A Star is Born: First off I have to admit that I am not a Lady Gaga fan. And I think mostly that it had to do with the whole persona, with the clothes and the over-the-top wackiness of her. She just seemed so made up and created with no one very real underneath. So I came into this film, that was given good reviews from TIFF with some reservations, and few expectations. I also wasn’t sure that this re-make of another re-make (1976) of yet another film (1954) needed to be made. And some impressive talent have played the Ally character before, namely Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand!! Pretty hard to get more talented than that! Yes Bradley Cooper being the Director was likely enticing, and making this a more modern film adaption might make some sense but still. The theatre on Sunday was packed for a 9:15PM showing, which surprised me actually. But all of that is background.
The film is good, and I think the best part about it is Gaga herself. She is fresh, and wholesome – her “normal” hair and look in the beginning of the film along with her street-wise attitude make for a compelling protagonist. She talks at length early on about the music business and being told that her nose is “too big” although she can sing. Well, let me emphasize this with underlines, that SHE CAN SING. The film includes all original songs and they are very good. Gaga simply nails it. In many ways this is a concert film, because there are many songs performed in full. But from a singing stand point, Cooper was a revelation. I didn’t expect it. He plays the guitar and performs live (even alone and in a bar after it is closed) he sings really well. The biggest distraction for me was the Cooper speaking voice. He’s channeling co-star Sam Elliott who plays his brother and has his gravelly voice and drawl. I think also he is adding some elements of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. In truth I think there is much of Crazy Heart tone, and look and the feel of Cooper’s character. But this voice I guess is to make you see this character and not Bradley Cooper but every time he’s talking I think that it’s not him. It seems put on, and it’s not really necessary. When he’s engaging with Sam Elliott then it shows this mirroring and they are really good together. Anyway, from a strong movie and performance, it likely didn’t need to go there.
The film stands on the music, but it breathes through the love story. You have to believe that Cooper and Gaga fall for one another. They have humble beginnings in a drag bar, where she sings once a week (the “girls” allow this as she is was a server and they just love to hear her sing), and it grows as he takes her under his wing and gives her a stage for her talent. Other talents come in too in supporting roles, like Dave Chappelle as a buddy who is a guy who cleaned up his act to Cooper’s mess. And also the performance of Ally’s father, and a surprise performance that added depth and feeling. I’ll leave it at that because it took me a couple minutes to place the actor.
I will also say about the music that I liked a great deal more the early songs and the ones from the Cooper character rather than the more pop songs that Ally became. She has such a great voice, and writes such good lyrics that it seems a shame to make them into dance numbers. The scene with her at SNL could have been removed, as this film is way over 2 hours, but it moved along well with a good pace. Certainly the audience I saw it with didn’t get restless.
So the buzz is real. The performances are really good. I have found a new appreciation for Lady Gaga, even though she has gone back to her platinum blond hair for the interviews about this project. Sad really, and I wished I saw more early Ally and a little less Gaga in the promotion junkets.
On Netflix I watched the newly released film Operation Finale about the finding and extraction of Nazi Final Solution architect Adolph Eichmann, played by Ben Kingsley. I did not know this story but it is a fascinating one of identifying and then trying to get a known Nazi (the highest ranking Nazi at the time who had fled after WWII) from Argentina. As with the Nuremberg trials there are some interesting legal arguments about things like where the venue should be for the war crimes against humanity. Does one really think that the Nazi would get a “fair trial” in Israel? Of course it is but a formality, and justifiably so from all the evidence that would be brought forward. This story focuses on the people who struggled to do the extraction, and struggled with keeping their deep emotions in check. The main crux of the story is obtaining Eichmann first, but once you have him, obtaining his signature to prove that he is who you say he is. Torturing a signature out of him likely doesn’t help your cause, but that flies in the face of those who feeling treating someone humanely who was so clearly inhuman was something they couldn’t bear. Oscar Isaac plays one of the main operatives, although he has a spotty past with wrongfully executing a Nazi before. There is that cat and mouse game with the lucid and intelligent Eichmann, who professes to be protecting his country that he loves, and following the orders of a dictator. He explains that trial of one man for the actions of an entire nation, and the killing of 6 million is too heavy a burden. The extraction itself by disguising and drugging Eichmann has a little more Hollywood to it than I expect happened in real life, but it made for an interesting climax to the time in Argentina. I find it interesting that outside the film, in real life the Argentinians were irate that their sovereignty was challenged and they felt violated and wronged. Harbouring Nazis and sympathizers to flip the bird to Israel and all her supporters wasn’t enough I suppose. In the end this was worth watching, although I would have liked to see some more of the trial itself, which was broadcast live at the time. The same issues from 27 July and giving a terrorist a voice arise as well. So something to check out at home.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!!!