Major buzz and sloppy kisses all over Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga for their solid work and palpable chemistry in A Star is Born, yet another remake of the old chestnut about a star who marries a woman who eclipses him which throws him in a downwards spiral. Great idea to update it for contemporary audiences and an engaging story to begin with, but this is a walking, talking, singing, and a note for note cliché. I enjoyed it, yes, but the beats, the aching melodrama, cornball lines, passages and action are past their prime. They missed a great opportunity to show some originality. Star and director Cooper looks like thirty miles of rough road, but he can sing, play and ring true with Gaga and thankfully, he’s able to hold his own in front of her giant musical talent. Gaga has charm to spare and a surprisingly endearing quality; she’s not a fully formed actor yet, but look out. She’s someone who succeeds. The fourth movie iteration has a lot going for it, but finally boredom set in. The high and low notes are there, but we’ve been down this road too many times. Oh, every third word is “f**kin.’” And it’s going to be nominated in a bunch of categories, “f**kin’” right.
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On the other hand, we have Peter Strickland’s outstanding ghost story In Fabric and it is the rarest of things – original. It stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gwendoline Christie and in two brief cameos, Strickland’s Duke of Burgundy star Sidse Babett Knudsen. They play victims of a spectacularly evil and destructive red silk dress in an episodic extravaganza set mostly in a high end department store. The saleswomen dress in over-the top Victoriana, and deliver eloquent but vaguely threatening retorts to client queries, carefully choosing who is to be the dress’ next victim. The devil is in the details here, as we see one sympathetic woman’s downfall via her new answering machine’s outgoing message, while two others seem doomed dot pay for their insensitivity. It’s creepy and deliciously voyeuristic, shocking, surprising, highbrow, low brow and extremely entertaining. I can’t get the thing out of my mind. Don’t know when I had such perverse, wickedly witty fun at a film.
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If plenty of casual, senseless murders of innocents is up your alley then mark down The Sisters Brothers and get a load of it. It’s a Gold Rush brotherly love story played with vim and vigour by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix. “The Commodore” hires them to find a man who stole from him (Riz Ahmed) a gold prospector who basically seduces them with his friendly charm and his invention that reveals gold in water by moonlight. As we all know, anything goes in the Wild West and so too here, as the boys toss around bon mots and sophisticated ideas as they shoot just about any living thing around them. It’s also a story about a boy and his horse. Way too capriciously violent for me. Based on the award winning picaresque novel by Patrick DeWitt. Oh, and Jake Gyllenhaal shows up for a millisecond.
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Kursk is the tragic true story of the K-141 Russian disaster in 2000 in which a nuclear powered Oscar style sub sunk, taking with it the lives of 118 seamen. The tragedy is that the men could have been saved if Russian officials had responded in a timely fashion. But since the sub carried a secret nuclear payload and its sinking would have been a political embarrassment, nothing was done. British, Norwegian and US help was refused and nothing was done for precious hours. Matthias Schoenaerts plays the captain, a family man who loves his life and work, who held things together after the sub sunk and exploded. Writer director Thomas Vinterberg doesn’t know what took place in the sub but based his film on letters the men wrote to their loved ones in anticipation of their deaths. Lea Seydoux plays the captain’s pregnant wife who led a protest against the government for failing to act. Vinterberg’s superb direction makes this a moving.
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Miranda De Pencier’s The Grizzlies is a fact based film about Inuit children and teens living in Kugluktuk, in the Arctic, a small town with the highest teen suicide rate in North America. A new teacher has arrived from the South and dismayed to find students suffering from depression, a lack of engagement in school and community, and often mourn the loss of friends to suicide. Some children don’t come to school at all because their families distrust white man’s rules. The teacher’s idea to launch a lacrosse team finds some traction, but there is opposition from the school, families and students. But by bit he chips away and a team is created, including a girl!
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And in the theatres:
The Wife stars Glenn Close in a fearsome performance as the woman behind the man who wins the Novel Prize for Literature. You know the type, she puts her dreams away to further his, lets her passion and gift for writing wither to make him comfortable, turns a blind eye to his affairs and lies for the sake of the marriage and family. Hers is an existence that we hope is disappearing, a relic from an earlier age when marital gender rules were clearly laid out – he was the breadwinner, she was the homemaker and child raiser. It was his universe and everyone rotated around him drinking in his brilliance. Off they go to Stockholm to collect the prize when the odd thread unravels from the tapestry of their perfect marriage. Then another. He has a twinkle for the photographer assigned to document his appearance and she’s returning it. She meets his arch enemy, played by Christian Slater, a writer who knows his true nature and is writing a book about it. She rebels and has a few drinks with him and lets a few tidbits fly. All of this simmering is about to boil over. What fun! Ain’t it grand to witness a pretentious, clueless cheater cut down to size, and at what price! Jonathan Pryce is the infantile husband. Great side notes as their disgusted son, played by Max Irons, ponders his Nobel Prize winning father’s true value.
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And a restrained yet powerful performance from Emma Thompson in The Children Act as a British High Court judge holding in her hands the fate of children in medical crisis. She must decide whether conjoined twins will have life-saving surgery and find on the case of a teenaged boy (Fionn Whitehead) whose parents refuse him blood transfusions on religious grounds. If he doesn’t have them he will die. Both cases throw her into deep emotional and moral crisis, when she is confronted by her husband’s (Stanley Tucci) infidelity, and hounded by the media. She goes against common wisdom and befriends the boy and discovers his exceptionality. Thompson’s performance feels real as her character tries to keep in check a long simmering rage against the flawed judicial system. It’s an intense experience, provocative and timely and gives Thompson a fine showcase for her ever evolving talent. The film’s based on the novel by Booker Prize-winning author Ian McEwan.
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The psychological drama Don’t Leave Home which veers into horror territory, concerns generational memory. An American artist (Anna Margaret Hollyman) plagued by nightmares, produces a miniature sculpture series called Lost Souls of Ireland. An Irish priest invites her to his home on commission to produce more, and to get to know her. He painted a picture of a young girl praying at a shrine, but the girl’s image disappeared the same day she did. The artist is unsettled by his home and church and begins exploring just to get away from the place. She sees a young girl dressed in clothes from yesteryear who asks where her home is. The artists nightmares go into overdrive and realises the girl is in danger. She’s poisoned. Is it the house? And it won’t let her leave. Writer Director Michael Tully’s created a sly, atmospheric and tale that’s as much fun as it is unsettling. DVD and Digital Download Tuesday.
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Kidding on Showtime is Jim Carrey’s darkly funny new series about Jeff, a famous children’s television personality trying to keep it together as problems at home threaten to overtake him. His alter ego hand puppets, the stars of the show, give him ideas some bad, but nothing helps. Reminiscent of Mr. Rogers and his perennial encouragement, but Jeff seems to be constantly on the verge of a meltdown. Frank Langella and Catherine Keener co-star. You should be following Jim Carrey’s Twitter feed, in which he posts his fabulously grotesque anti-Trump cartoons.
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