Original-Cin welcomes back guest columnists Mark Breslin and Thom Ernst - respectively the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy chain and the former host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies – and their occasional contrarian feature called You’re All Wrong!
MARK: Thom, it’s been a while. I spent my summer wasting away at the pool, but now I’m back at the cinemas, catching up on the movies I’ve missed.
Everyone, critics and audiences alike, seems to love A Star Is Born but I thought it was mostly embarrassing and mawkish. Are those fighting words, Thom?
THOM: I think we can disagree without it ever coming to fistacuffs. I certainly wouldn’t let a movie like A Star is Born bring us to blows even though this Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga version is the one I like best, as mawkish and embarrassing as it might be.
I’ll give you that Cooper overplays the ‘talent is sublime, fame is toxic’ theme, but we’ve seen this movie three times before, so we knew it was coming. It’s been the same sinking ship story, since March met Janet Gaynor, without so much as a title change to mask the similarities. I’m just grateful Lady Gaga didn’t feel the need to appear in Barbra Streisand’s leopard jump-suit.
MARK: Let me tell you why I didn’t like A Star Is Boring. it’s fraudulent from the get-go. In the opening scene, Bradley Cooper is performing a set which is part blues, part rock, part country, part folk, and all hooey. It’s like a nightmare of Baby Boomer radio. And then there’s the phony scene of the lovebirds meeting cute in a drag bar. Somehow, he meets the only straight woman in the entire bar.
He’s smitten from the start, and then a few seconds pass before they’re eating ice cream in bed and she becomes a major sensation. Although I loved the scene where he pisses himself at the Grammys. Now that I found very realistic.
THOM: No doubt. Which begs to question; how will the producers of the next A Star is Born top the debacle and public humiliation of the Grammy scene now that Cooper has set the bar so high?
MARK: It may involve coprophilia, bestiality, or some combination of the two. But back to the movie... I loved the suicide scene, telegraphed earlier in a flashback, although you would think Cooper had gotten heavier since he was a teenager, and the garage door would surely not have supported his weight this time either.
But mostly I liked the scene because it was clear the picture was almost over. Plus, I thought they were supposed to be rich, but the couple lived like a moderately successful dentist in Willowdale.
THOM: Let’s move on to the next film.
Life Itself was not as well received by critics as A Star is Born. And yet, despite a cloyingly contrived beginning that has Samuel Jackson hamming it up as an untrustworthy motherf***er off-screen narrator, I quite liked the film. Get beyond the clever observational narrative that uses characters as stand-ins to express the filmmaker’s passion for all things Natalie Portman and Bob Dylan, and we’re left with a nice little bit of contortionist filmmaking. What say you, Mark?
MARK: My favourite film at TIFF, and I’m not afraid to say it, Thom. There’s an incredible disconnect here between critics and public. 11% of critics gave it a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, but 74% of the public were positive.
Richard Brody at the New Yorker called it “excruciatingly contrived and ill-conceived" but I thought it was exceptionally well-conceived. I did prefer the New York story to the Spanish one, but the film tied up all its subplots and time frames beautifully by the end. Hey, I laughed, I cried, I saw Mandy Patinkin for eight minutes. But then again, I never watched This Is Us.
THOM: Being somewhat versed in the This Is Us series will definitely affect how you respond to Life Itself. It sets up the ‘it-all-ties-together’ brand that is likely to become as much of a signature for director/writer Dan Fogleman’s as the twist ending is for M. Night Shyamalan. And as much of a curse.
Hey, I am with the critics on First Man, the third film from Damien Chazelle and, as far as I’m concern, the third successful film from Damien Chazelle. Trippy, moving, docudrama about Neil Armstrong that downplays the planting of the America flag on the moon's surface choosing to highlight Armstrong's demonstration of love for a lost child instead.
It's this kind of outrageous act against patriotism that pissed off Trump enough for him to bad mouth the film. Another way to 'Neil' before the flag.
MARK: I haven’t seen it yet but I know I will like it because it's directed by Chazelle and is about an astronaut. Although I hear there's a lot of stuff about his personal life that is sadly earthbound.
What I did see and liked very much was Bad Times at the El Royale. Yes, it's a Tarantino rip-off. You could have a drinking game by spotting the references and get pretty drunk.
But I enjoyed the pomo/retro/meta plot devices and the way the movie veered through flashbacks and different points of view to finally come together at the end. It's two and a half hours long, and no epic. But I still had a great time trying to figure out the mysteries of its plot and characters. Not a profound movie, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
Rex Reed called it "depraved, self-indulgent trash" but that's nothing compared to what Reed himself has been called.
THOM: I'm pretty sure Reed would find that funny.