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Star Is Born (2018), A
I was skeptical that the material needed a fourth retelling when I saw the first trailer for Director Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born remake, in which he stars alongside Lady Gaga. For those counting, there is a 1937 film, the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1976 remake with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, all of which offer their own charms. This most recent retelling rides on a screenplay from Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters, and also stars Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle and Sam Elliott. I loved this modern remake; from its original music to Matthew Libatique's cinematography to the undeniable chemistry between Cooper and Lady Gaga. The acting is excellent across the board, and the leads create genuine emotional intrigue amid a well-worn story. A Star is Born more than earned its numerous year-end accolades, and is one of the finest films from 2018.
Anyone who is still skeptical of Lady Gaga as a performer or actress needs to watch this movie before passing judgment. Lady Gaga (aka Stefani Germanotta) pulls from her own New York Italian roots to play Ally, an aspiring singer/songwriter stuck performing in bars and drag clubs. After an arena show, hard-partying rocker Jackson "Jack" Maine (Cooper) stumbles upon Ally's performance and is enchanted by her raw talent and beauty. He invites her for a drink after the show, and the pair spends several hours together. The night culminates in Jack icing Ally's hand with frozen peas after she injures it defending him in a bar. Ally returns to the home she shares with her father (Clay) at daybreak, and later awakens to find a black SUV outside with a driver waiting to take her to one of Jack's shows. At the show, Jack pulls Ally on stage to sing a verse she shared with him the previous night, which becomes part of the movie's Oscar-winning song "Shallow." Thus begins a whirlwind ascent to fame for Ally, who joins Jack on the road for his tour.
The story is not unique, but it is well executed. Jack and Ally fall in love as she becomes more confident on stage. Jack struggles with tinnitus and alcoholism, which he briefly curbs during the early months of he and Ally's relationship. Ally is courted by music producer Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron), who becomes her manager and steers her career away from Jack. Ally's music moves from raw and folksy to sex-appeal pop, which Jack dubs "embarrassing" in one drunken rant. The character beats are what make A Star is Born special. Jack's complicated relationship with his brother and manager Bobby (Sam Elliott) is explored, as is his struggle to accept Ally's career eclipsing his own. Despite the booze-soaked fallouts, I am pleased that A Star is Born did not travel down the expected road of domestic violence, and instead relies on more subtle emotional turmoil between Jack and Ally. The love is there always, and A Star is Born is not some cheap, black-eye drama.
Cooper and Lady Gaga have great chemistry and are absolutely believable in these roles. Lady Gaga's performance is especially impressive as she is pulled on stage for the first time, wavering between fear, excitement and disbelief. Cooper is gruff but sensitive, and gives his character depth that extends beyond the bottle. The music benefits from Lukas Nelson's (son of Willie) touch, and the film includes some truly powerful moments, including the live performance of "Shallow," Cooper's "Maybe It's Time" and the soulful "Always Remember Us This Way" that concludes the film. The on-screen work here is simply captivating; I was sucked into this story for the entire 136-minute running time. If you are going to remake a film, this is the way to do it. A Star is Born proves first-time director Cooper has the talent to make it a career, and Lady Gaga further cements her status as a star for our time.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is excellent, and supports the film's intended look. The encoding is spot-on, and I did not notice any compression artifacts. Fine-object detail is impressive, and wide shots are deep and crystal clear. There are moments of slight softness and haze, but I believe these are intended and no fault of the transfer. There is plenty to see during the musical performances, and this transfer handles the varied lighting and lens flares well, never becoming blurry. Colors are bold and nicely saturated, shadow detail is impressive and blacks are inky. Black crush is minor, and contrast remains steady in scenes of intense sunlight or artificial strobes.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is fantastic, and showcases the wonderful musical performances and sound design of A Star is Born. From the opening concert scene, it is clear this mix will be truly immersive, with sound elements that make full use of the surrounds and LFE support. Crowd noise surrounds the viewer as Jack performs, and the mix places the viewer amid the show during each such performance. Dialogue is no less clear and impressive, and the soundtrack maintains its fully realized presentation during each subsequent scene with musical accompaniment. Range and clarity are both excellent, and I noticed no distortion or element crowding. The disc offers English, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes and English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed into an eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Bonus features include The Road to Stardom: Making A Star is Born (30:02/HD), which offers solid behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and candid moments between the stars. The disc also includes Jam Sessions and Rarities (7:01 total/HD), which provides alternate musical performances; Music Videos (15:53 total/HD) for several of the movie's biggest songs; and Musical Moments, which is a reel of all the songs in the film.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga give outstanding performances in this impressive update of A Star is Born. The story may not be unique, but first-time director Cooper packs the film with impressive character beats and memorable musical performances. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.