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Archive for the ‘Bradley Cooper’ Category

A Star Is Born 2018

01 Nov

A Star Is Born—directed, written, composed, produced by Bradley Cooper. Musical. 136 minutes Color 2018.
★★★
The Story: A catering waitress meets a singing star who helps to turn her into a singing star, while, because of his alcoholism, his own star fades.
~
A Star Is Born is a poor title for this material, since we never sense we are dealing with anyone close, in any sense, to their birth.

No actress who has ventured into this part has been a beginner, either in show business or in life. When Janet Gaynor did it in 1937 she was 31 and had already at 21 won an Oscar, Judy Garland in 1953 was 31, Barbra Streisand in 1976 was 34, and Lady Ga Ga in 2018 is 31.

They were all ten years too old for the role of an undiscovered beginner—particularly since musicians are generally discovered young, as each of those actresses in real life were.

Lady Gaga is up against some pretty memorable guns. She cannot match the charm of Janet Gaynor. She cannot match the lovability of Judy Garland. She cannot match the vocal prowess of Barbra Streisand. Although she is inherently a better musician than any of the singers, she is not young and from the look in her eyes, never was young.

As a show-woman she is in the line not of a pop singer but of Madonna (“madonna” means “lady) but is a better singer and musician than Madonna. As a show-woman, of the four women she is the most striking, daring, and original, but not in this part which has nothing to do with Lady Ga Ga on evidence on TV. Instead she remains a squat, olive skinned, Italian-American Joanne Germanotta with eyes that have already seen beyond everything they happen to be looking upon.

Keeping Lady Gaga in this incarnation, when everyone knows that Lady Gaga is at her most endearing, most real, and most vulnerable to our interest when she is most transvestited. Only when most artificial, most gotten up, most bewigged is she truly revealed.

Being a lump of ordinary neighborhood does not work for this material, even as a starting point. Garland, Streisand, Gaynor were never ordinary. But Inherently Joanne Germanotta is nothing special. What is special is her sense that something wild and bizarre must be constructed to frame and paint on its canvas that which can embody a soul for all to see and delight in as universal to us all. But this is not the story of the caterpillar, Joanne, drawing out of herself that true beauty and butterfly Lady Ga Ga. Therefore, alas, Lady Ga Ga is not in the film. Instead Joanne Germanotta is. And no one is born.

The only thing that carries her performance in A Star Is Born is that, as an actress, she is as good as any of the others who have played the part.

The film is misnamed also because her emergence as a star is not the real story of the film before us. The real story of this version takes place in the relations she has with her established singing star husband. That relationship begins and is played charmingly by her and by Bradley Cooper who produced, wrote its music, wrote its script, acted it, sang it, and directed it.

So, you would think he would take care to present his own character on camera properly and to ask someone to correct his acting choices

But for the last three quarters of the film, Cooper disappears. He disappears because the camera does not look at him full in the face. He disappears because he mistakenly plays Mr. Maine as inverted, introspective, reserved. He plays everything into his lap. But A Star Is Born is not a comedy in which shyness might be fun. Of course also, Maine is also an alcoholic, and alcoholism is an ocean in which one is invisible while standing right there. So the real story is lost in the disappearing act of its male star.

I made sure to see it in a picture palace, but the Dolby Sound drowns the voices of each singer, such that not a word they sing is discernable. Or else the actors speak in under-articulated whispers or in whispers their mikes could not articulate. You may as well be deaf as to attend.

If you want to see a marvelous movie about a singer who rises from ethnic obscurity to birth as a star, see Jersey Boys. It’s about Frankie Valli, and is a much better film as film. Better as to the approach to the music. As a musical. The music’s audibility. The thru-story of the characters. The relationships. The acting of everyone in it. And the ability of director Clint Eastwood in executing the material to slowly win the audience’s engagement such as to make our seduction into it part of the story as well.

None of this is true of A Star Is Born 2018. A star is stillborn is the obvious, unfortunate, bad joke finally required.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Backstage Musical, Bradley Cooper

 

The Words

24 Aug

The Words —written and directed by Brain Klugman and Lee Sternthal. Drama 102 minutes Color.

★★★

The Story: Do you have the right for the truth to set you free, and will it do it, is the conundrum at the heart of this grifter story of a literary theft.

~

What is the difference between a hunk and a lug? A lug is a hunk without sex appeal. Such is Bradley Cooper in leading roles such as this. He is an actor born to follow, born to play in ensemble, born to suborn his tiny talent as a leading man into a pretty big talent as a character lead. Alas, not here.

Here he heads up and gets made a film by his boyhood chums, and an interesting story it is too – except they don’t know how to tell it. Having written it, they assume it told.

But I labored for the entire film under the delusion that the lecture with which it began was the university professor’s public reading of a biography of the writer Cooper plays.

It is no such thing. It was by the mere chance of watching the Extra Features that I learned the truth – a truth which I shall reveal to you now since it should come as no surprise and no mystery. The book read out loud by Dennis Quaid – an actor of complete mastery in playing emptied souls – is not a biography. It is a work of fiction, which Cooper and others subsequently enact.

It deals with a writer who publishes a book he has not written.

The good part is that the person who has written it turns up and is played by that dab hand Jeremy Irons. An old man, at the end of his days, Irons bodies forth this creature in living grey! He is an actor who seems can do no wrong. He seems absolutely free in his craft. He seems to have a big space around him into which he may toss his inventions. His presence alone makes the picture worth your time.

And so does the question of whether the Cooper character is to ever tell the truth. Or simply ride the wave of the fame which is his and not his at all.

I leave that to your mulling. It is worth the watch to make it.

 
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Posted in Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons: acting god, PERSONAL DRAMA

 

Serena

31 May

Serena – directed by Susanne Bier. Period Melodrama. 109 minutes Color 2015.

The Story: a young married couple in the early 1930’s Tennessee Smokeys strive to make their lumber business thrive against inexplicable odds.

~

A film virtually without merit, save for costumes, sets, locations.

The movie is a melodrama (which means a drama with music), because the music barges in wherever it must to supply the deficiency the actors are not providing. The direction is so stagnant one handily drives a 40-mule-team through the pauses. The director and writer fall into the fad that moving pictures demand mostly motion and little dialogue, and if movie reviews required the same I should leave off here. But humans talk. And they also respond. But here we have the two principal actors dead in one another’s water.

Bradley Cooper does not have enough personal interest to hold one’s attention on the screen as a leading man, along the lines of, say, Joel McCrea or John Wayne. As a leading man, he is empty. This might serve him well as an actor in another sort of role, but as a leading man he can do nothing more than look the part. He is the sort of hunk, such as Rory Calhoun, perfectly suited for the minor banalities of B-Westerns.

However, as a character actor, he might be something else besides, for his work in American Hustle is fun, original, quirky, and startlingly exact. As it is in Silver Linings Playbook. But not here. Not in American Sniper, either, where, maintaining groaning platitudes, he plays, as here, a vacuous man. His failure in Sniper’s failure as a film is partly due to a script which leaves unquestioned the lie of the brainwashing his character let himself in for. In and of himself, Cooper is a lead pencil. As an actor, it’s a good thing to be, but not in part such as this in Serena that needed Robert Preston. As a big lug, what he might thrive in is comedy of character. And I’d like to see him do it.

Jennifer Lawrence on her part falls into the same category of being miscast in a role that requires an actress of open sympathy, which Lawrence is not. She is entirely composed of mineral. This works well in Winter’s Bone and in American Hustle, and suggests she too is not the leading lady type. I don’t care how much “acting” she does, if you can’t care about her, she’s not right for the part. Here she plays the part of a young woman on the verge of being unhinged. Not our Jennifer. She’s not made of shale; she’s made of marble. Winter’s Bone is entirely about situation. Any actor, even one you don’t like, you’re going to root for in that situation.  But Serena is not situation tragedy, and Lawrence is ill-served by it.

Certainly as an actress she is treated badly by the director. She has two crying scenes; they are technically proficient, but she evokes no sympathy. She is obliged to play the big vacuities and improbabilities of the part which is without an arc, episode by episode, each with no relation to the next. In between them, the director has her staring blankly and asking us to fill in where the music does not. It’s hard to dwell upon her. She has a mean face. How much better it would be were she slotted into the Lizabeth Scott parts of noir villainesses. Or Mockingjay! Hey! She’d be real good there! Has anyone thought of her that way!

All of this might somehow have been pumped up into life had we understood why on earth all the villains in this melodrama were out to get these two. Don’t both leads have blue eyes?

As to the audience, you could have shot moose in there. You could also have shot Cooper and Lawrence and gotten away with it nicely.

 

 
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Posted in 1930s, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, MELODRAMA

 

American Sniper

29 Jan

American Sniper – directed by Clint Eastwood. WarDrama. 133 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★

~

The Story: A natural marksman becomes a sniper with the most kills in American military history, and his family suffers by it.

Of course, Clint Eastwood is the most experienced maker of war films alive, and this would be, as such, his masterpiece.

The movie is far from a masterpiece. for the domestic drama is badly written and directed, and the poor actress whose unappetizing job it is to slog through the part of the wife does not have the character or variety of craft to relieve it of its monotony, shallowness, and borrowed tone. All the character does is whine and plead. But that’s the way it’s written. It is as though this woman, who has lots of moxie when we first meet her in a bar, has no inner resources of her own, but exists only as a dependent clause of her husband.

Eastwood has a habit he shares with Spielberg of, after a champagne banquet, for dessert serving Cheerios. It’s too bad, because, by this, the actual ruin war has on males is given short shrift. Oh, tut-tut, he almost throttles a dog that is playing roughly with his son! Not enough, Clint!

Perhaps the problem was that it was based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography. It might have been better told like Hawk’s Sargent York, as fictionalized as could be. But it’s not.

The result of this is that Kyle does not emerge through Bradley Cooper’s acting. Oh, the character is there, the actor has done his work well, but the scenes are not there. Klye is essentially a feminine, receptive individual; that’s why he such a subtle, long-suffering marksman. It’s also why he just stands there and recites his indoctrination about protecting America. Don’t be fooled by his bulk, he is most tractable of men, which is why he would one day make a good teacher of the intractable, and why his escape from his forced submissiveness is to lay in wait and kill.

For why he goes back to kill in four deployments has nothing to do with his stated reasons: patriotism, care for his corps. It has to do with what we ourselves feel as he lies there on rooftops waiting to slay. The sheer inner lift of it. The exaltation the concentration gives us. And the desire to see bodies splat and fall. The satisfaction of seen slaughter. It’s a resource available to almost none, but in all its forms it serves well as an antidote to abuse, a bypass for resentment, a getting-back against tyrannical fathers.

The war scenes are the best you’ve ever seen. The movie is well worth experiencing because of them. They are not to be missed. The film benefits from Eastwood’s usual broad, relaxed narrative canvas. But how anyone ever escaped alive from such belligerence is incomprehensible. The stations on the front, with their unindividualized male personnel have the presence and power of a personality in and of itself, the character of a whole human society. A light shines in on how men are. Which is essentially gentle with one another. And never more so than when in crisis.

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy

29 Sep

Guardians Of The Galaxy – directed by James Gunn. Sci-Fi Comedy/Adventure. 122 minutes Color 2014.

★★

The Story: A club of renegade do-gooders seek a magic orb to keep it out of the wrong hands.

~

Will this never end! This was my mantra as I watched this clunking monstrosity repeat itself over and over. Now we have the orb, now evil Ronan has the orb, now we have the orb, now Ronan – the same ploy repeated interminably, the interminability broken by action sequences so fast you cannot enjoy their elaborations, amid settings so ornately imagined the director dare not give us time to appreciate them. For it’s either back to the orb or into a space battle or a onto a recess into sophomoric humor lead by Chris Platt beating off of the barbs of Bradley Cooper disguised as fast-talking, wirehead Raccoon, who is actually quite funny.

John. C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio del Toro and Glen Close freeze-shrink their immense talents to earn their pay playing characters with no discernable character. While the great Lee Pace stands before us in ruins as the villain Ronan, his beautiful speaking voice turned into a steam shovel and his interesting face shrouded in makeup, costume, and shadow.

Everything about the movie is made-up and everything depends on makeup. It’s worth seeing for the makeup. Is it? No.

The film seems not to be based on a Marvel comic strip so much as on a Buck Rogers Saturday matinee kids’ serial. That is to say, it is based on the perpetual repetition necessary for its existence at all. Except here we see all the serials at once, an endeavor that hangs itself on its own cliff-hangers. Raiders Of The Lost Arc with jokes but no humor.

 

American Hustle

04 Jan

American Hustle – directed by David O. Russell. GrifterFlic. 138 minutes Color 2013. ★★★★★

The Story: Complications pile on complications as the characters of the characters execute and sabotage and execute and sabotage themselves and each other in a super-sting operation.

~

Everyone has phony hair. And yet the motto of these dodgers is, “From the feet up!” meaning everyone has to be authentically committed to the ruse at hand.

False hair’s a wonderful image, redounding on each character’s flaws as the story unfolds. Bradley Cooper has tiny pin-curls to make his black straight hair curly and cute. Jennifer Lawrence has a baroquely streaked blond coif, always in flirtatious display. Amy Adams has ringlets manufactured down to and included in her décolletage, which is always arrayed for us, and, in its bra-less excellence would, we fear, be on array upon her presentation to The Queen. Jeremy Renner’s pompadour has a pompadour. And Christian Bale has a comb-over so complex it requires a combination. “From the feet up” – means until-but-not-including the crown of the head, which, of course, leaves everybody uncommitted.

The story is told in big long fully developed scenes that you can glom onto and relish, and the writer/director lodges the story not in plot but in the plot’s being directed by the divergences of each main character’s character. Jennifer Lawrence, in a particularly well-written role, makes her contribution by always being right by making everyone else wrong, doing one thing and saying another. Amy Adams levels her battleship intelligence on the false target of swindling her way into love. Bradley Cooper is shredded by his own intensity, which is blind. Jeremy Renner, the only sympathetic character among the bunch, loses his way in the byways of honest ambition. And Christian Bale, who is not quite on target with his character, is shot in the foot with his own rifle – which is firing blanks. As an actor he alone misses the innocence of his character, and innocence is important for all these fools, because, as Oscar Wilde said (and Oscar Wilde  was never wrong), “It is always wrong to be innocent.”

Is the story too complicated to follow? No. Is it engrossing? Yes. Does it have its legitimate surprises? Yes. Does it betray its audience’s credulity? No. Is the story well and unusually and strongly told? Yes. Are the scenes daringly played? Yep. Do you experience being entertained? Yes. Are you seeing some of the best acting in your life? Absolutely. Does it stick to your ribs into the lobby? No. Have you wasted your time? No.

2013 is strong year for male performances, and Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper look good here. And so do Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. The cast is great, but as ensemble, since there are few ensemble scenes to speak of, that is not the draw, but, performance by performance, you can’t do better. And the whole shebang is wonderfully and humorously told. It is one of several important GrifterFlics this year: The Wolf Of Wall Street runs side by slippery side with it in local theatres. See ‘em both. Tell ‘em Bruce sent ya.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

01 Feb

Silver Linings Playbook – directed by David O. Russell. Family Drama. A Bipolar nut strives to reunite with his two-timing wife, and on the way meets up with a young promiscuous widow. 122 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
The preposterous notion that Love Conquers All is the Hollywood byword that rules this story, and we root for it as soon as ever we can, don’t we, well-trained poodles that we are!

The trouble is that the hero is an insane person, and it is never possible to link oneself to such a character, for two reasons: they are hopeless and they are annoying.

However, sanity sets in when another insane person crosses his path and they join forces on a project of physical dance, which grounds them and frees them.

Behind all this lurks the equally crazy figure of his father played in his usual way by Robert De Niro who is a bookie and a Philadelphia Eagles nut, glued to the superstition that his coo-coo son is his rabbit’s foot. De Niro provides a much needed comic leavening, and his wife, played superbly by Jacki Weaver provides the foundation in real emotion and common sense to the proceedings.

The two crazies are played superbly by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, but, of course, we cannot really take them seriously as humans until the dance practice begins and their self-centered ranting ceases.

However, while the film is beautifully directed and written up to that point, it collapses in both departments from that point on, and we are asked to appoint our credulity to the task of swallowing all sorts of unnecessary improbabilities in their romantic squabbles. It can’t be done. We choke.

What does work is the lengthly scene in which De Niro and his gambling partner work up a parley on the outcome of the Eagle’s game and the dance competition. This is highly suspenseful, beautifully performed, and fun. And besides we want Love To Conquer All, so we set aside our disbelief and our sense of the certainty that when love fades in color, madness will return fuelled further by the red truth that Love Betrays All.

But at least it’s given the opportunity to conquer. In Hollywood, Love is Rocky Balboa racing up a monumental flight of Philadelphia stairs. What is found at the top is The Hall Of Justice. Which we have no idea is standing there in wait for us.

 
 
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