‘A Star is Born’ review [2 of 2]: The musical era is officially back!

Bradley Cooper brings back a contemporary remake of a beloved Hollywood classic in ‘A Star is Born,’ with less glitter and more realistic textures, showcasing the dark pits of dreams and stardom.

A Star is Born Poster

Led by his raw and poetic direction, Cooper shows the movie from the artist’s perspective — camera angles from the back of the performer’s shoulders, enveloping a mosh-pit visual, contrasting the silhouette of the artist facing the audience. It comes in such rare occasions where performances are shown from the artist’s point of view, where the faces of the audience are established as a chain reaction towards the music in the film. It was never about “how great the performers are”; it was about “what the effect of the music to the audience is”.

A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in ‘A Star is Born.’ Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures

The cinematography is a character in itself. Every shot establishes a certain truth, and a certain lie. How Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson (Bradley Cooper) converses about song writing, the camera angles from the back, showing nothing but an empty parking lot and their faces from their head-point perspective. This mise-en-scene suggests their truth as musicians, that they are pouring their own reality without having the need to please anybody. The same way how Ally sees Jackson performing for the first time, the camera pans from the backstage, capturing an artist’s POV from stage to audience. The camera establishes what she sees: Jackson facing the crowd, with his back and nape sweating, and hundreds of people running business behind the scenes. It shows how music is all about hardwork, human labor, with the audience roaring in excitement as the product of this profession. It shines a light on the truth about performers, and not just showcasing the vanity of how great they are from a front angle. A Star is Born reverses that sight. Later on, upon Ally’s star power transformation as she performs in Saturday Night Live as a glamour girl with nothing but empty music, the camera suddenly is in front of the stage — this serves as a commentary as to what the current climate of the music industry is, where the truth of musical artistry is dying and the audience sees gimmicks instead of talents. This facing-the-stage camera angle is now all about pleasing the audience.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performs ‘Shallow.’ Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures.

Let’s talk about Lady Gaga. The woman has to be commended for stripping down to her soul, losing her vanity, and going bare to her bones in a performance that’s very raw and human without the periphery of crazy costumes and theatrical characterization. To tell you the truth, I had very low expectations with Gaga’s acting. Fresh from watching her TV stint in American Horror Story: Hotel where she was wooden as a cardboard, I immediately knew she didn’t have the chops for dramatic acting. But as the film’s title suggests, a star is born through this film — Lady Gaga turns out to be a revelation. But is she really that good? For me, if I were to compare her performance as Ally in her own acting standard, she is beyond excellent. It was definitely a departure from her campy music videos, and dead-pan TV performances. It’s almost unthinkable how the monster in a meat dress and this human portrait on film is the same person. She did excellent in a “Lady Gaga standard”. But, separating the artist from the artwork is a different story. If I were to be bias-free and not knowing what Gaga is capable and not capable of, her performance as Ally is still a bit lukewarm. I’ve been craving for in-between moments from her. I wanted to see her in-betweens of very happy, and very sad. I craved for a range that’ll take me to what it actually felt like to be nominated for 3 Grammys including Best New Artist, and to face grief, rejection and adversity. All she gave was very happy, and very sad. She lacked the nuances that I hoped for in a character that’s very capable of every human emotion, given the fact that she has been through so much. Gaga didn’t bring me there. However, she brought passion, which I think is good enough. Her performance was passionate and hungry. Starving, almost. Starving for that dream, and itching to share her God-given talents. I think that’s what it’s all about: a passionate performance with killer vocals. She may not have the acting range, but her vocal range is beyond heaven and earth.

Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine in ‘A Star is Born.’ Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures

Bradley Cooper, as per usual, brings the method in acting. His performance as Jackson Maine is Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart meets Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. It was equally gritty and vulnerable. Unlike Gaga, Cooper’s acting range is beyond the roof. Not to mention, his singing ability was pleasantly surprising, too. Cooper gives his most humane performance since American Sniper in 2014.

Overall, let’s give huge thanks to Damien Chazelle for bringing La La Land in 2016. La La Land brought back the musical game to the table. And after its success, The Greatest Showman, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, A Star is Born, and in a couple of months, Bohemian Rhapsody and Mary Poppins Returns, have dominated 2017 and 2018. And A Star is Born, rises to the top as one of the best since La La Land.

In a nutshell, A Star is Born is a very poetic, human, and intensely raw musical, with iconic performances from Gaga and Cooper. The film seals the deal: the musical era is officially back.


5 out of 5 stars


 

‘Wild and Free’ review: Unexpected and intense love affair

Connie Macatuno’s ‘Wild and Free‘ is not as just skin-deep as its trailer teases.

The trailer for Regal’s Wild and Free promises passionate and erotic scenes that would surely awaken your most basic senses – the snippets are steamy and the onscreen chemistry of lead stars Derrick Monasterio and Sanya Lopez sizzles to the brim. But apart from the physical tension going on, director Connie Macatuno matches it up with a wonderful and intense true-to-life love story.

The film marks a turning point in Ellie (Sanya) and Jake’s (Derrick) passionate relationship when a secret from the past has been led out to the broad daylight. As both sides suffer from the consequences of their actions, the two must learn how to accept and love one other even in their worst moments. The film executes this notion in a way that will resonate most to modern real-life couples.

Above all, this movie is not just about its steamy scenes. Yes, the intensity adds a whole new layer into it, but the film exhibits restraint by knowing where to be gratuitous and where to be conservative, making sure that you’re teased enough to glue your attention to the screen. The scenarios played here are what usually happens to couples. There’s drama – the typical fights and jealousy are shown but they’re never played just for the sake of spectacle. It wants to connect to its viewers, have them react “Uy ganun tayo diba” or “Uy ganun ka diba.” The story may look simple from an outsider but in reality, love stories are much complex than what it is. Wild and Free bares this tricky aspect in relationships.

The performances of both lead stars are all fantastic. Derrick successfully conveys a bold and fierce characterization underneath his handsome and charismatic looks. While Sanya embodies a sexy, strong-willed girl who knows her limitations when it comes to loving someone. For both young actors, this is their first mature movie role, but the way they have prepared for this makes them look assured and spontaneous. Ultimately, the oozing chemistry of Derrick and Sanya makes Wild and Free an interesting and gripping flick for its audience.


3.5 out of 5 stars


Directed by Connie S.A. Macatuno and produced by Regal Multimedia, ‘Wild and Free’ stars Derrick Monasterio, Sanya Lopez, Juancho Trivino and Ashley Ortega. Run time: 105 minutes.

‘A Star is Born’ review [1 of 2]: Grit behind the glam

Bradley Cooper recreates a role of a lifetime for him and Lady Gaga in ‘A Star is Born.’

There’s much more to the fourth reiteration of A Star is Born rather than being Bradley Cooper’s passion project. It operates on many levels – an underdog musical, a titillating romance, an existentialist tale, and most of all, a deconstruction of a glorified superstar. Such idea of stardom comes with a massive delusion from public perception, especially the fans who feel deeply connected with their icons, when in fact they know very little about them – their hard work, sacrifice, the constant battle against their inner demons and other external forces. A Star is Born examines the grit underneath the glitz.

We see a country rock veteran Jackson Maine (Cooper) who’s reached a point of his career where liquor and drugs (instead of passion and his fans’ undying adulation) becomes the fuel in his performances. Coming down from a show, he winds up in a local drag bar where waitress Ally (Lady Gaga’s movie debut) captivates him with a rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” When asked if she performs her own songs, the unassured but very talented singer-songwriter says that she’s not comfortable doing so because her physical appearance, especially her big nose, has always been a hindrance to make it in the business.

But Jackson sees a brilliant potential in Ally and gifts to her the confidence to take on the world. “All you gotta do is trust me,” he says. Next thing you know, she’s performing her original song “Shallow” in an arena filled with mad audience. There’s a palpable moment of catharsis once she gets into the glorious bridge section. The magic is undeniable. Not only a star is born in that moment, but also a movie star in Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performs ‘Shallow.’ Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures.

Stripped from elaborate costume and makeup, Gaga has never been more human and vulnerable on screen like this. While it’s expected that the pop star will blow you away with her singing chops, as an actress, she fleshes out her character into a multidimensional being. In a parking lot scene, Ally and Jackson have a heartfelt conversation about their lives and aspirations, letting the viewers peer into the scared dreamer inside her core. At the same time, Ally is a feisty soul who can pack a punch to a stranger if she feels protective over her friend.

Gaga sustains this level of believability right until her soul-baring and heart-shattering swan song, “I’ll Never Love Again.” You’ve probably heard a bunch of Oscar buzz for her and I’m glad to say that she delivers, maybe even better than what’s expected by some. Her acting performance here works as a declaration for the bolder roles she can take on in the future.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performs ‘I’ll Never Love Again.’ Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see Cooper in a different light – full-bearded and sporting his co-star Sam Elliott’s low baritone voice. The actor, being not a trained musician, reportedly went on six months of rigorous training and even contributed in composing some songs for the film. He fully embodies the persona of an alcoholic and drug addict country icon with a hint of humility and kindness. His chemistry with Gaga is off the charts – the two bring contrasting elements that otherwise complement well together.

However, the biggest accolade will have to go to Cooper for his work as a director. It’s easy to let loose in Gaga’s prowess and spin this into a full-blown musical show. But he resists doing so – at its core, A Star is Born is still a drama. Cooper revels in close-up shots, letting the camera caress the characters’ raw features to reveal different layers of insecurity, ambition, hurt and longing.

It’s evident that he’s been deeply attached to his work because he could’ve easily cut some of the scenes (and insert it as a DVD bonus feature) to achieve better pace and shorter run time. Still, for a first time director, Cooper does an excellent work in calibrating a classic film into something truly Academy Award material.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as touring musicians in ‘A Star is Born.’ Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures.

What fascinates me the most here is the idea of a former star descending to give way to the birth of a new star. As Ally’s career skyrockets (and starts mimicking Gaga’s actual career), Jackson spirals down to a path of destruction, courtesy of his alcoholic and substance abuse habits. A Star is Born speaks for the current landscape of music industry. Public attention are finite resources and artists are being replaced time and again, just like how Jackson’s music roots start to feel outdated (“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”).

Ally is slowly turned into something that she’s not – she changes her image and transitions to electro-pop music, which makes Jackson feels frustrated. “The one reason we’re here is to say something so people will hear it. You don’t apologize, you don’t worry why they’re listening or how long they’re listening. Just tell them what you want to say,” Jackson says. True to that platitude, Cooper, in his direction, grabs the mic and speaks what he feels.

A Star is Born, in its substantial run time, takes you into a full emotional journey of a superstar coming into fruition, with the film ultimately crushing your heart like a tin can in its final moments. It’s a fearless and luminous debut work – one can hope that both leads cross paths again in the future. The soundtrack itself features different music styles that mesh well and Cooper encases them in a terrific concert experience (provided you catch it in a Dolby Atmos theater, no less). This film deserves to go the distance and grab a couple of Oscar nominations.


4.5 out of 5 stars


Directed by Bradley Cooper, ‘A Star is Born‘ stars Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, Michael Harney and Rafi Gavron. Based on the 1937 film of the same name. Run time: 135 minutes.