Movie Review: A Star is Born

BY JONAH LAWSON

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Warning: Minor spoilers… obviously

A Star is Born is a romantic film centered around an aging rock star (Jackson Maine played by Bradley Cooper) and a struggling musician (Ally played by Lady Gaga) he takes under his wing and falls in love with. The fourth film of its name and general plot arc (the previous three were released in 1937, 1954, and 1976), this directorial debut from Bradley Cooper has been nominated in eight categories, including Best Picture, at Sunday’s Academy Awards.

It had the feel of La La Land, which swept the Oscars two years ago (though famously not Best Picture). It featured many characteristics of classic Hollywood love stories — a euphoric beginning and emotionally devastating ending — only it went much further. The film’s darker and more mature approach, complete with drug abuse, difficult childhoods, and commentary on the public’s destructive obsession with stars, makes the film more intensely emotional than other romantic flicks. Jackson Maine’s downward spiral begins with his struggles with addiction, then improves with the help of a loved one, only to spiral further downward until he crashes — something many have witnessed in a world where addiction runs rampant. Ally’s storyline was equally riveting; we see her leave behind the pride she holds so dearly, as fame and money loosen her morals and convince her to abandon herself. The film addresses other important issues, such as Hollywood’s reluctance to allow people outside typical standards of beauty to reach fame; Ally reveals that many producers had rejected her talented voice when they saw her large nose. Another would be the film’s inclusion of a drag bar, which is rarely featured in blockbuster movies. Although the short scene may seem insignificant to some, it portrays drag in a positive, healthy light instead of including it as an oddity. Finally, I would like to address this movie’s spectacular playlist, featuring amazing originals such as “Always Remember Us This Way,” “I’ll Never Love Again,” and “Shallow,” which was nominated for Best Original Song. Even if you decide not to watch the movie, these songs can be played on repeat without getting old, and I highly recommend listening to them.

One criticism of the film is its transitions, which were occasionally confusing and hard to follow. For example, I still have no clue what led Maine to his final scene, which may have dampened its emotional impact. But in all honesty, this issue was minor, and the movie is one of the best romantic films out there. I highly recommend A Star is Born for its emotional storyline and the broad span of issues it addresses.

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

BY JONAH LAWSON

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Warning: Minor spoilers… obviously

Nominated in six categories, including Best Picture, at Sunday’s Academy Awards, Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic based on the life of Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of best-selling rock band Queen. The song “Bohemian Rhapsody” received harsh reviews from critics but was adored by fans, and the same can be said for the movie (and consider me a fan).

Nearly everyone can agree on Rami Malek’s fantastic performance as Freddie Mercury, which blended flamboyant moments on stage with heart-rending scenes from Mercury’s personal life. While I wouldn’t necessarily say this movie should win Best Picture, Malek’s rendition of a unique, famously private man is a major contender for Best Actor, and deservedly so. Another positive for the film was its inclusion of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. The film devoted many scenes to his struggles with coming out and his drug usage, a problem faced by the LGBTQ  community during this period as they struggled with discrimination and abuse. Some critics hold that the film doesn’t cover his sexuality in enough depth, but in the end the film wasn’t intended to focus solely on his sexuality, and it focused on it sufficiently. To be honest, when I saw the trailer, I and many others believed they wouldn’t mention his sexuality at all.

Bohemian Rhapsody has been called the highest grossing LGBTQ film in history, and with that title comes certain responsibilities, which brings me to my major issue with the film: it assumes that Freddie Mercury is gay when he may have been bisexual. He never confirmed his sexuality, but he did maintain long-term relationships with both men and women. This bisexual erasure is very harmful, especially coming from an LGBTQ film, because it perpetuates the stereotype that bisexuals are simply confused and that people can only be either gay or straight. Another issue the film faces is its moments of historical inaccuracy, particularly in the scenes immediately preceding the Live Aid concert. In reality, the band had not broken up at this point, and while Mercury had gone solo, it was not due to animosity within the band (as the movie depicts); in fact, during his solo career Mercury stayed in touch with his bandmates. The film also features Mercury revealing his AIDS diagnosis to his band before the Live Aid concert. This unnecessarily dramatic monologue technically shouldn’t occur until two years after the Live Aid performance. In these two instances, the film decides to discard truth in favor of dramatization, and this dismissal of truth is serious: filmed almost like a documentary, Bohemian Rhapsody would likely deceive the non-Queen-experts among us into believing that the band had a dramatic, acrimonious split that simply did not occur.

Despite its mismanagement of Mercury’s sexuality and its occasional misinterpretations of history, Bohemian Rhapsody was a spectacular film that deserves its nomination for the Best Picture of 2018, though maybe not the award itself.

Your Guide to the 2019 Academy Awards

BY STEPHEN ATKINSON

The 91st Academy Awards will be held February 24th, but for months the star-studded Hollywood event has made headlines with successive controversies. The August announcement of a “Best Popular Film” category sparked outrage and confusion from fans and critics alike before the Academy quickly shelved the idea, and later, comedian Kevin Hart’s slew of non-apologies for his past homophobic comments left the ceremony without a central host. (At the last host-less Oscars, Rob Lowe danced with a bootleg Snow White in perhaps the most bizarre opening in awards show history.) More recently, the Oscars announced that they would relegate four awards—in Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstylingto commercial breaks, which was met with indignation from film industry professionals, and once again the Oscars backtracked: these awards will now be aired live. With TV ratings dropping almost every year, the Oscars producers are desperate to increase the three-hour-plus long event’s watchability, but the attempts thus far have been vetoed by the public. It will be interesting to see if this host-less Oscars can, against the odds, reverse this downward trend.

Of course, the Oscars is more than just three hours of entertainment and a week’s worth of celebrity buzz fodder. After all, it’s an awards show for movies! Unlike the Grammys, however, the Oscars tend to showcase titles that are unfamiliar to many audience members. Fortunately, we’re here to highlight some of the major films nominated, so even if you can’t watch them all before next Sunday evening, you’ll at least have some contextand maybe even a film to root for!

 

The Race for Best Picture

The Oscars are at the end of a long awards season. Usually by this point in the year, there is a relatively clear favorite to win Best Picture, the biggest prize of the night. Last year, The Shape of Water was the consensus favorite and it won, but just two years ago, underdog Moonlight beat out La La Land in a mix-up that will not soon be forgottenSo the award is never predictable. But this year, it’s hard to make a prediction at all. Black Panther, Green Book, and Roma have all picked up big awards so far, while Roma and The Favourite have been nominated in the most Oscar categories. Do any of these titles sound unfamiliar? Here’s an overview of the films nominated for Best Picture:

 

BlacKkKlansman

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Widely considered Spike Lee’s best film in years, this true story follows Ron Stallworth, the first African-American officer in the Colorado Spring Police Department, as he teams up with a white colleague to infiltrate and expose the local Klu Klux Klan chapter. Their mission, however, grows into something much larger as they realize what’s at stake. While few consider BlacKkKlansman the best movie of this bunch, it’s almost universally well-liked, and with the Academy’s preferential voting system, it’s a promising dark horse pick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Panther

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Black Panther was a box office sensation and a landmark moment for black representation in film. Prompting both memes and serious discussion, the film has cemented its place in the cultural canon–chances are you’ve seen or at least heard of this highest-ever-grossing superhero movie. Admittedly, the chances of a Disney-distributed superhero movie winning Best Picture are low, but the Academy is making attempts to diversify and appeal to larger audiences, so this blockbuster just might strike a chord with voters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

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Most critics were surprised, even dismayed, to find Bohemian Rhapsody on the list of nominations. This Freddie Mercury biopic has been popular among audiences but has failed to impress reviewers, garnering a 49 out of 100 weighted average on Metacritic (in contrast to its 8.2/10 rating on IMDB). Critics point to awkward pacing, questionable handling of LGBT subplots, and director Bryan Singer’s sexual assault controversy, while fans praise it for Rami Malek’s transformative performance, its grand music sequences, and its triumphant themes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Favourite

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Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a unique cinematic voice marked by deadpan dark humor, surrealism, and grating orchestral scores (see The Lobster, available on Netflix, for reference). His latest film, The Favourite, is a historical period drama unlike any other. Wacky, sinister, and salacious, it covers the (somewhat) true story of two women competing for the favor of a feeble Queen Anne. It’s not exactly what you think of when you hear “Oscar winner,” but this unconventional female-led film has attracted a lot of awards attention for what seems more like an art-house classic.

 

 

 

 

 

Green Book

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Set in 1962, Green Book is a feel-good comedy-drama about an unlikely friendship between Dr. Don Shirley, a famous black pianist (Mahershala Ali) and his white driver (Viggo Mortensen), as they travel on a concert tour. It’s received criticism for its historical inaccuracies, including condemnation from Dr. Shirley’s own family, and some say it oversimplifies race relations, perhaps to make it more palatable to white viewers. Nevertheless, Green Book nabbed big awards at both the Golden Globes and the Producers Guild Awards, so it appears the controversy has had little effect on its awards chances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roma

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Roma is both the first foreign film and the first Netflix film to be nominated for Best Picture. Shot entirely in black and white, it covers a period of a few weeks in the life of a light-skinned Mexican family and their indigenous (Native American) live-in housekeeper, through marital troubles, political riots, wildfires, and near-drownings. Netflix’s aggressive advertising has given this slow-paced, meditative film a wide audience, and it’s considered by many a cautious favorite for Best Picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Star is Born

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The fourth film of its name and general plot arc, A Star is Born features stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper respectively as a struggling artist and a seasoned musician who fall fall in love and battle mental illness. Critics have praised Lady Gaga’s big screen debut, and she’s already acquired a collection of awards for the original song “Shallow,” which also performed well on the pop charts. Originally, A Star is Born was a favorite for Best Picture, but its underwhelming performance in awards shows thus far has lowered expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vice

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This biographical comedy-drama follows Dick Cheney on his path to arguably the most powerful Vice Presidency in U.S. history. Its star-studded cast includes Christian Bale (unrecognizable as Dick Cheney), Sam Rockwell, Amy Adams, and Steve Carell. Despite having well-received acting performances, Vice, with a weighted average on Metacritic of 61 out of 100, joins Bohemian Rhapsody as one of the worst-reviewed films to be nominated for Best Picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find the full list of nominations here.

Straight Actors, Gay Roles

BY JONAH LAWSON

For the past decade, straight actors in Hollywood have pursued LGBT roles to prove that they can play a character whose life experiences have been greatly different from their own. From Armie Hammer to Cate Blanchett, many have gone through this rite of passage, and their fans have applauded them, calling them heroes of tolerance and progress. At first, this was wonderful; the actors who took on these roles dealt with them seriously and were almost always important advocates for the LGBT community. Timothée Chalamet, who stars in Call Me By Your Name, has donated to the LGBT center in New York, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in Brokeback Mountain, donates to LGBT charity GLAAD. Along with their charity work, these established stars can bring lots of attention to LGBT movies, thereby raising awareness of different issues that many would not hear about otherwise.  Eddie Redmayne did this when he played one of the first trans people to undergo a sex change in The Danish Girl.

Although I can’t imagine Modern Family without Eric Stonestreet (who plays Cam), straight actors need to allow for greater opportunity for LGBT actors. According to LGBT magazine The Advocate, 52 straight people have received Oscar nominations for gay roles, and actors such as Sean Penn for Milk and Tom Hanks for Philadelphia have taken home the award for best actor, while no openly gay man has ever taken home the award. The work these actors have done to raise awareness is greatly appreciated, and of course straight actors can certainly play an LGBT role every once in a while, but it is also extremely important that the people representing the LGBT community on television are themselves LGBT, so the youth in that community can have role models who share their experiences.

Movie Review: Beautiful Boy

BY JONAH LAWSON

Rating: ★★★★☆

Warning: Minor spoilers… obviously

Beautiful Boy, based on the memoirs Tweak and Beautiful Boy by Nic and David Sheff respectively, follows a teenage boy (Nic) through his addiction to crystal meth and a father (David) through his struggle to help his son. Depicting relapse after relapse, this coming of age story brings attention to the drug epidemic currently plaguing young Americans, while also humanizing the victims.

What made this film were its outstanding cast, character development, and supporting roles. The up-and-coming Timothée Chalamet delivers an amazing portrayal of Nic, alternating between moments of convincing readiness to change and devastating hopelessness. Meanwhile, Steve Carell plays David deftly, eliminating nearly all remnants of his former comedic persona as he further solidifies his transition to a more “serious” actor. Thankfully, the centerpiece of the film—Nic’s character development—is also very strong. Nic has moments of stable happiness followed by rapid decline, each phase more and more intense as the film progresses. At one point Nic appears incredibly content with his life and the end of the movie feels near, but before you know it, his addiction takes hold once again. Karen, Nic’s step-mom, also has a very intriguing character arc as she attempts to balance the safety of her children with her love for Nic. Finally, a shout-out to Jasper, Nic’s young half brother: he manages to steal all the attention whenever he’s on camera, and his simultaneous idolization of and disappointment with Nic featured in a scene that almost made me cry.

My complaints with the film center around its constant attempts to lighten the mood, ostensibly to make it more palatable. First off, Nic’s parents are Michael and Holly from The Office. My sister asked me if Beautiful Boy was showing the aftermath of season nine. Word of advice: if you make a movie about a serious issue, such as the drug epidemic, and someone is able to ask you this question, you’ve done something horribly wrong. Second, while watching Beautiful Boy, if a scene features Nic using drugs or writhing on the bathroom floor, expect an image of a little boy having fun with his dad to follow. I understand wanting the audience to remember what Nic used to be like, and if used in moderation this method would be a great benefit to the film. The issue is that Beautiful Boy is supposed to have a darker side to it, and it’s impossible for that side of the film to fully develop if it’s bombarded by a laughing child every five minutes. Lastly, many important, more troubling aspects of Nic’s addiction are ignored in the film, namely Nic’s sex work. A sex worker is shown, but it’s very brief and the consequences of that life aren’t explored. This is such an important topic to mention because sex work is often one of the worst consequences of addiction, as people relying on drugs frequently can’t find work. As The Advocate beautifully puts it, “as much as Beautiful Boy holds itself out as a bold and uncensored declaration about substance abuse and the toll it takes, it is also an obfuscation.”

Overall, Beautiful Boy is a film I would recommend as, despite its censorship issues, it features an amazing cast and dives into the important issue of drug addiction among students.