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A Star Is Born

A classic melodrama gets an update in Bradley Cooper’s impressive directorial debut

© Warner Bros. Pictures A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
     Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper: Avengers: Infinity War) is drowning. Every night he guzzles whatever booze he can find, swallows a handful of pills and strums his way through a bleary set of the country songs that made him famous.
       When he stumbles into a bar and hears Ally (Lady Gaga: American Horror Story) sing, he recognizes her talent and is charmed by her shy, befuddled personality.
       Convinced that there’s something between them, Jackson persuades her to visit him backstage at a show. Instead of trying to impress her with his fame, he pulls her onstage to perform with him.
In the course of one song, Ally goes from a nobody who sings in a bar to a viral sensation. She falls hard for Jackson’s passion and his musical abilities and soon the pair are inseparable.
         But love isn’t the solution to all the world’s ills, and soon Ally must deal with the fact that the man she adores is an alcoholic. Can she save Jackson from himself while finding her own voice as a performer?
       The fourth remake of the 1937 classic, A Star Is Born is a pretty well-known story about the ebb and flow of fame between star-crossed lovers. Still, in his directorial debut Cooper manages to update the story with fresh performances, great visuals and a sincerity that packs an emotional punch.
         Though Jackson is supposedly the star of the show, Cooper’s performance isn’t commanding. He’s got the easy country charm down, but some of his emotional notes ring false. It’s an admirable performance, but he’s outmatched by some of the talent surrounding him.
        Cooper’s greatest talent as a director may be his ability to build an ensemble cast. Veteran actors like Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay both pop into the movie for small but emotionally devastating parts. Cooper beautifully crafts small narratives for all the players to make them believable.
        Like her counterpart on the screen, the real star of this movie is Lady Gaga. Her Ally has the pipes and the fragility that make her impossible to look away from. She is especially good at crafting Ally’s journey from awkward performer to confident diva. It’s a transition that displays all the hard work and earned poise of a seasoned performer. Fans of Gaga the musician will be thrilled to hear her belt out all sorts of songs from country to pop. Those living under a rock who haven’t heard of her will be impressed not only by her voice but by her emotionally resonate acting. It’s a bravura performance that will no doubt be talked about come awards season.
Good Drama • R • 135 mins. 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
         When country girl Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) marries successful writer Willy (Dominic West), she’s thrilled to live a life of luxury in Paris. But when Willy suffers from writer’s block, their lifestyle is threatened. 
        Willy convinces Colette to pen the stories of her life in the country and then passes the resulting novel off as his own work. The book, Claudine, is a massive success and sparks a demand for more stories. Willy is more than happy to take the credit and forces Colette to write more novels. 
       The true story of one of France’s most popular writers, Colette is a timely tale. In the face of women seeking to take back their power and control their own narrative, the story of Colette may serve to inspire. 
Prospects: Bright • R • 111 mins. 
Monsters and Men
      Sick of police harassment in his Bed-Stuy neighborhood, Manny (Anthony Ramos) pulls out his phone to film cops that are arresting one of the neighborhood guys. When the arrest goes wrong and a white cop ends up shooting an unarmed black man, Manny has the whole thing on video.
         Though he is disgusted with the way minorities are treated by the police, Manny is hesitant to come forward. He’s afraid of the media attention and what the police or their allies might do to sabotage his life. On the other side of the Thin Blue Line, a police officer (John David Washington) must come to terms with the fact that the system he believes in may be deeply flawed.
Prospects: Bright • R • 98 mins. 
        When reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) begins digging into the shady dealings of Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), he’s exposed to something in the lab. That something is an alien symbiote that attaches itself to Eddie. The symbiote calls itself Venom and provides Eddie great strength, agility and power. There’s only one drawback: The Symbiote is uncontrollably violent.
         One of Marvel’s most beloved anti-heroes, Venom should be an interesting, morally complex tale. If, however, you live with a Marvel fanatic (as your intrepid reviewer does) you’ve probably already heard ad naseum about the myriad ways Sony has watered down or ruined the story of how Eddie meets the symbiote. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 112 mins.