THE BIG RELEASE
A Star Is Born
THIS is now the third remake of 1937’s A Star Is Born, following the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand versions. And the story is such a golden Hollywood romance, you half expect Angela Lansbury to appear as a singing teapot, trilling ‘a tale as old as time…’
This time it’s pop superstar Lady Gaga who plays Ally, the timid, unconventional-looking ingénue who is discovered belting out Edith Piaf numbers by ageing country rock god Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper, who also writes/directs) when he stumbles into a drag bar (very Gaga) searching for whiskey.
Instantly smitten by her talent, Jack invites young Ally up on stage at his next gig and makes her sing to a packed stadium of his fans. Et voilà — a star is born! However, as Ally’s pop career goes stellar, manipulated by a boo-hiss English Svengali (Rafi Gavron), Jack’s starts to fizzle, with booze, tinnitus and, of course, the bad ol’ demons of his past catching up with him.
The fact this is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut sets off the ‘actor vanity project!’ alarm but his direction proves genuinely deft and impressive, as does his musicianship. The songs themselves are surprisingly good (it’s bound to win the best song Oscar, if nothing else).
But it’s Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta) who imitates art as the movie’s real-life breakout star (in acting terms, at least). Endearingly scrubbed free of make-up, she’s enchanting to watch, while the chemistry between her and Cooper is mesmerising. You’ll fall in love with them falling in love and that goes a long way in carrying you through the movie’s slightly sketchier second half.
Though the script’s message is ‘to be truly a star it’s not enough to find your voice, you have to have something to say with it’, this is a film that doesn’t have much revelatory to say. Still, no matter: despite Jack’s brother (Sam Elliott, channelling his Cowboy from The Big Lebowski), declaring this ‘is the same story told over and over’, it’s rarely been told so well. A truly magical movie experience set to sweep you off your feet. Expect a singalong version by Christmas.
A classic, toe-tapping, heart-soaring Hollywood love story. Don’t miss it
Johny English Strikes Again
Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling spy returns for a questionable third outing. Now a schoolteacher, Johnny English is thrilled to be called back into action when a cyber plot threatens the UK. He scoops up sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) for an investigation in the South of France, where they endure a series of accidents as predictable as the plot.
While many jokes fall as flat as our clumsy hero, there are a few funny moments, including a set piece in which English dons a VR headpiece, loses track of his surroundings and causes havoc on the London streets. And the women elevate the material: Emma Thompson is terrific as the PM, Olga Kurylenko kicks ass when permitted and then there’s Bough’s new wife, who — contrary to English’s expectations — is a strident submarine captain.
Touches like that add a contemporary relevance but mocking English’s old-fashioned presumptions also highlights how out of date this whole spoof concept is. Kids may still giggle at Atkinson’s well-practised buffoonery but his creaky character might want to consider permanent retirement after this one.
Female Human Animal
Boldly defying categorisation, director Josh Appignanesi’s spooky, genre-bending art-world satire/psycho thriller/intellectual jeu d’esprit takes inspiration from Leonora Carrington, the late, ‘lost’ British surrealist who spent most of her life in Mexico. However, the main action fixes a lens on another female artist, acclaimed Latin American novelist Chloe Aridjis (who co-devised this project and stars as a version of herself), who comes to London to co-curate a Carrington retrospective.
An outsider alienated by the art-world parties and media chitter-chatter, Chloe considers herself a romantic born out of time. When her beloved cat scratches her, she embarks on a surreal interior journey of her own that leads to a dangerous encounter with a tall, dark and handsome stranger (Marc Hosemann), who lists his interests as ‘meat, sex, art’.
What sounds tiresomely pretentious proves darkly fascinating and surprisingly funny. A release quite unlike any other, this is a choice morsel for culture vultures.