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DVD Reviews

A Star Is Born

Mike Smith checks out “A Star is Born”, now on Blu-ray

Mike Smith

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Director:

Bradley Cooper

Cast:

Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Greg Grunberg, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle

Run time:

2 hr 15 mins

Rating:

To quote “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s a tale as old as time. Big star on the way down meets rising star on the way up. They fall in love. One embarrasses the other and their love is tested. The tale is so old that it’s already been told, very well, three times before. But the fourth time may be the best!

Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a popular singer who has lived his life on the road. Once enjoying his time on stage, now he gets by with alcohol and drugs, showing up, plugging in then hurrying off-stage to the seclusion of his limo. One night, while looking for a place to stop, he ends up at a drag club, where he gets the chance to listen to a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga – I was just going to put “Gaga” but I’m not sure how the first name/last name thing works here. I guess I could have put “Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta” but that would probably confuse you even more. Ally does an old Edith Piaf song and soon Jackson is mesmerized by her voice. He invites her out with him, where they buy some beer and talk about music. When he drops her off at home she figures that’s the last time she will see him. It isn’t.

A familiar story with enough new twists and turns to keep it fresh, “A Star Is Born” is a triumph. Much of this praise must go to my rival Bradley Cooper. (I know my wife loves me, but if Bradley Cooper came knocking I would be just a memory). As a first time director, especially in a film starring himself, there is an opportunity to make everything BIG and LOUD and, worse of all, put yourself front and center. Cooper directs with a restraint that is almost unheard of with newbies. He frames the story almost as if he’s shooting a documentary, and that close, inside look draws you into the story. As an actor, Cooper is equally up to the task here. His voice low and gruff (there’s a great line in the film where Sam Elliott, who plays his brother and who was also a musician, accuses Jackson of “stealing my voice”), he gives quite possibly the best performance of his career, which is saying a lot for a man who has already been nominated for the acting Oscars already in his career.

As Ally, Lady Gaga is outstanding. We already know she can sing. I haven’t heard a lot of her songs but I still include the night she showed up at the Academy Awards and sang “The Sound of Music” as one of my favorite all-time Oscar moments. Not only is she in great voice, she has incredible acting chops. Both the 1937 and 1954 versions of the film earned Oscar nominations for its stars. The 1976 version swept the Musical Film Category and I’m predicting that both Lady Gaga and Cooper get nods for their work here. Great supporting work from Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle make the film even more enjoyable.

Blu-ray : Wonderful presentation audio-and-video wise, but there’s not a great lot of extras on here – some deleted scenes, music videos, and a couple of other bits, but nothing to write home.. or a song about.

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DVD Reviews

Bohemian Rhapsody 4K

K.T Simpson checks out the new 4K release of Bryan Singer’s Freddie Mercury biopic

K.T Simpson

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Let me preface this review with a brief statement that not everyone is going to agree with me – but that generally covers most reviews, if not all. Sometimes my opinions breed conflict, but I’d prefer they breed discussion of opinions, so let’s all play nice kids.

I read a Freddie Mercury biography not that long ago, and decided that I was likely the reincarnation of the iconic rockstar. Okay – so without the talent bit. Freddie was a complex character, one that oozed confidence and had an on-stage presence that few could compare with. Behind closed doors, however, he was lonely, struggling to find himself in a world where he saw himself as an outcast, and found solace with a number of cats and the one love of his life – Mary Austin – despite being a gay man. Freddie was born Farrokh Bulsara, and despite having a conservative family from Zanzibar, always knew he was a performer: both on stage and in personality.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is much more than just the story of Freddie Mercury, but also the rise of Queen – from their days as “Smile”, playing in small university clubs, to the eventuate climax of the film (and their career) – playing to 100,000 people at Wembley stadium and a billion behind TV screens for the 1985 Live Aid concert, organized by Bob Geldof. But the film does mostly focus on the lead singer, and explores the trials and tribulations of his incredibly interesting life.

Rami Malek plays the iconic performer, and let’s face it – deserves an Oscar for his performance. You’d be forgiven for at times forgetting that you’re not actually watching Freddie Mercury on screen, but rather the “Mr. Robot” actor – who really should be more famous. Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor) and Joseph Mazzello (John Deacon) round out the remaining Queen members, and all have incredible presence within the film, despite them ultimately being overshadowed by the name on everybody’s lips: Freddie Mercury.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” sees the formation of the title song, and how a record exec (played by Mike Myers) made a big mistake in passing on releasing it to radio – and ultimately losing Queen. There’s a clever nod to “Wayne’s World” in this scene too – I won’t spoil it but do keep an ear out.

Despite controversy, Bryan Singer remains the sole director’s credit on “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with replacement Dexter Fletcher receiving an Executive Producer credit. Whoever did what, did it really well. There are some fantastic and powerful shots, and despite a little bit of questionable CGI in the Live Aid sequence, the film captures the band in an incredible fashion.

For those who were concerned that the AIDS crisis wouldn’t get addressed – despite it being important and also the reason Freddie ultimately left this world – it does, and in a very respectful manner.

Do you have to be a fan of Queen to enjoy “Bohemian Rhapsody”? No, but really – who isn’t?! Show yourselves! Obviously the reason you go and see a movie about Queen is for the music – and “Bohemian Rhapsody” certainly delivers the goods. If you’re a fan of music, in any sense of the world – do yourself a favour and see this movie.

This is undoubtedly the movie of the year for me. Queen consistently pushed the boundaries of music, and Freddie Mercury pushed the boundaries of a then-largely-conservative world: being true to himself in a culture of being told to reign it in. His story is both poetic and tragic, but his name is one that history will never forget. The film manages to capture all these elements, wrapping it up neatly in one hell of a career defining performance – for not only Queen at Live Aid, but also Malek as Freddie. Bravo, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

4K : Impeccable audio and video is accompanied by featurettes, documentary, fun behind the scenes footage and more. If you’ve got the set-up, definitely go for the 4K release.

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DVD Reviews

King of Thieves

Drew Turney checks out the new crime caper starring Michael Caine

Drew Turney

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The first thing that strikes you about a film where Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay play criminals staging one of the biggest robberies in UK history is why it didn’t get a lot more attention. Unlike ”The Bank Job”, a similar Jason Statham vehicle back in 2008, ”King of Thieves” is out on VOD with very little splash or fanfare. One wonders if Netflix might have done it more justice, especially as it’s the next film from ”The Theory of Everything” director James Marsh.

Caine, Broadbent, Winstone and Courtenay are Brian, Terry, Danny, Kenny and Billy. As the film opens we see Brian and his beloved wife Lynne (Francesca Annis), reminiscing about their life together and making vague reference to her going to hospital the next day for something neither one of them really want to acknowledge.

Days later, at Lynne’s funeral, Brian’s crew from years back are all assembled to help their friend say goodbye, but it doesn’t stop the chatter about a potential job at London’s Hatton Garden jewellery district where a vault houses a jaw-dropping cache of jewels, cash and more. Another young contemporary Brian’s used before, Basil (Charlie Cox) has a line on the job because he works in the building and has a key that might ultimately give them access to the room once they get past some other protections.

But the movie isn’t actually about the heist itself. After some cursory scenes of the guys poring over maps, rehearsing the crackerjack timing etc, the first half deals with the job hitting a hitch over the three day weekend the crew has to execute it. Tempers fray, Brian and cohort Carl (Paul Whitehouse) ultimately walk out and mistrust and bitterness is set in motion that sets the stage for the fallout of the second half.

Where many movies about successful bank robberies deal with a tight knit crew and a sense of honour among thieves, Brian and his seventy-something friends are like a group of bitchy teenage girls – assuring the man in front of them they’re on the level and loyal, then conniving snidely about their duplicity as soon as they’re out of earshot. These men, despite knowing each other for decades, seem only too willing to double cross each other in the face of the haul that turns out to be worth potentially several hundred million – there’s even a barely veiled threat of murder at one point.

But they also have no idea the filth are onto them, several very professional and dedicated detectives looking over video footage, identifying them as suspects, shadowing them to try and hear tidbits of evidence and all the while building their case and closing in.

It’s the third film based on the true life case where four elderly but experienced robbers broke into a Hatton Garden safe deposit vault in 2015, and it’d be interesting to see the other two versions because this one is extremely hit and miss. Maybe that explains the release, the distributor realising they had a dud and dumping it.

First of all it should be acknowledged that none of the problems are with the dialogue or performances. All the elder statesmen of English film and theatre on show here can do this kind of thing standing on their heads, and they still give it all they have. The profane dialogue crackles with energy and occasionally cracks you up as they bicker like men who’ve a) really known each other all their lives and b) really are professional robbers. It’s a particular pleasure seeing Jim Broadbent play a genuine bad guy and exude a sense of violent threat, a type of role we’ve never seen him in before.

The problems seem to be entirely with the structure and editing. Ideas and arcs are presented badly, not resolved properly and a mess while executed. Just one example is that after things go so bad between all these guys, you’d think they’d be slitting each other’s throats the next time they meet, but in the final scene, there they are good-naturedly arguing like all’s suddenly forgotten.

Another is the intimation that all the loot they’ve stolen belongs to dangerous people who’ll be only to happy to commit very dark acts to the men responsible. It seems to set up the mistrust that festers between the guys, their reactions actually fear about what might be coming, but it’s mentioned once and never enters into the plot again.

At times it’s not clear enough what’s going on and how everyone feels about it, so while individual scenes are masterclasses of performance and delivery, the whole thing is a mess that needed a few more passes in the script – maybe just a clearer idea of what kind of movie it wanted to be.

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DVD Reviews

Invisible Hands

The overarching theme of ”Invisible Hands” is one in which nobody is immune from some blame

Drew Turney

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You expect this documentary about child labour to be fairly dry and statistical, maybe delivered with shots of bemused kids staring out of grimy sweatshops or mines as white-skinned people point cameras at them.

But the opening scene seems to be a statement about the tone. An Indian man who runs an activist foundation to find and extract children from abusive labour swoops on a factory, rounding a clutch of children up who seem to be as young as six, the police helping him herd them outside and start to identify them.

A few scenes later, his camera crew are in a car waiting for him to return to them when a mob descends, running after him, tripping him and kicking the shit out of him before he can struggle to his feet and reach the car. There are a lot of vested interests who want child labour to continue and a dimension of violence inherent in the system that’s a lot dirtier and more tactile in the film than just kids denied a childhood.

But “Invisible Hands” is about more than countries with dodgy labour infrastructure far from the eyes of Western consumers (exemplified by the African farmer who employs virtual child slave labour and is so unaware of the reasons against it he barely bats an eyelid about doing it when interviewed). For one thing it makes you complicit, because you’ll look at every iPhone, piece of fruit or item of jewellery you buy from now on and wonder who suffered so you could get it so cheap.

Second, it’s separated roughly into chapters that investigate certain countries. After India you expect the film to move to China, Bangladesh or The Congo, but you certainly don’t expect the next title card to read ‘The United States’, where the filmmakers then talk to several teenagers (almost all of them minorities, tellingly) who talk about the depravation, abuse, abysmal conditions and overwork they face working on farms across America.

Subsequent sections do move onto other parts of the world like the coltan mines of the DRC, and it proves just how little you know about the topic when China – of all places – gets a much better report card than you imagine, the burgeoning economy and increased scrutiny by intergoverment organisations and NGOs making a real difference. Ironically the group the section about China focuses on are college-age students told they’ll get valuable work experience over their summer break before they’re press ganged into repetitive and soul-crushing manufacturing work they have to stay at to get passing scores.

But the overarching theme of ”Invisible Hands” is one in which nobody is immune from some blame. As long as we demand ultra-cheap consumer goods, the multinational conglomerates who provide them will cut any corners they can, and the structure of the big business world lets them effectively shield themselves from any involvement.

The layers of supply chain obfuscation between your box of chocolates and a five year old kid down in a hole full of filthy water somewhere in Africa let them (and us) turn a completely blind eye until someone throws an ugly scene on their doorstep – leaving some expensive PR to try to explain it away with boilerplate and bullshit about internal investigations, like some Nestlé flack does at one point.

If you have any kind of social conscience you’ll know the politics/finance behind the topic already, but like Wikileaks or Ed Snowden did, it puts concrete and vivid examples in front of you that you can’t ignore, and you’ll be surprised how affected and angry it makes you that this goes on.

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