Film Review: “A Star is Born”

A STAR IS BORN
Starring:  Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper and Andrew Dice Clay
Directed by:  Bradley Cooper
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 15 mins
Warner Bros.

To quote “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s a tale as old as time.  Big star on the way down meets rising star on the way up.  They fall in love.  One embarrasses the other and their love is tested.  The tale is so old that it’s already been told, very well, three times before.  But the fourth time may be the best!

Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a popular singer who has lived his life on the road.  Once enjoying his time on stage, now he gets by with alcohol and drugs, showing up, plugging in then hurrying off-stage to the seclusion of his limo.  One night, while looking for a place to stop, he ends up at a drag club, where he gets the chance to listen to a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga – I was just going to put “Gaga” but I’m not sure how the first name/last name thing works here.  I guess I could have put “Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta” but that would probably confuse you even more.  Ally does an old Edith Piaf song and soon Jackson is mesmerized by her voice.  He invites her out with him, where they buy some beer and talk about music.  When he drops her off at home she figures that’s the last time she will see him.  It isn’t.

A familiar story with enough new twists and turns to keep it fresh, “A Star Is Born” is a triumph.  Much of this praise must go to my rival Bradley Cooper.  (I know my wife loves me, but if Bradley Cooper came knocking I would be just a memory J).  As a first time director, especially in a film starring himself, there is an opportunity to make everything BIG and LOUD and, worse of all, put yourself front and center.  Cooper directs with a restraint that is almost unheard of with newbies.  He frames the story almost as if he’s shooting a documentary, and that close, inside look draws you into the story.  As an actor, Cooper is equally up to the task here.  His voice low and gruff (there’s a great line in the film where Sam Elliott, who plays his brother and who was also a musician, accuses Jackson of “stealing my voice”), he gives quite possibly the best performance of his career, which is saying a lot for a man who has already been nominated for the acting Oscars already in his career.

As Ally, Lady Gaga is outstanding.  We already know she can sing.  I haven’t heard a lot of her songs but I still include the night she showed up at the Academy Awards and sang “The Sound of Music” as one of my favorite all-time Oscar moments.  Not only is she in great voice, she has incredible acting chops.  Both the 1937 and 1954 versions of the film earned Oscar nominations for its stars.  The 1976 version swept the Musical Film Category and I’m predicting that both Lady Gaga and Cooper get nods for their work here.  Great supporting work from Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle make the film even more enjoyable.

Film Review “Born to Be Blue”

Starring: Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo
Directed by: Robert Budreau
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 37 mins
IFC Films

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

OK music fans, here’s a name for you: Chet Baker. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? No?
Too bad. How about Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie? Oh, those guys you know. Would you be surprised if I told you that Chet Baker was, for a short time in the 1950’s, their musical equal? Sadly, it was the demon called Heroin that took away both his talent and his fame.

We first meet Baker (a well-cast Ethan Hawke) sprawled out on the floor of an Italian prison cell. While ruminating on his life we travel back to the mid 1950’s and the iconic jazz club known as Birdland. There we get a taste of Baker’s talent. Shot in black and white and full of billowy smoke, the scene sets the stage for what might have been. A decade later, his career floundering, he takes a job playing himself in a feature film. However, a beating by muggers leaves him minus his front teeth. And for a horn player, no teeth means no music. Reduced to pumping gas, Baker finds himself on the verge of redemption. If only he can keep the demon away.

A bio-pic that flits around, “Born to Be Blue” takes its name from one of Baker’s best known songs. Though other characters are featured, the film mostly concentrates on Baker and his girlfriend, Elaine (Ejogo), who we originally meet when she is cast as Baker’s ex-wife in the ill-fated movie. We learn that the creator of West Coast Swing had a hard time handling his father, also a musician. Referred to as the “James Dean of Jazz,” he is a junkie that hates needles. “Hello Fear, Hello Death, F*** You,” is his mantra as a friend sticks the needle in his arm. One of the first recovering drug addicts to be prescribed methadone, Baker takes his life one day at a time.

There are two stars in this film. The first is Hawke, who finds a way to make an unsympathetic character sympathetic. Extra points for doing his own vocal work. Second is the music. The soundtrack is full of some of the best jazz standards of the time, each one telling a story that accompanies the one on-screen. With Don Cheadle’s upcoming Miles Davis film on the horizon, it looks like jazz is making a comeback. Give it, and the film, a chance.

Blu-ray Review "A Star is Born"

Actors: Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Busey, Oliver Clark
Directors: Frank Pierson
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Run Time: 139 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

They just don’t make films like “A Star is Born” anymore.  The wonderful cast of Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, and Gary Busey.  Yes Gary Busey, before he got all messed up! This 1976 musical was awarded an Academy Award and five Golden Globes, back in the day. The main draw for this Blu-ray release is the fact that it comes with packaged with a super cool 40-page Digibook with live performance photos and rare behind-the-scenes photos and more.  If you are a fan of this movie and of musicals in general, I would highly recommend this release for sure. The film is still as touching as it was and very entertaining.  Time has been good to this film, as Warner has been good with this Blu-ray release.

Official Synopsis: The fire of Barbra Streisand. The magnetism of Kris Kristofferson. The reckless world of big-time rock ‘n’ roll. All three bring a new passion and timeliness to A Star Is Born one of the screen’s classic love stories (previously filmed in 1937 and 1954) and winner of five Golden Globe Awards including Best Picture Actress and Actor (Musical/Comedy).Paul Williams Kenny Loggins Leon Russell and others worked with Streisand on one of the most popular song scores ever topped by the Streisand/Williams Evergreen winning the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award as 1976’s Best Original Song.

Warner does not chimp on its Blu-ray releases. They always deliver the best possible video and audio for their catalog title Blu-ray releases. The 1080p transfer looks amazing for the near 40 year old film within its original aspect ratio: 1.85:1. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track also perfectly works with the film. Especially for a film who’s soundtrack sold over four million copies in the US alone. “Evergreen” sounds amazing and is just such an amazing and emotional song. The special features include a nice audio commentary with star Barbra Streisand. There are a few additional deleted scenes and wardrobe tests included as well. Lastly there is a trailer gallery included. Overall not bad but nothing new to really draw ya in.

 

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DVD Review “Born to be Bad”

Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Starring: Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott
Distributed by: Warner Archive
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 90 minutes

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Joan Fontaine is such a Hollywood legend and definitely holds a presence on the screen. Thanks to Warner Archive, this film is released on DVD for the first time and is also newly remastered.The film is presented in 4 X 3 full frame and its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The audio included is a mono track like most released from Warner Archive.

Fans looking for a glimpse of Nicholas Ray’s earlier works, then you will enjoy this film. I personally didn’t enjoy the film very much, even though Ms. Fontaine is amazing. The film is categorized under Warner’s Film Noir Archive Collection, but I really don’t feel that this film really lands in that category. The real catch this release is an alternate ending with never-before-seen footage. The DVD also comes with a trailer of the film as well.

Synopsis: One of Nicholas Ray’s earliest works is a shockingly stark and unforgiving look at a woman blessed with no restraint whatsoever when it comes to her own ambition. Joan Fontaine plays Christabel Caine, the anti-heroine who has the face of an angel and the heart of a savage. King of Noir Robert Ryan plays the rough-hewn writer who is good enough to share her bed, but not her hand, while Zachary Scott plays the aviator millionaire too much the naïf to escape his fate. Joan Leslie and Mel Ferrer deliver standout performances as the bystanders, one victim, one ambivalent witness, to the wreckage Christabel leaves behind. And now, Born to be Bad is more shocking than ever, thanks to the recently discovered — and never before seen — alternate, extended ending. An ending that transforms the film from biting critique to a dark, sardonic work of joy.

Blu-ray Review “IMAX: Born to Be Wild”

Directed by: David Lickley
Starring: Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas, Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick
MPAA Rated: G
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Running Time: 45 minutes

Film Score:3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

“Born to Be Wild is such an uplifting story and packs a really important message of the bond that occurs between animals and humans. If you are a fan of nature movies are guaranteed to enjoy this.  If that is not enough there is always Morgan Freeman…he is the narrator for the film.  The film was originally presented in 3D but the 2D version also works well, although I prefer the 3D version much more. This film was released on Earth Day in 2011 and its seems Warner Bros is taking a page from Disneynature and releasing a new film every year.  2012’s entry is called “IMAX: To The Arctic” and it looks even better.  I recommend this film very fun and my only major complaint is that it is only 45 minutes, I would have love to seen this in a full length format.

The film follows various orphaned jungle animals like the orangutans and elephants in their day-to-day behavioral interactions with the individuals who rescue them and raise them to adulthood. The film is split two sections.  The first follows Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas through the rainforests of Borneo as she is helping the orangutans.  The second story takes place in the Kenyan Savannah with Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick and her elephants.

The Blu-ray presentation is simply beautiful even though it is not in 3D.  The video includes a wonderful 1080p transfer, in a slightly changed aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  The audio is very impressive boasting a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.  It works really well with the score and music in the film.  This releases comes with a two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy.  The special features a little light but still enjoyable.  There six amazing webisodes including the following: “Borneo”, “Kenya”, “Camp Leakey”, “Coming Home to Tsavo”, “‘Wild’ Filmmaking” and “Caregivers”.  Definitely a must buy overall.

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Synopsis: Narrated by Academy-Award® winner Morgan Freeman, Born to be Wild 3D is an inspiring story of love, dedication and the remarkable bond between humans and animals. This film documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them?saving endangered species one life at a time. Stunningly captured in IMAX 3D, Born to be Wild 3D is a heartwarming adventure transporting moviegoers into the lush rainforests of Borneo with world-renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, and across the rugged Kenyan savannah with celebrated elephant authority Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, as they and their teams rescue, rehabilitate and return these incredible animals back to the wild. Born to be Wild 3D is a presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures and IMAX Filmed Entertainment. Directed by David Lickley and written and produced by Drew Fellman, the behind the scenes team includes supervising line producer Diane Roberts, associate producer Jill Ferguson, director of photography David Douglas and editor Beth Spiegel. Music is composed by Mark Mothersbaugh.

Blu-ray Review “Bucky Larson: Born To Be a Star”

Directed by: Tom Brady
Starring: Nick Swardson, Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff
Distributed by: Sony Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 97 minutes

Film: 3.5 out 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

This film was gone in theaters before you could have even know it was there. It was very unpopular with the critics but I have to highly disagree. I honestly think it is one of the best Happy Madison Productions releases in the last 10 years. Nick Swardson is so likable and definitely has fun with this character. If you think this film is bad…have you even seen Adam Sandler’s recent pieces of crap…like “Jack and Jill” and “Grown-Ups”. this film should win an Oscar. It is just simple fun, stupid, yet simple.  Don Johnson is really crazy and funny and Kevin Nealon gets a few good one liners. the Blu-ray presentation is also very impressive as the video is extremely sharp and rocks the 1080p transfer. So love it or hate it, I found myself laughing out loud and really enjoyed this film.

Nick Swardson plays Bucky Larson, who is destine to travel to Hollywood to make it in the porn business. After finding out the his parents were in the business back in the 70’s, Bucky wants to follow in their footsteps. He is a simple person in a very complicated and advanced business. Along the way Buck meets Miles Deep (Don Johnson), who plans to turn Bucky into a star…but is the world ready for Bucky Larson?

The special features are made up of basically four featurettes. The first one is called “Laughter is Contagious” and it is a 5 minute gag reel, with a couple good laughs. “Behind the Teeth” is the real look into the production with discussions from the cast and crew. “Gary: Tough Customer” is a focus on Kevin Nealon and his under used funny character in the film. Lastly, we have “Bucky Sparkles” is honestly a feature on Bucky’s orgasms. It is laugh out loud funny. Overall, I think this film had horrible marketing in theaters but fans of Nick Swardson should definitely give it a chance as it is quite funny.

 

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