Tag Archives: bradley cooper

Third ‘A Star Is Born’ Remake is the Charm

I love the smell of Oscar season in the morning…

“A Star Is Born” is the third remake of the original 1937 film (which starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March), following one in 1954 (with Judy Garland and James Mason) and then again in 1976 (with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). This time around Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut and also stars as an alcoholic rock musician who meets and falls in love with a young singer (Lady Gaga). Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliot and Dave Chappelle also star.

It’s crazy to think, but there is a realistic chance that Bradley Cooper gets five Oscar nominations from this film alone (and another for his supporting work in Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule”). Cooper not only directs and stars, but produces (alongside “Hangover” director Todd Phillips, about to be a two-time Academy Award nominee himself), co-wrote the script (also his debut doing that) and will likely get a Best Original Song nod (or two) for the duets he wrote and performed with Gaga. So come sometime in January we could be living in a world where Bradley Cooper, who got his start as the pretty boy in comedies like “Wedding Crashers,”  “The Hangover” and “Yes Man,” is a 10-time Academy Award nominee. I just think that’s crazy cool.

Alright, tangent over, on with the review.

Directorial debuts don’t always go over smoothly, but if last year was any indication sometimes career performers can do a great job on their first swing behind the camera (Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both earned Oscar nods for their films). Much like Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” the direction in “A Star Is Born” is pretty nuanced and that doesn’t always lend itself to a film; for example the deft performances in “Loving” work but the simple direction of the story does not. But luckily Cooper’s touch and the way he chose to shoot some sequences are the stuff of someone who has multiple films under their belt and his work with himself and his actors is also very well handled.

Shot by Matthew Libatique (who ironically also worked as the cinematographer on this week’s other new release, “Venom”), much of the film is shot in close-ups, making the audience feel the emotions of the actors and trapping them in the space with them. Like simple direction, sometimes this is not for the best as it doesn’t give actors room to breathe but for what Cooper set out to do the choice worked wonderfully. There is not a scene that goes by that subtle glances or expressions go unnoticed, and you know exactly what a character is thinking or feeling without them needing to say it.

There is one sequence in the film early on that is genuinely anxiety-inducing in that it puts you right in Lady Gaga’s shoes and just the way it is shot and composed and edited is just *Italian Chef Kiss* masterclass; I had chills when it was over and my friend turned to me and said “my heart is pounding right now.” It will be the scene that becomes the most viewed on YouTube for years to come for a few reasons but it is without a doubt the best one in the whole film.

Cooper and Gaga play very well off each other and we get nice (and surprising?) dramatic turns from career comedians Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay, even if they are essentially glorified cameos. It is also always a treat to see Sam Elliot pop up in things, even if his trademark growl, especially when he is talking to Cooper’s raspy self, makes it hard to make out a few lines of dialogue out.

The film does sag a bit in the middle for reasons I don’t really want to get into, but the first hour this is truly great and the climax makes up for the second act. The performances are emotionally resonating, the songs are hum-worthy and the film is shot and edited in a very impressive and appealing way. I can’t say “A Star Is Born” is the best movie of 2018 but it is certainly one of them, and as far as rookie directorial efforts and leading performances go, Cooper and Gaga have set the bar high for the next people who try.

Critic’s Grade:  A–

Warner Bros,

Hill Steals the Show in ‘War Dogs’

War_Dogs_2016_posterI know Jared Leto spent months in psych wards trying to get his Joker cackle just right, but Jonah Hill’s laugh in this is the best one cinema has had all year.


“War Dogs” stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as two 20-somethings who get government contracts to supply weapons to soldiers in the Middle East during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Todd Phillips co-writes and directs.


The trailer for this had a real “Pain & Gain” vibe, with a little bit of “The Big Short” thrown in. Now this was partially a compliment, since both of those films had solid trailers that made it seem like they would be colorful, irrelevant fun, but it also was a bit worrisome, since neither of those movies are very good. Well “War Dogs” is better than those two films and even if it isn’t as much fun as it could have been, it is still a mostly entertaining, slightly intelligent commentary on the Middle East wars.


Much like Adam McKay and “The Big Short,” “serious social commentary filmmaking” doesn’t come to mind when you think of Todd Phillips, the director of “The Hangover” and “Old School.” And while he technically has an Academy Award nomination (I mean, I say “technically” because it was a five-way nom for “Borat,” a film with basically no script), he has never really given us any actual quality films (“Hangover” and “Old School” are funny but they’re not great pieces of cinema). “War Dogs” is arguably Phillips’ best film and is by far his best directorial effort; take both those statements with as big a grain of salt as you like.


To Phillips’ credit, he never beats us over the head with any message here. He lets the audience decide for themselves when our main characters have crossed the moral line of no return, and if what the U.S. government is doing by holding open contracts is ethically alright. He for the most part balances his comedy and serious moments with surprising finesse, even if there are times an unfunny joke is played up to an awkward degree.


This film would be nothing, however, without two time-Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill (I just love typing that). Hill steals the show by playing a money-hungry gun runner who will not flinch at the idea of selling his own mother for a nickel. The entire film we get the uneasy feeling he could snap at any second and his laugh, a half chuckle partnered with a sinister grin and gleam in his eye, brings some very hardy laughs early on, even if by the end Phillips realized this was Hill’s bread and butter and milks the laugh dry.


What holds “War Dogs” back is its middle portion. After Hill and Teller (as charming as ever but never rises above serviceable) set up their company and make their first big arms deal, the film takes its foot off the gas and it shows. We see Teller with his new baby and Hill trying to make his gun running business legit, and you just want to shake the two and yell for them to get back to driving around foreign countries with illegal merchandise in the trunk (which they eventually do).


I didn’t love “War Dogs” but I was never bored, and every scene Hill is in it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. It may not be able to carry the same amount of high energy throughout the entire film that it shows flashes of throughout, but if you just want a film with enough chuckles and brain to coast by an August evening (you know, in the DOG days of summer!!), then this may be your ticket.


Critics Rating: 6/10

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

‘American Sniper’ Shows the Horror, Necessity of War

American_Sniper_posterBecause, America.

“American Sniper” is based on the autobiography of the same name by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. The film follows Kyle, dubbed the most lethal sniper in U.S. history with 160 confirmed kills, as he struggles to balance his duties on the battlefield with the ones at home. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle, Sienna Miller plays his wife and Clint Eastwood directs.

Last January “Lone Survivor”, another true story about Navy SEALs, was released and it was an above-average, well-intentioned war film that had its fair share of miscues. “American Sniper” is right on par with “Survivor” as another real-life tale telling the story of some of the best and bravest men in the world, but it trips up along the way.

Clint Eastwood’s directorial filmography is really a tale of two types of films: engaging and interesting (“Gran Tornio”) or slow and mind-numbingly boring (“Hereafter”). His most recent film, last year’s “Jersey Boys” was a bit of both as the first half was great and the second half was Nyquil. “American Sniper” follows “Jersey Boys” because there are some parts that soar and are beautifully shot, but there are also some glaring narrative and pacing issues.

I know the story of Chris Kyle, and the man is a true American hero. Bradley Cooper does a very honorable portrayal of Kyle, playing a man who enlists in the SEALs because he wants to do something more with his life, but by the end of the film is questioning why he is doing what he is doing. Cooper essentially is playing two characters: badass super soldier and struggling husband.

The film does a good job showing Kyle in the early stages of his relationship with his wife, and by the end of the film how he has drifted apart because of the things he has seen and done in combat (despite him claiming his only regrets are the men he couldn’t save). Unlike most war films that are clearly pro-war or anti-war (or “Lone Survivor” which is accidently both), “American Sniper” walks the line quite delicately of what conflicts are actually worth getting into, and are they worth the lives of our soldiers?

One of the problems with the film, however, is how it handles the transitions between home and battle. The film opens up with Kyle sniping on an Iraq rooftop before abruptly cutting to a scene of him hunting as a child, as part of the obligatory “you’ve got a real knack for this sniping thing, kid!” moment. The rest of the film jumps back-and-forth between locations, sometimes without much explanation.

Sienna Miller does fine work as Kyle’s wife and she shares some tender scenes with Cooper, even if sometimes she is given nothing more than cliché “pregnant soldier wife” dialogue. The rest of the cast is solid, especially those portraying PTSD soldiers; however none of them are fleshed out or given too much to do.

“American Sniper” is a good-not-great movie that is a fitting tribute to its real-life subject, and features some well-shot battle sequences from Eastwood and some great scenes from Cooper. The film’s largest problem is its almost whiplash-inducing jumping to-and –from war scenes, as well as a frustrating ending that likely stems from the filmmakers not knowing how to properly handle the subject matter. Still, it is an enjoyable and at times tense and heart-breaking film about the horrors of warfare, and is one of the more honest war stories in recent years.

Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Zany, Brilliant Fun

GOTG-posterImagine “The Avengers” and “Star Wars” had a child and it listened to nothing but music from the 1970’s and 80’s. That’s pretty much what “Guardians of the Galaxy” is, and it’s about as awesome as you imagined when you read that description.

Directed and written by James Gunn, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is yet another film set in the Marvel Universe. It stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper as the Guardians, a group of rag-tag intergalactic criminals who set out to save the world from a radical tyrant.

The first time I saw the trailer for “Guardians”, I thought it was a joke; like a parody skit from a late night show. It was so sarcastic and over-the-top and self-referential that it couldn’t be an actual film. But it was, and the final product is as entertaining as that first trailer implied it to be.

Everything about “Guardians of the Galaxy” has been done before, yet the film manages to be fresh and new all at the same time. The heroes in the film, despite ranging from a walking tree to a talking raccoon, are more relatable than the average superhero. They curse, get drunk, and debate not saving people because it would endanger their own life. You know, people stuff.

Gunn, who directed “Super”, a film where a regular guy becomes a vigilante hero, has written a script that doesn’t forget about its hero’s humanity, as well as their humor, and it is what makes “Guardians” such a fun ride. Honestly, this is one of the funniest films of the year. All the Marvel movies have their share of wit and humor, especially “Iron Man”, but “Guardians” is different. It’s just plain zany. Characters will say things that on paper shouldn’t work, or may seem awkward in a superhero film, but on screen it turns to gold (“I have a plan! I have…I don’t know, 12% of a plan!”).

The only true flaw in “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the use of filler scenes. While I was never bored, and at times was having the most fun I had had at a cinema all year, there are a few scenes that just felt unnecessary, and created some pacing issues. If the film had been an hour 45, instead of pushing it to the two hour mark, I think it would have been perfect. But hey, I’m not complaining I got an additional 15 minutes of seeing a raccoon shooting a machine gun.

The villain was also very Darth Maul-ish in that he looks cool, but in actuality has a cliché plot and is just a puppet for the main villain of the series. But that’s neither here nor there.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is like everything you’ve seen before in superhero and science-fiction films, yet unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s stupid, cliché, and over-the-top all while being brilliant, original and relatable. I honestly had a blast with this film and feel no guilt saying that it is just as good, and slightly funnier, than “The Avengers”. In a month of the year that normally has studios dumping out trash, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is anything but.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘American Hustle’ Mainly Bells and Whistles


Sometimes in movies it is very apparent the actors had much more fun making the film than the audience has watching it. That pretty much sums up “American Hustle”, the new David O. Russell film with an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence.

Set in the late 1970’s, the film follows con man Irving and his partner Sydney (Bale and Adams), who are forced to work with an FBI agent (Cooper) and take down politicians in exchange for their own freedom.

The premise of the movie is very intriguing, and could have been something fantastic. People trying to scam the mafia, corrupt Congressmen and other con artists all in one big deal? With a tighter script it might have been like “Goodfellas” meets “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (how’s that for a movie reference?). But instead we get a movie that decides to focus more on its characters, rather than its plot or story arch.

According to Christian Bale, Russell allowed the actors to improvise their lines whenever they felt the desire, even if it changed the plot. This may seem like a creative, fun idea at the time however the end result is the movie lacking solid flow or a true narrative (try and decipher whether this is a drama, comedy or political thriller, because it doesn’t have a clue). It seems like the whole film was just a scene with a punchline or dramatic moment, followed by another scene with a punchline or dramatic moment which is almost unrelated to the previous scene.

All the actors do a fine job, particularly Bale. His dedication to any role he does is admirable, as he gained 40 pounds to play Irving. Bale went from dangerously skinny in “The Machinist” to ripped in “Batman Begins”. He then lost weight again for “The Fighter”, and had to put muscle back on for “The Dark Knight Rises”. Bale is the best part of “Hustle”, as he plays a man who deep down has good intentions but can’t seem to get out of the rut he has put himself into with his scamming.

The rest of the cast is solid, albeit nothing memorable. I’m sure they will all earn their award nominations, however I couldn’t help but get the feeling their roles could be done by anyone, particularly that of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Bale’s wife. Until the film’s climax she really isn’t anything but an extended cameo, and I just never felt she brought anything special to the table (except that she is Jennifer Lawrence).

There are flashes in “Hustle” that made me think the film would rise above the mediocrity that had so far been presented, but it never does. I’m not sure if it was the pacing or the lack of any true resolution, but I just never got absorbed into its world of 1970’s New Jersey. People disappear from the plot never to be seen again, and others do actions that are just completely out of character and leave you shaking your head wondering why that just happened.

“American Hustle” may have looked good on paper, and it is clear the actors all had a fun time with each other while filming it, but in the end it just feels like a missed opportunity. The ending is clever and some of the dialogue is sharp, but it just doesn’t come together in a pretty bow, which is a disappointment considering the cast. The movie may not be a scam, but it certainly sold itself short.

Critics Rating: 6/10