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Review: “A Star is Born” Shines Bright with Cooper and Gaga

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We know Lady Gaga can sing, but can she act? We know Bradley Cooper can act, but can he sing as well as direct at the same time? The answer is a booming, earth-shattering yes. They both have what it takes to grab this decades-old retread of the classic rising-star romance tale and turn it into one of the finest films of the year.

Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine as a singer-songwriter who can see his life fading. His hearing is going out, his past is regrettable, and he’s drowning in bottles of booze and pills. But then a shining beacon comes into his life, performing at a drag bar of all plays, the lovely Ally (Lady Gaga). She wows him with a stunning voice and fearless trot around the bar while singing Édith Piaf’s timeless tune “La Vie en rose” in an unforgettable performance. Let this scene set the tone for the rest of the movie, echoing a cover of a familiar story, but crafting it into something wonderfully new. Watching Gaga turn heads and delight ears is a treat and, much like Jackson, I wanted more.

And more is most definitely what we get when Jackson convinces Ally after much playful pushing to come up on stage and share her voice with the world. Sure, we already know that Gaga can belt out a new tune like nobody’s business, but her character is one who can’t make that leap because she believes she doesn’t have the face for it. Specifically, she draws attention to her nose and eyebrows, traits that someone as in love as Jackson wouldn’t consider a factor for a singer-songwriter. Agents and publicists may mind, but they are mere hindrances that the two struggle to cast aside. The press may spin them, but we rarely see that side of this story. The focus remains firmly on the two singers who fell for each other and hang on tight as their relationship will weather a storm of jealousy, artificiality, and depression.

While Cooper and Gaga are amazing to watch, it’s especially worth noting the tremendous work of the supporting cast. Sam Elliot plays Jackson’s older brother, thus explaining Cooper’s dead-on Sam Elliot impersonation in his voice, and he displays a range we rarely see. I can recall in last year’s indie drama The Hero that Elliot is far more than a rambling old cowboy and he shows more of that unearthed side here; turning vicious when attacked and swelling to tears when Jackson struggles to make amends. Andrew Dice Clay plays Ally’s father who goes on about Sinatra and seems to be running a small business out of their home that keeps him up all night and his co-workers staying over; there’s a whole other movie in here. And Dave Chapelle casually strolls into a few scenes to remind us all that he has more than just funny bones in his body.

And then there’s the stellar music destined to be earworms. Every song carries a little bit of emotional weight and telling lyrics to be more than just pretty music, which it certainly is as well. The song “Shallow” has been touted as the centerpiece of the film and is played more than once, but it’s such a damn good song that it always kept me enraptured. Gaga’s performances during the stage scenes are some of the best of the film, from her first step on stage with “La Vie en rose” to her tearful closer “I’ll Never Love Again.” And Cooper doesn’t get left behind either, portraying a singer who so casually approaches his musical talent he seems to sometimes barely make it to the microphone. But when he does, he erupts with a power not seen in his previous films.

A Star is Born is best defined by Sam Elliot in one scene where he comments on how all music follows the same formula and it’s up to the artist to repeat it their own way, nothing more. Cooper’s version may be one of the finest of this old tale, editing out all the fluff of the rise and fall of music careers and holding on the more emotional moments worth lingering. I was so entranced by the blooming romance and driving songs that I didn’t even notice the running time well over two hours. This is easily one of the best films of the year, at the very least for the acting and music.


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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.


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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.


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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.


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