Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Star Is Born [2018]

                                  Another Movie Star Is Born

                                                         Review by Ken Burke
                                              A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): There might not be any spoilers anyway because what's here is the fourth time around for this narrative concept, with all but the first done as musicals.  Probably the basic idea is well known by now, based on earlier versions starring Janet Gaynor and Frederick March (1937), Judy Garland and James Mason (1954), Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (1976), but if your awareness of this plot (about Hollywood actors in the first 2, rock musicians in the others) has somehow remained a mystery, the essential situation is a famous-but-fading male star comes across a talented-but-unknown younger female, promotes her into her own successful career, marries her, then difficulties arise when his alcoholism and ego make it difficult to accept her ascension as it parallels his decline.  Where it all goes from there should best be left unsaid unless you want to read the extended version of my comments just below, although you’ll find each of the previous renditions of this story, along with the present one, to be well worth your time and interest (most debatable where the Streisand-Kristofferson Star ... is concerned, but it does have devoted fans) with this current remake showcasing many skills of its principals:  You’d expect a solid musical presence from Lady Gaga (you get it), but she proves herself to be just as effective as an actor; Bradley Cooper’s already an established actor (with several Oscar nominations in support of his career), yet he’s also now showing himself to have verifiable musical talent plus this is his directing debut, demonstrating great command there too.  Unless you’re just uninterested in passionate romantic movies, cut with aspects of serious drama, I encourage you to seek out this retelling of A Star Is Born (playing practically everywhere) because it’s truly one of the best of 2018 so far, with strong Oscar potential even without the need for a Best Popular Film category (a now-famously-retracted-idea, along with removing New Coke from concession stands).

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper)—which sounds as much like a geographic location as it does a person’s name (although I’ll just focus on this character because there’s an aspect of the state of Maine, specially it’s current female senator whose name shall not sully this blog, that I care not to even acknowledge the existence of)—is a famous rock musician (but with a repertoire often on the softer side) whose career may still be solid but whose body’s getting awfully run down with a steady diet of booze and pills.  We meet him briefly in this movie’s first scene playing to a huge crowd of supportive fans; in contrast, the second scene introduces us to Ally (Lady Gaga [real name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta])—no last name ever given—who aspires to be a recognized musician but for now is stuck on the wait-staff of an upscale restaurant where she’s constantly belittled by her boss, Bryan (Jacob Schick).  With these foundations in place we finally get the title on screen, then quickly get these 2 together as Jack, leaving his venue in need of more liquid nourishment (something from corn mash preferably), halts his limo at what turns out to be a drag bar where Ally’s a late-night-performer (the only female on stage in the place), belting out “La Vie en Rose” while at times lying on the bar right in front on Jack.  He gets some info on her from her close friend, Ramon (Anthony Ramos), then he’s backstage meeting her, taking her off with him for further imbibing (her place just shut down for the night), but at the next bar he’s hassled enough by a drunk patron wanting a photo that she comes to his defense by slugging the hassler before they both run out.  Next stop's an all-night-grocery where Jack buys frozen peas and bandages to wrap her hand (prevents swelling), becomes enamored of her great-on-the-spot-songwriting-ability—as well as her, in general (having already told her she’s beautiful, in reply to why she never tried to get into the music biz because she was always told her nose is too big, makes her “ugly” [even just looking at her without inserting who this actual actor/singer is makes this proboscis remark preposterous to me—did a previous “born star,” Barbra Streisand, also get told such insanity?—but it does provide the necessary setup why this obviously talented woman’s still a diamond in the rough, ready to be polished up by a quickly-smitten-but-honestly-impressed-Jack]).

 He tries to get her to join him at his next concert, she begs off claiming she needs her job, then tells all this at dawn to her shocked father, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay)—who runs a local limo service (with SUVs rather than limos, it appeared to me) while regaling his fellow drivers with explanations about why Frank Sinatra had the better ability to captivate an audience even if there were others more talented; he can’t believe his daughter turned down an opportunity to connect with Maine.  Nevertheless, Jack’s driver, Phil (Greg Grunberg), shows up at her home ready to get her to that concert anyway; she refuses, he follows her to work, the nagging boss crosses her again so in an instant she and Ramon jump in the driver’s car to be whisked off on a private jet, quickly find themselves backstage at the concert where to her shock, Jack insists she come on stage because he’s going to sing her song she crooned to him the night before whether she joins in or not.  Reluctantly, she ventures into the spotlights, sounds great, and—for all practical purposes—“a star is born.”  She returns home (after spending the night at Jack’s hotel where he passes out but later revives for sex); Jack comes there as well, encourages her to follow him on the rest of the tour which she does (her previous walk-on’s viral on social media), becoming more active in the show (noted in the above photo of the giant video image magnifying her stage presence).  As her stature (public and private) grows, however, our story starts heading for its preordained disaster as we learn Jack was raised by an alcoholic father who became a drinking buddy for his son but died when the kid was just 13, Jack was then raised by his notably-older-brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott)—son of a different mother—who also had musical aspirations but allowed himself to (begrudgingly) be eclipsed by Jack, tension boils over between the brothers when Jack learns the farm he bought for Bobby (where Dad was buried) has been sold (Bobby counters with the news a flood washed Dad’s body away so the farm now meant nothing to him), but the biggest wrinkle in the storyline comes when hotshot producer Rez (Rafi Gavron) convinces Ally to sign with him, taking her budding career into a Beyoncé direction with dancers, intricate choreography, dyed orange hair, all of which proves successful despite Jack’s disgust even as he continues to support his new love/wandering protégé.

 (If you know anything about any previous manifestation of this story nothing I’ll say from here on out is truly a spoiler; however for the benefit of those who don’t yet know where this is going [especially in Google's Unknown Region—see the very end of this posting for audience enumerations] I’ll revert to spoiler alert mode.)  ⇒As Ally’s career continues to soar Jack turns even more actively to booze/drugs even as his hearing loss increases, finally passing out just outside the home of his close friend in Memphis, George “Noodles” Stone (Dave Chappelle), who gives Jack a place to recuperate until Ally tracks him down, whereupon he gives her an “engagement ring” made from a short wire of clipped guitar string, leading to marriage that afternoon (I guess anticipation’s not part of Tennessee culture).  Bobby (now working for Willie Nelson—father of Lukas Nelson, whose actual group, Promise of the Real, acts as Jack’s band in the movie) reconciles with Jack backstage at Saturday Night Live where Ally’s performing on the season finale, but when Jack learns Ally’s been nominated for 3 Grammys he gets belligerent with her, calls her “ugly.”  Later, Jack’s recruited to join in on a Roy Orbison tribute at the Grammy Awards but he shows up almost-wasted (largely in shame about his anger over Ally’s nominations), overpowers the presentation of “Pretty Woman” with screaming guitar licks, comes to join Ally on stage as she’s getting the Best New Artist trophy but passes out.  After a successful stint in rehab (she’s completely supportive) he’s back home but Rez comes to visit, tells him he’s always going to drag her career down (she’s ready to cancel the rest of her current tour in order to spend the summer with him), will probably relapse as well, so while she’s doing what she intends as her final concert for awhile he hangs himself in the garage.  She’s distraught until Bobby convinces her the fault was with Jack, not her, after which she sings a touching torch song at his memorial service.⇐

So What? Given what we've already known of the long history of this story about a fading male superstar whose career is beginning to eclipse just as the younger woman he’s recently fallen in love with finds her star on the rise, Cooper as director (and actor, along with his very effective choice of a leading "Lady") needs to be commended first for not embarrassing himself in his behind-the-camera-debut trying to drain tasty wine from the last drops of a many-decades-ago-opened-bottle, but he goes much further than that in bringing a quality addition to this series of remakes, in some recent opinions possibly the best of the lot (although I’m still partial to the 1954 version with Garland and Mason [directed by George Cukor]—shown just abovebecause the star wattage is so bright in that one it’s difficult to ever top Judy in this role, despite Lady Gaga’s impactful presence  as Ally [not quite her big-screen-debut but certainly her most significant movie role so far, although she did snag a 2016 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, in American Horror Story]).   This oft-evolved- 
tragic-plotline seems to have first appeared back in 1937 (yet, there are valid claims its primary concepts were inspired by [plagiarized from?] the events depicted in What Price Hollywood? [Cukor, 1932], although both of these old movies could be using source material from Tinseltown gossip) with that first iteration of A Star Is Born (William Wellman) set in the lore of Hollywood itself with the famed-but-doomed-male as actor Norman Maine (Frederick March) and the aspiring ingénue born in North Dakota as Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) but renamed Vicki Lester by the studio, playing out their complicated encounter in a straight drama, not any version of a musical.  Otherwise, the basic narrative follows what you see on the current screen with the older, established celebrity becoming undone by alcoholism, supporting the budding career of his obscure find before marrying her, then ultimately killing himself so as protect her rise to fame from being sidetracked by her devotion to him, despite his unshaken-addiction-weakness.  This initial introduction to a now-well-resurrected-tale proved popular with audiences and critics alike along with being nominated for 7 Oscars, winning for Wellman and Robert Carson in the Best Writing (Original Story) category (gone through various transformations in identity over the years, now evolved into Best Original Screenplay, the parallel category to Best Adapted Screenplay [which has also emerged, disappeared, re-emerged over the years but was the other screenwriting Oscar option for 1937 releases, where A Star … was also nominated, based on being adapted from that Wellman-Carson story]); it also got a Special Award for W. Howard Greene’s color cinematography, an artform still “in development” (so to speak).  The first remake, in 1954 with Mason and Garland, has the same character names and basic storyline (although Esther/Vicki begins as a small-time nightclub singer before transforming into an actor), was an even bigger hit with critics and theater patrons; however, its 6 Oscar noms yielded no Academy gold (nevertheless, Garland and Mason picked up Golden Globes for their lead
roles).  In 1976 the next revision emerged, same title (directed by Frank Pierson), similar storyline but with the focus shifted to rock concerts (setting us up in general terms for Cooper’s current remake) with Kris Kristofferson as John Norman Howard, a big pop star convincingly succumbing to his own chosen hell of booze and drugs (you almost expect him to break into his well-known-lament,  "Sunday
Morning Coming Down"), making life difficult for his protégée, Esther Hoffman (Barbra Streisand), even as his death by car crash at this end of A Star ... seems (possibly?) to be more accidental than fully suicidal; this one got 4 Oscar noms with “Evergreen” (by Streisand and Paul Williams) as the only winner, for Best Original Song (it also took 5 Golden Globes, for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Streisand and Kristofferson for their lead roles, Best Original Score, Best Original Song), with audience popularity continuing even as critical evaluation dive-bombed (35% positive at Rotten Tomatoes vs. 97% positive for the 1954 Garland-Mason version).

 You can get further comparisons/evaluations on all 4 explorations of A Star Is Born if you like at this site or this one, although here’s a somewhat briefer analysis, depending on how much you want to dig into all of this.*  However, before we completely (well, almost; see the Musical Metaphor in the section below) move on from the past, I’ll also note Esther’s unique in the 1976 version in that she wins a Grammy as did Streisand (scoring Song of the Year for “Evergreen,” to go along with her Oscar) while neither Gaynor nor Garland actually won Oscars for their performances (even though their Esther characters won Best Actress statuettes in their respective movies); however, Gaynor was the first Best Actress Oscar winner, at the inaugural 1929 ceremony for 2 of her 1927 films, 7th Heaven (Frank Borzage) and Sunrise (F.W. Murnau—which also won a Unique and Artistic Picture Oscar, a one-off for that award), and Street Angel (Borzage, 1928), the only time this win was officially given for multiple roles (just as 1929’s first Best Actor Oscar went to Germany’s Emil Jannings for The Way of All Flesh [Victor Fleming, 1927] and The Last Command [Josef von Sternberg, 1928]); of course, Streisand had also won a previous Oscar as Best Actress in Funny Girl (William Wyler, 1968)—tied that year (another first for the category) with Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey), 1 of 4 of those top awards for Hepburn (Morning Glory [Lowell Sherman, 1933], Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner [Stanley Kramer, 1967], On Golden Pond [Mark Rydell, 1981]).  Garland never won a Best Actress Oscar but she was nominated for A Star Is Born along with a later Supporting Actress nom for Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer, 1961) plus receiving Oscar’s honorary Juvenile Award (given from 1935-1961) back in 1939, recognizing her work in The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming) and Babes in Arms (Busby Berkeley); she also later got the 1962 Grammy for Album of the Year, Judy at Carnegie Hall (a favorite of my parents).  Whether Lady Gaga joins her illustrious forebearers in picking up nominations/wins for Oscars/Grammys for this latest … Star turn (Gaynor was a contender, along with Garland) is something we’ll have to wait until 2019 to find out (although she’s previously raked in 6 Grammies, including Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album [with Tony Bennett] for Cheek to Cheek in 2015, Best Pop Vocal Album [The Fame Monster] and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance ["Bad Romance"] in 2011).  Conventional wisdom is Garland’s … Star was a bit of a career revival for her, unlike the others who were still riding high when they embodied Esther/Ally, but clearly this is a massive impact on the big screen for Gaga, likely leading to notable follow-up-movie-roles to parallel her continuing career in the recording arts.

*Or, if you’d like to watch a comparison of the 4 versions of this recurring-filmic-narrative along with reading about them, I recommend viewing this 18:08 video (excellently researched and illustrated).

 Of course, you expect Lady Gaga would be impressive as a singer on screen (when she first bursts loose on stage with Jackson after he coaxes her out there, it’s not Hollywood fantasy at all when the crowd roars approval), so the true musical revelation here is probably Cooper who comes across as a viable country-influenced-rocker (in the tradition of The Eagles) who not only croons soulful ballads but also plays a mean lead guitar (or at least seems to, although movie magic often creates plausible realities nonexistent off-screen, so I can't say if it's definitely all him). Yet, as true musicals (filmic structures where song [and dance, where relevant, not here] are used to further the storyline, replacing aspects of dialogue, even as Modern musicals [a subgenre which stories such as this narrative has supported since the 1954 version] push us close to the definitional borderline where the plot could exist almost without the need for music at all, as evidenced by A Star …’s 1937 straight-drama-beginning) properly integrate their singing with scene-enhancement/character-development we see, from director Cooper's perspective in this short anatomy of a scene, how this is all intended to work even when the song’s presented in simply a cappella fashion rather than the full-blown stage presence of Jackson in the first half of this movie (backed by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real [led by Willie Nelson’s son, seen by Cooper at the 2016 Desert Trip concert backing Neil Young; not sure if it was the first or second weekend of that spectacular gathering—or both—but if it was Oct. 15 my wife, Nina, and I saw them that night too, which you can experience by scrolling down almost to the very end of this posting to relive “Harvest Moon”]) or Ally’s heavily-choreographed-performances in the second half.  There’s already 2019 Grammy-speculation about at least some of the music in this soundtrack (12 of the 21 specific songs on the album [also includes some fragments of scene dialogue] were co-written by Lady Gaga [usually with several others], Cooper co-wrote 3 of them with Nelson [Lukas is also the sole co-writer of 2 of Gaga’s; the 3 of them co-wrote 1 song, “Alibi”]), so, again, time will tell how well any of this holds up when other cinematic and musical contenders come forth to jostle for the awards competitions next year.

Bottom Line Final Comments: I experienced this new version of A Star Is Born as terrifically effective, providing cinematic-transportation into the world it depicts despite emphasizing its inherent-melodramatics (as all the previous versions did), but despite realizing I responded to what I saw from a more emotional than purely aesthetic, critical angles I felt more justified in my reaction when I found out afterward the critical community at large is also highly-supportive for similar reasons (except for one notable local [San Francisco area] guy, who shall go unnamed but needs to re-examine why he thinks Cooper and Gaga have no on-screen-chemistry in this rendition of A Star … [maybe he meant they never shared a high-school chemistry class]) with an extremely-healthy 91% positive responses from those surveyed at Rotten Tomatoes, a relatively-astounding 88% average score at Metacritic (of 2018 releases both they and I have reviewed, the only other ones to hit that level from them are Leave No Trace [Debra Granik; review in our August 9, 2018 posting]—88%and Eighth Grade [Bo Burnham; review in our August 2, 2018 posting]—90%).  Audiences have been supportive as well, with the debut weekend from domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters hauling in $44.3 million (plus another $14.2 from international venues) which is very commendable for any weekend (although it’s been topped 10 times earlier this year* as well as last weekend by Venom [Ruben Fleischer] at $80.2 million).  What may remain in awards’ voters minds into early next year, though, is Cooper’s successful directing debut here, so let’s focus on that a bit.

*Those other toppers are from the Fantasy, Supercop, and Horror genres (all very difficult for a relatively-outdated Musical offering to beat, even with well-loved Lady Gaga [a few in this following tally I didn’t choose to see; no remorse]): Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo; review in our May 3, 2018 posting) $257.7 million, opened April 27-29; Black Panther (Ryan Coogler; review in our February 22, 2018 posting) $242.2 million, opened February 16-18; Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird; review in our June 21, 2018 posting) $182.7 million, opened June 15-17; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (J.A. Bayon) $148 million, opened June 22-24; Deadpool 2 (David Leitch) $125.5 million, opened May 18-20; Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard; review in our May 31, 2018 posting) $103 million, opened May 25-27; Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed; review in our August 2, 2018 posting) $75.8 million, opened July 6-8; Mission: Impossible—Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie; review in our August 2, 2018 posting) $61.2 million, opened July 27-29; The Nun (Ruben Fleischer) $53.8 million, opened September 7-9;The Meg (Jon Turteltaub) $45.4 million, opened August 10-12.

 Cooper’s an established cinematic name based on both his financially-lucrative-series of The Hangover (Todd Phillips 2009, 2011, 2013)—although by the time we got to … Part III both critical and financial support fell off noticeably—plus his voice work for Rocket (the alien raccoon) in all of the Guardians of the Galaxy manifestations thus far (James Gunn 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting; Gunn 2017; Avengers: Infinity War [Anthony and Joe Russo—review in our May 3, 2018 posting]) as well as his more-articulated-roles working with more artistically-minded-directors (Silver Linings Playbook [David O. Russell, 2012; review in our December 28, 2012 posting]; American Hustle [Russell, 2013; review in our December 27, 2013 posting]; American Sniper [Clint Eastwood, 2014; review in our January 29, 2015 posting]), all of which earned him Oscar acting nominations.  Despite his impactful presence in A Star Is Born, though, I doubt his role of Jack will bring a repeat, mainly because you can easily see the similarities of this portrayal to that of Kristofferson in the 1976 A Star … as well as Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)—a role that did snag a Best Actor Oscar for its star.  Cooper’s best chance for a personal nomination (in addition to a solid shot at Best Picture, sharing his producer role with 4 others) is as director, in that he demonstrates solid command of how to keep both lead characters as acceptable (despite the dismissal of them as uninvolving by one of my regular screening companions, but he admits this type of movie’s not his favorite anyway) even with their flaws (Ally’s are mostly based in self-confidence-issues, but she does get briefly swept up in her sudden fame, allowing herself to be exploited by Rez against her initial protests), how to incorporate music always usefully moving the story along while justifying a viewer’s decision to purchase the soundtrack album due to the quality of the tunes, incorporation of cinematography capturing the open grandeur of some locations vs. the confining interiors of others, effectively allowing us to feel the pain of all these characters (especially minor ones such as Lorenzo and Bobby, both of whom clearly wanted more for their own lives, then hoped to get such through osmosis from their respective daughter and brother).  This is a well-crafted movie balancing energy, sentiment, triumph, defeat in a most effective manner, even while channeling aspect of all its predecessors.  (Clearly I’m not among those  claiming the first half of this 135 min. production resonates better than its second part; for me it continues to build properly throughout, although I’m not as enamored of Ally’s developing-career-tunes as I am of her earlier ones, but that feels intentional to me as indicative of how intentions get sidetracked from “being honest about what you want to say” [Jack’s ongoing advice for Ally] by financial pressures.)

 Some writers, focusing more on socially-driven-essays than standard evaluative critical reviews, have elaborated on how this current renovation of a long-standing-cultural-artifact focused on ascent/descent-dynamics reflects contemporary gender tensions in our increasingly-fragmented-society, with a male (Owen Gleiberman at Variety) extensively arguing Ally’s success is a metaphor for the decline of male privilege in our culture (by implication, also others that resemble us in the developed world): “The movie is an elegy for the patriarchy, told from a rock ‘n’ roll patriarch’s point of view. As exquisite as Lady Gaga is as Ally, ‘A Star Is Born’ is Jackson Maine’s story. It’s the tale of his tragedy, the story of the end of one man’s pop dynasty that also suggests the end of a way of being […] What’s so threatening to Jackson about Ally’s ascent, into the stratosphere of corporately marketed and synchronized dance pop, is that it represents the death of the place that Jackson comes from: the arena of 'authentic' rock. And that was always a male bastion [… Ally] knows, of course, that there’s room for men and women in the new world. But the place Jackson comes from is a hierarchy, propped up by his boozy entitlement. […] ‘A Star Is Born’ is a great love story, but it’s also the story of a fall: Jackson’s fall, which is really the world’s fall from the garden of male reign.”  In a counter-argument from a female (Libby Hill of the Los Angeles Times), we get the viewpoint this story hasn’t transcended its patriarchal heritage (exemplified in older versions at the final memorial as Esther introduces herself not as Vicky Lester but as “Mrs. Norman Maine”) even in our present #MeToo/Time’s Up era because: “underneath was an undeniable undercurrent of misogyny that was hard to shake. [… Ally] almost always gives in to Jackson’s good, if condescending, insistence that he knows what’s best for her. […] The movie works as musical escapism, but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s not an examination of the rigors of being a woman in the entertainment industry, no matter how much I wanted it to be. […] And here’s an idea. It’s been more than 80 years since the original version of the film— why has Hollywood yet to flip the gender script? ¶ We can’t see a woman discover and shepherd a young male talent to stardom because, even now, it would seem unrealistic. Women are not the gatekeepers. They do not hold the keys to the kingdom. ¶ ‘A Star Is Born’ is a lovely film that will most likely win plenty of Oscars. But it’s not the movie we need it to be because this isn’t the world we need it to be.” (Say what, Sen. Collins?)

 But, as they debate over how progressively or not this version of A Star Is Born may manifest itself to us, I’ll just take their metaphorical focus into my own realm of the proper place to bring this review to a close (making a clear encouragement for you to see this movie, which is engaging in its use of music; reasonable enough in its depiction of human desires and weaknesses, despite coming clearly from a well-known-generic-structure; emotionally effective, as in the final scene of Ally singing “I’ll Never Love Again”—a song written by Jack to her but never publically performed by him—at his memorial service intercut with footage of him singing it to her in their home after his stint in rehab, finishing with her public rendition but not [in the 21st century] after having introduced herself as “Mrs. Jack Maine,” just simply “Ally Maine” [at least she finally gets a surname]; and possibly [debatably?] serving as at least a minor healing for a culture exasperated by conflicting values about gender roles and actions, with some seeing Jack’s decision as nobly-sacrificing for the ongoing-life his talented wife deserves, others possibly finding it as yet another example of controlling male prerogative) with my own metaphor, a Musical Metaphor at that, my standard means of bringing these observations to closure with insights from the equally-engaging-aural-arts.

 The seemingly-obvious-Metaphor for this version of A Star Is Born is “I’ll Never Love Again” (written by Lady Gaga, Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsey, Aaron Raitere; on the soundtrack album; available in aural form only here [as you can also find some other songs from the current A Star … on YouTube, such as "Shallow"written by Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyattthe first onstage-duet with Jack and Ally, presented as a music video with A Star … footage, including the duet; this one or “I’ll Never Love Again” seem to be early contenders for Oscar’s Best Original Song]), but I must go with Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away” (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ira Gershwin) at =pl%2Cwn, from the 1954 movie and its soundtrack album (although I must admit it even further supports Hill’s arguments above about patriarchy, as much as I want to agree with Gleiberman [to the point of recently contributing to Heidi Heitkamp’s Senatorial re-election campaign in support of her brave vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court]) because—feminist hopes for this narrative as valid or not—this story’s always been about the departed man (through his own decision, in hopes it was the best thing for his wife), further enhanced by this being one of Garland’s most exquisite performances (as well as further metaphorical for the life that got away from her, dead much too young at 47 from deteriorated health, accidental overdose of barbiturates, ultimately making her more like Norman than Esther).  In fairness, though, given Garland's song was only nominated for an Oscar but didn’t win, I’ll truly conclude with Streisand’s "Evergreen" (from the 1976 A Star …’s soundtrack album) as it did triumph as Oscar’s Best Original Song along with being more upbeat, more gender-connective and optimistic than the above-cited-offerings, the feeling I’d like to leave you with here (“Two lives that shine as one Morning glory and midnight sun”).

 I’ll also note while there are many interesting films coming into release as we begin to approach that longed-for-awards-season (at least by nominee-hopefuls) I’ve got other competing events to attend over the next month so I may only be able to write 1 review per posting, as I’ve done for these last 3 weeks.  I’ll hope to pick the most interesting possibilities for your consideration, but in case my choices leave you despondent I'll try to parallel your feelings by giving one of the guys from these Star ... movies a chance to shine (but not from any of those soundtracks) by closing with Kristofferson, as alluded to farther above, on behalf of burned-out-stars all over the many galaxies.
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Here’s more information about A Star Is Born: (38:20 interview with director/co-screenwriter [with Eric Roth, Will Fetters]/actor Bradley Cooper, songwriters/performers Lady Gaga, Lukas Nelson, and actors Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott [although it takes about 9 min. to get all the introductions out of the way, followed by Gaga’s brief remarks about Cooper, then at 11:00, after the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival audience screened the movie, they all come back out for the actual Q & A])

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 4,513 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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