Relive the memory of ‘Cats’ at SM Cinema

Get ready to dance and belt out some classic tunes as SM Cinema brings you Cats, a movie adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical.

Cats tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and their annual Jellicle Ball, a ceremony where a cat from the said tribe is chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be granted a new life. We follow Victoria, a new cat taken in by the Jellicles when they witness her being thrown out by her owner, as she learns about her new home and all the unique cats.

Full of magic and music, Cats features a star-studded cast that includes Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, Ian McKellen as Gus, Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger, Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy, James Corden as Bustopher Jones, Idris Alba as Macavity, Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots, Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, and Francesca Hayward as Victoria.

Cats is a fun family film filled with memorable moments and songs to enjoy with your loved ones and what better way than to watch it than in Director’s Club Cinema, SM Cinema’s premiere theatre featuring plush leather seats and an in-house butler service so you never have to miss a single second of the movie. We will definitely be singing along once they sing ‘Memory’! SM Cinema Director’s Club is available in eleven (11) branches: SM Aura Premier, SM BF Paranaque, SM East Ortigas, SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall, S’Maison, The Podium, SM Puerto Princesa, SM Seaside Cebu City, SM Cagayan de Oro Downtown Premier and SM Fairview.

Watch Cats at any of the 60 SM Cinema branches nationwide! Book your tickets through the website, or download the SM Cinema mobile app.  You may also follow /SMCinema on Facebook and @SM_Cinema on Instagram for updates! Satisfy your cravings at Snack Time, the official food concessionaire of SM Cinema, which offers a wide array of snack like popcorn, hotdogs and burgers to complement your movie watching experience. Follow /SnackTimeOfficial on Facebook for more information.

WATCH: ‘In the Heights’ trailer turns up the volume of your dreams

The creator of “Hamilton” and the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” invite you to the event of the summer, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big… “In the Heights.”

Check out the film’s official trailer and watch “In the Heights” in Philippine cinemas July 2020.

Lights up on Washington Heights…The scent of a cafecito caliente hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community.  At the intersection of it all is the likeable, magnetic bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.

“In the Heights” fuses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director John M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.

“In the Heights” stars Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born,” Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “BlacKkKlansman”), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa Barerra (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (the “Star Wars” films).

Chu is directing the film from a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes; it is based on the musical stage play, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and concept by Miranda. “In the Heights” is produced by Miranda and Hudes, together with Scott Sanders, Anthony Bregman and Mara Jacobs. David Nicksay and Kevin McCormick served as executive producers.

Behind the camera, Chu is reuniting with his “Crazy Rich Asians” production designer, Nelson Coates, and editor, Myron Kerstein. He is also collaborating with director of photography Alice Brooks (TV’s “The Walking Dead”) and costume designer Mitchell Travers (“Eighth Grade”).  The choreography is by Christopher Scott, who previously teamed with Chu on the award-winning “The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.”

“In the Heights” was filmed in New York, primarily on location in the dynamic community of Washington Heights.  

“In the Heights” is distributed worldwide and in the Philippines by Warner Bros. Pictures, a WarnerMedia Company. #InTheHeightsMovie

‘Yesterday’ review: A world without The Beatles

As a charming offbeat romcom that highlights the music of The Beatles, ‘Yesterday’ is easy to let into your heart.

As a Beatles fan myself, I’m inclined to say that any film that features their music is automatically worthy of the admission price. The band rightfully deserves their pedestal in rock n’ roll history – not only because of their cross-generational appeal, but also because of their seminal work that continues to be the musical influence of several artists to date. In many ways, John, Paul, George and Ringo shaped the music industry and its booming celebrity culture. Who knows, maybe without them, Ed Sheeran might be off singing metal tunes instead.

In the alternate reality created by Yesterday – where Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) finds himself as the only person who remembers their songs after a freak accident – nothing much has really changed in the music landscape. Ed Sheeran still has the same hits like “Shape of You” and Coldplay is still best known for their song “Fix You.” To think that The Beatles are way beyond influential, the erasure of their legacy will surely affect the world in more ways than one can imagine. But no, like their song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” la la la la life (apparently) goes on.

Ticket to fame. Himesh Patel plays an accidental superstar in ‘Yesterday.’

Truth is, the film dodges the thought-provoking questions brought by its plot. It’s more committed in delivering its fun and sentimental themes, rather than serving a cause and effect commentary in pop culture history. Well, that’s fine by me. I mainly came here for the sing along, plus it’s not like the film is a dystopian sci-fi anyway – leave it to Black Mirror in figuring out the nitty gritty repercussions of a Beatles-less world. Yesterday turns out to be half the film it’s premise promises to be, but that should not deter you from enjoying it.

And so in his eureka moment – where the camera accelerates to his face with such excitement – struggling musician Jack suddenly realizes the opportunity to build a career for himself. He quickly lists down all the Beatles’ songs to his best recollection and passes them as his own in a local radio shack. Next thing he knows, a captivated Ed Sheeran shows in his doorstep to invite him as his opening act. He also catches the eye of a label executive Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) who offers him the “poisoned chalice of fame,” as she would call it. He signs a record contract and boom, instant superstardom follows. Cue in the fans – from adolescent girls to grown up men – who scream his name in adulation. 

Ed Sheeran challenges Jack to a song-writing duel in ‘Yesterday.’

With his stack of ready made hits, Jack is going places. But the question of morality begs as he’s basically a fraud: how long can he “carry that weight?” Yesterday serves as a peek into the life of stardom – the costs of fame and wishful thinking. A sudden chill goes through my body when Jack performs “Help!” with such punkish intensity. I realize that the Beatles has always written this song as a subconscious cry for help.

Yesterday works best as a hilarious piece of entertainment, bolstered by a perpetually confused yet charismatic and musically talented Himesh Patel in his movie debut. All of his performances here are impressively done live and he interprets these classic songs with much sincerity and soul. He shows good comic timing too in the fun sequences like Jack struggling to remember the lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby” and the occasional Google searches as he realizes that the music of The Beatles is not the only thing that’s vanished from the face of the earth.

Himesh Patel performs “Help!” to a sea of adulating fans.

The film also pokes fun in the ails of music industry, best embodied by McKinnon’s obnoxious and opportunistic character. She delivers her ruthless lines with perfect deadpan humor. Sheeran, on the other hand, plays a fictionalized, semi-egotistical version of himself who mines a good laugh from his suggestion to ruin the lyrics of “Hey Jude” to “Hey Dude.”

Yesterday is ultimately a high concept romantic comedy at heart. As Jack rises to fame, he must weigh in the things that really matter to him. That includes his best friend/road manager/ardent cheerleader Ellie (played by the bubbly and ever-radiant Lily James), the girl who believes in him way back when he’s still unpopular. Writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) easily spins the story into a feel good movie filled with profound messages on the different forms of love and success. The only thing that’s unconvincing here is Lily James being stuck on the friend zone – I mean, really?  Otherwise, Patel and James have a palpable chemistry to keep the love angle going despite the minor plot lapses.

Lily James and Himesh Patel sings “I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Yesterday is a musical fantasy that’s not bothered by the silly nature of its phenomenon. Yet it proves to be largely fun not just because of the goodwill of its soundtrack but also due to the sympathetic rags to riches story that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) capably directs. Binding its viewers with the universal healing power of music, it makes a touching case about preserving art and that’s something always worth singing about. Oh, I believe in Yesterday.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Danny Boyle, ‘Yesterday’ stars Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Alexander Arnold, Sophai Di Martino, Harry Michell, Lamorne Morris and Robert Carlyle. 116 minutes. PG-13.

‘The Lion King’ (2019) review: Photorealistic Disney remake means no worries

Jon Favreau’s remake of ‘The Lion King’ does not liberate itself from the shackles of the Disney classic but the nostalgia it brings should be enough to make this an easy crowd-pleaser.

On a strict technical level, Disney’s 2019 version of The Lion King counts more as a retelling than a reimagination: the story and dialogues are roughly the same, the well-loved songs are all present, and the iconic scenes are masterfully replicated through cutting edge technology (making the 1994 classic look like a giant storyboard). James Earl Jones even reprises the role of Mufasa, “King of the Pride Rock” (pictured above). Had you seen the original film a day before the screening (yes, I have), the beat per beat similarities will be more evident and you’ll find yourself guessing the next lines.

This sounds good news for those who like to be comforted by the same blanket of emotions, all while revelling in the filmmakers’ technical prowess. Anyway, the classic has already a solid story to begin with, and this remake’s faithful adherence to it does not take away whatever entertainment value The Lion King brings. I can’t blame Disney for not fixing what’s not broken as multi-millions of dollars are at stake here. Jungle Book director Jon Favreau’s first and foremost duty is to not mess it up… even if it’s at the cost of storytelling ambition.

Adventurous souls. Zazu (John Oliver) warns a young Simba (J.D. McCrary) and a young Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) not to stray away from the Pride Lands.

That being said, those who couldn’t tolerate watching a practically the same film, will be greatly disappointed. The question of necessity immediately pops into one’s head and terms like “cash-grab” and “blatant rehash” will be thrown around by cynical viewers. Personally, I would rather reserve those terms for films which are lazily done and TLK 2.0 definitely doesn’t look like one. With its photorealistic and painstakingly rendered imagery, the film looks like a high-end feature of Disneynature. For someone who enjoys watching NatGeo documentaries, I am digging this. If anything, audiences will be baffled to know that none of it is actually real—everything is created in digital space. (The term “live action” seems to be a misnomer by now.) The main attraction here is to gawk at the visual wizardry and there’s no shame in that.

Wisdom and tribe loyalty. John Kani plays Rafiki, a wise mandrill who serves as the shaman of the Pride Lands and a close adviser of Mufasa.

Putting realism to the context of animation, however, creates dissonance at some parts and that’s where this remake fails to completely replicate the magic of the original. To be specific, Favreau & Co. sticks to realistic animal expressions: which means that a lion’s sad/angry/confused face won’t be as expressive as their animated counterparts. Hence, even if the vocal performances are all incredible, the emotional range and depth is not fully captured. In a way, 2.0 serves as a reminder why traditional animation is important. The exaggerated facial expressions and the surrealist sequences are used to convey larger than life emotions. The Lion King thrives more in that territory. It can never entirely sell the idea of realism in the first place, as there’s no way in the world that animals talk or sing like people.

But everything else is mostly forgiven when TLK 2.0 starts hitting the nostalgia button via its amusing, sing-along songs, and the sweeping musical score once again provided by the great Hans Zimmer. This remake retains most of the melodies but there are welcome additions too like Beyoncé’s original song “Spirit” which is played during Simba’s eventual return to the Pride Lands. Her character Nala is given more dimension this time and I wish we’re given more time for Donald Glover’s adult Simba to fully grow on us. Nevertheless, the coming-of-age push and pull themes of ‘putting your past behind’ vs. ‘remembering who you are’ are well emphasized in his character building moments. 

The heir of the Pride Lands, Simba (Donald Glover) and his childhood best friend Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) reunites after several years of separation.

While the opening song “Circle of Life” is a frame by frame recreation of the original, Simba and Nala’s performance of Elton John’s rousing hit “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is wonderfully set in the warm glow of sunset this time. There’s also a fresh take in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance of “Be Prepared” which is delivered as a mix of spoken word/song. Combined with Scar’s scruffy features, the character looks more devious and menacing. 

Usurpers to the throne. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), along with his hyena henchmen Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), and Azizi (Eric Andre), are onto something evil.

But TLK 2.0 starts to earn its big laughs upon the introduction of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s Timon and Pumbaa. The duo steal the thunder with their nihilistic philosophy of living a worry-free lifestyle and the actors’ seemingly improvisational freedom. Their acapella performance of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” really lights up the mood of the film. Also bringing levity is John Oliver’s pompous and diplomatic bird Zazu.

Hakuna Matata. A young Simba (J.D. McCrary), meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa sing away their problems in ‘The Lion King.’

The Lion King (2019) does not reinvent nor reimagine the story and it does not have to. There’s a reason why the 1994 film is a timeless classic and it’s because of the relevant themes of responsibility, pride and courage. The main goal here is to reintroduce the story to a younger generation who don’t share the same level of enthusiasm towards the old-school Disney animation. In that note, this film succeeds.

The 2019 remake honors what came before. It may lack the surprise factor—the emotional punches and musical cues come as expected—but there’s great pleasure in seeing this classic brought into life. It won’t overthrow my love for the original anytime soon but think of this as a good old, hand-me-down present that’s beautifully wrapped for every generation to keep.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Jon Favreau, ‘The Lion King’ features the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre and James Earl Jones. Based on the 1994 Disney classic by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. 118 minutes. Rated G.

‘Rocketman’ review: The glamorous and heartbreaking life of Elton John

With its highly imaginative direction and Taron Egerton’s magnetic performance, ‘Rocketman’ finishes on a high note.

It’s impossible not to think of Bohemian Rhapsody while watching Rocketman. Not to mention the fact that Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher himself assumed directing duties after Bryan Singer’s untimely exit while shooting Bohemian Rhapsody, both musical biopics feature flamboyant, gay pop-rock icons who reinvented themselves amidst adversity.

Rocketman, however, has a surefire edge over the other as Taron Egerton here does his own singing. We first heard him spectacularly perform an Elton John classic in Dreamworks’ Sing, and that credential alone suggests that he might have the vocal chops to do the rest of his jukebox. And he does not disappoint. Egerton may not exactly look or sound like Elton, but he channels the superstar’s flair and vibe with such authenticity that goes beyond an impersonation. Donned with signature over-the-top costumes, he successfully puts on a fearless and electrifying show. If Rami Malek can win an Academy Award for his work in Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s only righteous to start the Oscar hype as early as now for Taron Egerton.

“…how wonderful life is when you’re in the world.”
Taron Egerton as Elton John performs ‘Your Song.’

Both movies pretty much follow a standard template for musical biopics – a calculated yet effective retelling of the rise, the fall and the rebirth of an icon, accompanied by a wheelhouse of greatest hits. In Rocketman, piano prodigy Reginald Kenneth Dwight (Elton’s birth name) meets an aspiring lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and together, they produce a number of hits that skyrockets Elton’s hollywood career to superstardom. The costs of fame soon catches up and he falls into an abyss of depression and various addictions – shopping, alcohol, painkillers and even sex. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody is on a disadvantage for being confined to a PG-13 setting, Rocketman greatly benefits from its R-rating as it avoids sugarcoating the edgy chapters in Elton’s extravagant and promiscuous lifestyle.

But what makes Rocketman truly soar is Fletcher’s assured and adventurous direction that deftly weaves fantasy elements into Elton’s trajectory. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, the film disregards the chronological release of his songs and goes for a full-blown musical: the characters break out in songs and dances whenever the narrative calls for it. Given the eccentric nature of its protagonist, it’s quite easy to suspend disbelief and allow the film to take us to wherever it wants to go.

Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin) and Taron Egerton bring warmth and sincerity to their friendship in ‘Rocketman.’

Musical scorer Matthew Margeson brings new arrangements to some of Elton’s songs and in doing so, the film produces multiple music genres that bear wide range of emotions. An energetic “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” marks Elton’s rebellious transition from childhood to young adult. The “Crocodile Rock” performance – where gravity cease to exist for a moment and the crowd starts floating – represents an insurmountable joy during Elton’s music career. “Bennie and the Jets” is played with an increasingly aggressive tempo to portray his psychedelic descent to rock bottom. The highly imaginative sequence of “Rocketman” is presented as an accompaniment to Elton’s suicide attempt and desire to leave the spotlight.

The film also shines with its slow ballads like the iconic “Tiny Dancer” being reinterpreted as a song about longing and unrequited love; an intimate “Your Song” that brings earnestness to the film’s core friendship; and an emotional duet of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that reflects Elton and Bernie’s anger and disappointment at each other. It’s an epic celebration of the superstar’s enduring legacy and Elton’s spirit is very much alive throughout.

A rising star. Elton John performs “The Crocodile” in Troubadour, London.

At times, Rocketman feels like a Broadway production, where its pompous musical numbers occasionally outweigh the introspective drama involved. But thankfully, Fletcher takes us back to a third act where film’s cliché narrative setup – a frustrated Elton recounts his life during a therapy session – finally pays off as he confronts his inner demons. It’s in this moment when the pieces fall together and we understand the complexities of the character. Here is a son who poses a peculiar persona in a subconscious attempt to gain the affections of his uncaring father (Steven Mackintosh) and promiscuous mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). A performer who took risks in the music industry because his dashing yet devious manager/lover (Richard Madden) urges him to leave a mark in the world. A gay man whose told to be choosing a life of loneliness because of his decision to embrace his sexuality. A star who succumbs to self-destruction after failing to earn the validation of the people who mattered to him. And finally, a flawed human who decides to turn his life around with the help of his loyal best friend.

Livin’ the high life? Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila) and Richard Madden (John Reid) in ‘Rocketman.’

With all the entertainment that Rocketman offers in its great performances and splendid production design, there lies an incredibly relatable tale of unconditional friendship, atonement, freedom and self-actualization. It’s only fitting that the film ends with the song “I’m Still Standing” to cap off Elton John’s moment of redemption. This can be your song too, and you can tell everybody.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, ‘Rocketman’ stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Jason Pennycooke, Kit Connor, Matthew Illesley, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh, and Tom Bennett. 121 minutes. R-13.

Rami Malek relives Queen’s historic performances in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

If you have ever been moved by the mesmerizing operatics of the song Bohemian Rhapsody or have been singing along to the soaring choruses of We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You in music halls, stadiums or arenas, then you shouldn’t miss “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie when it comes opens in cinemas. The film begins and ends with Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance. Live Aid was one of the most important cultural events of the 1980s, bringing together the world’s biggest superstars in a benefit concert on two stages, Wembley Stadium in London and the John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, on July 13, 1985. Organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for those affected by the famine in Ethiopia, the concert was one of the largest satellite link-ups and TV broadcasts of all time, watched by an audience totaling 1.9 billion in 150 countries around the world.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is hands down the best rock biopic since La Bamba”, Ely Buendia, an icon in PH music industry whose music also redefined rock and indie genre, says of the movie.

It’s been over 25 years since the death of lead singer and flamboyant front Freddie Mercury, yet the music lives on. Freddie redefined and transcended stereotypes, just as Queen’s music refuses to be slotted into any traditional genre. Perhaps that’s why the band is such a cross-generational, multicultural and global phenomenon.

Casting director Susie Figgis brought together the rest of the cast. Says producer Graham King: “We didn’t want big names, we wanted great actors who could transform themselves.

Emmy®-winner Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) dons the skintight catsuit and grabs that microphone stick to take on the role of the king of pop rock in Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Bryan singer, a foot-stomping celebration of Queen’s music and lead singer Freddie Mercury’s extraordinary life. Lucy Boynton, who most recently appeared in the films Sing Street and Murder on the Orient Express, plays Mary Austin, the love of Freddie’s life who remained a true friend even after their romantic relationship ended. The band members – Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon – are brought to life by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello, respectively. Gwilym Lee (Jamestown) as guitarist Brian May; Ben Hardy (The Women in White) as drummer Roger Taylor; Joe Mazzello (Jurassic Park) as bass guitarist John “Deacy” Deacon; Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) as Queen’s first manager John Reid; Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) as the group’s lawyer-turned-manager Jim “Miami” Beach; Allen Leech (Downton Abbey) as Paul Prenter, who started off as Reid’s assistant and became Freddie Mercury’s personal manager; Aaron McCusker (Shameless) as Freddie’s longtime boyfriend Jim Hutton; and Mike Myers (Austin Powers) as EMI Records’ Ray Foster.

King has high hopes for the film and its message for the younger generation. “This is a really uplifting film,“ he says. “I hope that if there’s anyone in the audience who is confused or being bullied or feeling like an outcast, they would take to heart what Mary says to Freddie in the film: ‘Don’t you see who you can be? Anything you want to be.’ That’s a very important message in today’s world.”

But it’s also the music that King knows will capture the audience’s imagination. “I go to see a film because I want to feel it, not just see it. For me it was always, if we can get 500 people in a theater clapping and singing along to those powerful anthems that they grew up with and that are a part of their lives, then that’s a film experience. And I think we‘ve done just that. I want people to come out of this film and hug the person they’re next to and sing along with Queen songs. I wanted to continue the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, to show a younger generation who Freddie Mercury was, how the band survived through times, how the music business has changed, what it was like to make a record in those days, what it was like for four guys to meet and create that special sound. Freddie always called the band his family. And I think there’s no better time in the world to pass on the idea that we are all part of one family, no matter who we are or where we come from.”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” opens October 31 in cinemas nationwide (also available in IMAX screens) from 20th Century Fox.

‘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


‘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.

Lady Gaga shines in her first movie lead role via ‘A Star is Born’

Multiple award-winning, Oscar-nominated music superstar Lady Gaga stars in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “A Star is Born,” her first leading role in a major motion picture.

In the film, Bradley Cooper (who also directs the film) portrays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers and falls in love with struggling artist Ally (Gaga). She has given up on her dream to become a successful singer, until she meets Jack, who immediately sees her natural talent.

In addition to playing Ally, Gaga—who earned an Oscar nod for the song “Til It Happens to You” from the film “The Hunting Ground”—performs original songs in the film with Cooper, which they wrote with a handful of artists, including Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell and Mark Ronson. The music is original and all vocals for the movie were recorded live during filming.

Gaga—as experienced a performer as they come—was nervous to take on the role of Ally in her first feature film, but nevertheless thrilled to do so with Cooper at the helm and by her side. “I had to get past the nerves, but I was so excited,” she relates, “because, in my opinion, when somebody has talent inside them, brewing for years, ready to move into another medium and it finally happens…it’s like a huge explosion, an opus. He was meant to direct, and I just got lucky enough to be in his first film.”

Cooper states, “She’d done incredible work as an actress, but to make this huge transition… It felt like we were at the same point individually in our work, and we both needed the same thing from each other, essentially, in order to jump the tracks to this other place.”

“So much of this film resonates with me still,” says Gaga, months after the film’s completion. “I think a lot of people will relate to the themes, and the story will be something profound to them. And the music really tells this love story—that’s something we all took very seriously and believed in. We all saw Bradley’s vision and we all wanted, to the very last second, to make it just perfect.”

Lady Gaga is a Grammy and Golden Globe winner and Academy Award-nominated, one-of-a kind artist and performer. She has amassed an outstanding 31 million global album sales and 171 million single sales, making her one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Gaga is also one of the biggest living forces in social media, with over 60 million likes on Facebook, over 76 million followers on Twitter and over 29 million followers on Instagram. Her fifth studio album, Joanne, was released in October 2016 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200, marking her fourth consecutive #1 album—the first female to do so in the 2010s.

In 2015, Gaga starred in the fifth installment of the Ryan Murphy FX drama “American Horror Story: Hotel.” The role earned her a 2016 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Film.

Last September, she released her Chris Moukarbel-directed documentary “Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two” via Netflix.

In 2012, Gaga launched the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering youth, embracing differences and inspiring kindness and bravery. She is also an outspoken activist, philanthropist and supporter of many important issues, including LGBT rights, HIV/AIDS awareness and body image issues.

In Philippine cinemas October 10, 2018, A Star is Born is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is what the first film should have been

Despite using lesser-known Abba songs, Ol Parker’s ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ knocks off the first film by having a focused narrative, offering more room for poignant character introspection.

If you have already seen the trailers released for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, you might have noticed the glaring absence of ‘The Dancing Queen’ herself, Meryl Streep. Well, there’s no way of working around this review without giving away this mild spoiler, so I’ll spill it out: her character Donna Sheridan has long been dead before this sequel started. But before Streep fans demand for a refund, do note that she still makes an appearance here (and she sings too) – that you have to wait. And before you raise both hands in the air saying how this might be the dumbest sequel decision ever, the film proves otherwise as this allows the story to have a more creative narrative direction.

This sequel, which also works as a prequel, plays on two timelines. Set a year after Donna’s passing, the present arc thankfully does not dwell much on gloom as her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) honors her memory by relaunching the Bella Donna Hotel. Donna’s best friends, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) makes a return to guide Sophie and share more of her mother’s past. Cue in the 1979 flashbacks when a free-spirited, young Donna (Lily James) first steps in Europe after graduating from college, chances upon a greek island and meets Sophie’s three potential dads: Harry (Hugh Skinner as young Colin Firth), Bill (Josh Dylan as young Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine as young Pierce Brosnan).

(L-R) Julie Walters as Rosie, Amanda Seyfried as Sophie Sheridan, and Christine Baranski as Tanya

Departing from the stage musical, Here We Go Again surprisingly captures the heart of the story more so than the first film did. Mamma Mia! The Movie is a 2008 endearing blockbuster but more often a ridiculous patchwork – its story simply built around Abba’s greatest hits collection, with its songs shoehorned whether or not they have relevance to the story. Here, the narrative takes the driver seat and the tunes are suitably chosen to enhance it. The stakes remain to be light for a festive summer level: Can Sophie successfully relaunch her hotel with a looming storm ahead? Can she sustain a long distance relationship with her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper)? How will young Donna navigate a new world filled with short-lived affairs and unexpected pregnancy? The film does little to advance the story but if offers more room for poignant character introspection.

(L-R) Colin Firth as Harry Bright, Stellan Skarsgard as Bill Anderson, and Pierce Brosnan as Sam Carmichael

But of course, the main reason why you would see this film is to be enthralled by its elaborately choreographed and lavishly produced musical numbers. While the first film surely exhausted most of Abba’s more popular hits, this sequel makes do with some melancholic, non-single tracks like “Andante Andante,” “I’ve Been Waiting for You” and “My Love, My Life.” The notable performances remain to be the welcome rehashes of “Dancing Queen” featuring a dancing crowd on top of landward boats, a kinetic “Waterloo” which is aptly set in a French restaurant, or a sharply edited “I Have a Dream” that gracefully intersperses young Donna’s dilapidated villa to Sophie’s fully refurbished hotel, evoking a timeless bond between mother and daughter.

While Streep is sorely missed for the most parts, Lily James radiates with a wild, positive energy needed to anchor this film. As the film kicks off, young Donna says during her valedictory speech that the best things in life are unexpected and before we know it, she blasts off with an impromptu performance of “When I Kissed the Teacher” – it’s a declaration to the audience that she has the singing chops to do this. Her back-ups, the Dynamos, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies) are also wonderful, uncanny good matches of their older counterparts. The same can be said for the younger versions of Harry, Bill and Sam who can actually sing well too. This film excels in its casting choices, for the most part.

Donna and the Dynamos singing ‘Mamma Mia’ (L-R): Jessica Keenan Wynn as Young Tanya, Lily James as Young Donna, and Alexa Davies as Young Rosie.

The film’s superstar, Cher with a platinum wig and shows up fashionably late (and uninvited) via helicopter as Ruby Sheridan… the er, mother of Donna. It’s an odd casting choice if we are to be reminded that Cher is almost the same age with Streep and her Dynamos. But before the flawed logic sinks in, the audience will already be swept away as she sings “Fernando” to Sophie’s hotel manager, Andy Garcia. The whole subplot has the weakest link to the main story, a mere excuse to generate starpower and let Cher sing. Oh well, cue in the fireworks spectacle.

Cher as Ruby Sheridan, Donna’s mother and Sophie’s grandmother.

And so, for the credits scene, the past and present timelines meet as the original casts and their younger incarnations sing and jive to one final glamorous song of “Super Trouper.” No matter how much of a calculated crowd-pleaser Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is, it has touching insights on friendships, romantic relationships and mother-daughter relationships, more so than the first film achieved. It’s flashy, fleeting, campy and jukebox as ever… how could you resist it?

Listen to the full soundtrack below.

4 out of 5 stars

Distributed by Universal Pictures, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again‘ is now showing in PH cinemas starring Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Andy García, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan with Cher and Meryl Streep. Written and directed by Ol Parker. Run time: 114 minutes.