her troubling years with Percy gift her the experience to work on writing this bold material called ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’.

Elle Fanning is superb in this, she captures an essence of courage in a girl not quite confident to have her own distinctive voice. Yet, you believe that she’s an intelligent and brave woman and Fanning shows great emotion playing the part of a neglected soul. Douglas Booth utilises his acting chops in a genre he’s well used to by now, that dashing charm works in selling Percy as the sophisticated poet, but there’s an extra something there which he carries and ensures Mary’s beau isn’t a man that can fully be trusted. Joanne Froggatt basically becomes the Lady Tremaine of the act and performs in such a way that wouldn’t be amiss in pantomime. Tom Sturridge revels in his grandeur and mascara as Lord Byron. There’s no denying that the poet is flamboyant and smart but he’s almost a villainous chap too, the misogyny within him is fairly extreme and he has no cares for the feelings or intellect of women.

This film is by no means a terrible one, but the fantastic performance from Fanning isn’t enough to stop me thinking that the real Mary Shelley deserves better than what this story gives.

5/10

On Chesil Beach (2018)

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Here is a reunion of sorts, as ‘Atonement’ star Saoirse Ronan and its author team up to tell the story of a young married couple. It’s a small scale tale and one that’s excellently performed, but it’s a film that comes across as quite bland.

Spending their wedding night at a hotel near Chesil Beach; are classical music player Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and country romantic Edward (Billy Howle). As they near the consummation of their marriage, it becomes clear that something could stand in their way.

The 1962 period and quintessential Britishness of the Dorset locations are prettily shot. Sean Bobbitt certainly gives the stretch of uncomfortable looking shingle a vague haunting quality. It also is a place of quiet yet heated reflection which becomes the setting of the revelation that stirs the pot and helps step the film narrative up.

Before this moment, I have to say the movie is quite a slow and dragging affair. There are some humorous moments and within the flashbacks of their courtship, it’s clear to see their adoration but they’re never totally interesting. There’s also the matter, that after the big moment, there’s two points in the plot that are so predictable. Luckily, I can forgive the expect record shop moment and the ending because they’re performed so well that my gut was punched and my eyes almost welled with tears.

Ronan is always an sensational actor to watch and that doesn’t change here. The way she plays the upper class and more stuffy frigid nature of her character is superb, you always buy into Florence’s pained fears of commitment. Howle, surprisingly, stole the film for me. I love Ronan as an actor but I was enthralled by his turn as Edward and especially in the later stages of the film I felt for him.

It’s not a clumsy film but it’s not exactly a serene picture-perfect one either. The acting from the two lovers are what keep the interests just above nap-mode. ‘On Chesil Beach’ comes across like a great Sunday afternoon watch, to have on whilst you’re enjoying a solid British roast dinner.

6/10

I Feel Pretty (2018)

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Sigh. I mean first of all, let me say that I’m not an Amy Schumer fan, so going into this was always likely to lead to pained reactions. In that sense, this film isn’t a disappointment because it is painfully unfunny and a right drag to complete.

Renee (Amy Schumer) helps control the website for a major cosmetics company, but she’s hidden away in a basement and on top of this she’s getting increasingly annoyed at the way society views woman who don’t conform to the stereotypical attractive ‘look’. After an accident at SoulCycle, Renee comes around and thinks she’s changed and become the typically gorgeous woman she always wished to be, but to the bemusement of those round her because she looks exactly the same.

Obviously this film is squaring on a message of powerful self identity and appreciating yourself no matter how you look or what others think and say, which is all well and good but there’s times when it doesn’t follow that road with great conviction and other times when it slams the audience over the head with excruciatingly on the nose dialogue, time and time again forcing the values home, of loving who you are.

The above issue of overbearing and patronising writing to deliver a theme wouldn’t be so bad, if we were at least distracted by some great moments of comedy, but there is none of that to be found. I didn’t laugh once, I counted 9 others in the screen and not one of those watchers laughed or chuckled either. It’s just so boring and seems to rely on the incessant yammering of Renee which is more annoying than amusing. As with Melissa McCarthy movies, these two female performers tend to literally fall back on the uninspired method of prat falling to try and elicit laughter….and I ain’t biting.

I don’t doubt that Schumer has talent and can be charming, but her turn as Renee is horrendous and she’s almost the villain of the piece because I just couldn’t ever connect to her or like her. There’s a couple of places near the beginning where Schumer is fine to watch and made me think this movie could be alright but then it gets worse. Michelle Williams? Yes, why is she in this, again at first I thought she could be great, a kind of Jesse Plemmons in ‘Game Night’ comedic supporting character, but she loses any of her icy fashionista aura and her child-doll voice gets ever irritating.

As said, this was never going to be a film for me, but then it’s great when a movie can subvert expectations and all films should possess that chance. This one never ever gets close to the chance of becoming a fun or funny watch. By the end of it, I Felt pretty close to falling asleep.

2.5/10

Love, Simon (2018)

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Better late than never I guess, as I’ve finally gotten around to seeing the film that everyone was talking about, before the Marvel behemoth arrived. I’m so glad I’ve now watched ‘Love, Simon’ because it’s exceptionally sweet, greatly acted and shows diversity isn’t a token thing.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) lives a fairly normal American teen life, living with mum, dad and aspiring foodie sister. He also has a solid friendship group but he’s hiding a secret; this being that he’s gay. On a school social chat board, Simon sees that someone calling themselves Blue is also trying to juggle the pressures of his sexuality against friends and family. They soon email back and forth and Simon just hopes that he can uncover the mystery of who Blue is.

Obviously there are some moments within this, that effectively angle towards the emotional aspect of Simon’s dilemma, but the best quality is how spirited and uplifting this movie is. Greg Berlanti has directed a coming out plot, focusing on coming of age and the people around Simon are just as important in his decisions. Working with typical but immersive high school scenery, an eclectic soundtrack and a talented group of performers, Berlanti handles what could have been a soppy or cringey narrative with sincerity and light humour.

The film isn’t by any means a powerhouse movement for gay cinema but it’s long overdue, even if it landed with odd ‘aawws’ from girls in my screening when Simon comes out. Perhaps, that’s the problem, the film does feel a slight too sugary sweet along the way, which for me at least, lessened the dramatic notion of what Simon and Blue are going through.

There are fantastic moments of genius throughout the film, from teens telling their parents they’re straight, to an outrageously camp college dance number, to the drama teacher who was my personal favourite. She’s written damn well, firing great lines of comedy but showing a caring, take-no-prisoners side in a cafeteria scene that made me sit up and clap (in my mind of course, I’m British, I’d die of embarrassment causing a scene in the cinema).

Robinson is a revelation and is a million miles away from the performance I saw in ‘Jurassic World’. Here he balances great joy, pained uncomfortable revelations and genuine romantic chops that drew me in with ease. Alexandra Shipp is fascinating as the kinda new kid in the friendship circle. She also balances beaming moments of joy with a tougher side and seeing her story progress with the forced dates alongside Martin are stunningly acted. Josh Duhamel totally convinces as the little seen jock-cum-father with a soft side and a lack of technological know-how. Jennifer Garner also doesn’t feature much but when she’s on screen she knows how to grab your attention but not distract from Robinson’s performance either. A scene with her and Simon is simply shot but brings all the emotive weight necessary for that moment.

There are some iffy moments that didn’t convince me along the way, but all in all this is a really charming coming of age romantic story, sold by a superbly talented cast.

7.5/10