A STAR IS BORN
Here’s a story so Hollywood I’m surprised it’s not remade more often. A struggling actress/singer attracts the eye of a superstar, who goes out of his way to make her a star. In the process, they fall in love. But as her star rises, he fades into obscurity and alcoholism, testing their relationship.
This tragic love story has been remade three times. The first was a classic Hollywood romance starring Janet Gaynor and two-time Oscar winner Fredrick March. The first remake surpasses the original with a dazzling comeback for Judy Garland and an equally powerful performance by James Mason. Can’t say the same for the second remake, which has been dismissed as a bloated vanity project for Barbara Streisand. It did give us the song “Evergreen”. And now Bradley Cooper tries his hand at remaking this story in his directorial debut.
This time the fading star is country singer Jackson Maine (Cooper) and the rising star is Ally (Lady Gaga). The film also has Sam Elliott as Jackson’s mentor Bobby and Dave Chapelle as his best friend Noodles. The casting of a singer in a lead role always raises concerns, especially when that singer has limited acting experience. They either surprise you with great performances like Cher in Moonstruck and Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls or give you a predictably terrible performance like Britney Spears in Crossroads. There was more concern than usual with Lady Gaga, who is known for her over the top costume designs and extravagant. Sure, she won a Golden Globe for playing the Countess in American Horror Story, but some have found her performance lackluster. Now we see her discard her over the top look to look as ordinary as possible. On top of that, a story like this face the danger of being sappy.
Judging by the response at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film has no worries. This film is already garnering major praise. There’s even Oscar buzz.
THE HAPPY PRINCE
Rupert Everett seems to have a connection with Oscar Wilde. When his career was in his high point, he starred in film versions of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest and An Ideal Husband. His dry delivery and classy demeanor seem to fit perfectly in Wilde’s world. Now he’s channels the man himself in The Happy Prince, Everett’s directorial debut.
Wilde (Everett) is a well-respected member of the English community, being highly regarded for his writing. That is until his homosexuality is revealed. And so, begins the tragic demise of a talented artist in a world that criminalizes people for the crime of love.
It seems Everett’s determined to embody this legend. First, there’s the mind-blowing makeup to make him look like Wilde.
OVER THE LIMIT
Taking place between the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games, this documentary follows the training and struggles of rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamum as she endures the strict training of Irina Viner. Through the year, we see her compete with her best friend Yana Kudryavtseva.
I can’t say much about this. I always have an interest in watching artists and athletes push themselves to greatness. In the best documentary, we grow to understand the passion and drive that gets them going.
It’s surprising it took this long to make a film about Neil Armstrong. There was the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, but it was surprising there was no major film centering on the first man to set foot on earth. There was a film about American’s space race (The Right Stuff), Apollo 13’s fight for survival (Apollo 13) and even a film about a group of black women whose mathematical skills help get John Glenn into space (Hidden Figures). But it seems Hollywood was hesitant to depict the most iconic moment in American History. I’m guessing they are afraid of not living up to the level of the moment. Well, Damien Chazelle steps up to the plate to bring Armstrong’s life story to life.
Ryan Gosling steps into the shows of the man himself as we follow him on his journey alongside Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) to the moon. The triumph of the mission may leave many to forget the struggles and uncertainty faced along the way. The film seems determined to showcase the intricate steps taken to prevent failure with this mission. Chazelle also takes us into his family life, where he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) confront the fear that Neil might never return.
This film couldn’t be more different than his previous anti-musical La La Land. He does away with any form of stylization in favour of realism, even using aged cinematography to make the film look older. This film also serves as Chazelle’s first time directing a script not written by him. That honour goes to Josh Singer, who demonstrates a knack for political biopics via The Post and the Oscar Winning Spotlight.
Beautiful Boy retells Nic Sheff’s (Timothee Chalamet) real life struggles with crystal meth addiction and his father David’s (Steve Carell)’s near obsessive yet near helpless determination to save him.
The film draws inspiration from Nic Sheff’s book Tweak and David Shelf’s Beautiful Boy. I myself have read the later book and it hooked me from start to finish. Applying his journalist skills, David conveys the helplessness a parent feels when they watch their child fall so hard, especially when he relapses. In a few moments, David found himself questioning if need to save his son was an addiction too. I’m hoping the film captures that conflicted feelings within the father. I certainly have high hopes for the main actors, who have already proven themselves phenomenal in dramatic performances.
For four decades, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has prepared herself for Michael Myer’s return. Meanwhile, Michael has remained catatonic at a mental institution. Of course, you know he’s going to eventually to escape and return to Haddonfield for a killing spree. This time, Laurie’s armed to the teeth, ready to blow Michael away.
This is quite an unusual premise. Here we a sequel to Halloween that ignores all the other sequels and calls itself Halloween despite being a sequel. Plus, Horror sequels are met with great hesitation. Sure, you get a few great ones (Evil Dead 2), but for the most part, they fail to live up to the original. A sequel made decades later face a lower chance of success (with rare exceptions like Mad Max: Fury Road).
And yet, this film seems to have a lot going for it. First, it’s written by David Gordon Green (director of The Pineapple Express) and Danny McBride (co-creator of Eastbound and Down). Not only are they successful in their respective fields, but they clearly love the Halloween franchise. Sure, loving a film doesn’t guarantee a great sequel (as proven by Rob Zombie’s Halloween films). The filmmaker needs to understand why the film worked in the first place. John Carpenter didn’t really on gore or jump scares (notice you see very little blood in the original Halloween). He relied on suspense and presence to scare the audience.
Judging by the trailers, Gordon Green seems to understand this, as show in one creepy one shot take of Michael stalking through a neighbourhood. There is a bit of gore (including a scene of him dropping teeth in a bathroom stall), but the focus seems more on tension.
And it seems to have worked. This film is already garnering critical acclaim and is sure to be a box office hit.
THE HATE U GIVE
Based on the best-selling novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give tells the resonant tale of a black teenage girl’s journey to activism after the murder of her brother.
Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg) is a young woman living between two worlds. In her personal life, she’s growing up with her family in Garden Heights, where her father Maverick runs a convenience store. Poverty reigns supreme in this neighbourhood alongside the King Lords, a local gang. And yet, there is a strong sense of community in this area, with the Carters having a close relationship with each other.
But her school life is a different manner. For the sake of her future, Star’s parents send her to a predominantly white private school Williamson Prep. Once there, she keeps her personal life private from her friends Hailey Grand and Maya Yang and her boyfriend Chris. So far, she’s found a perfect balance.
But that all changes one night when she and her best friend Khalil are pulled over by a cop. While checking up on Starr, Khalil is shot and killed by the cop. The murder becomes a media sensation. Meanwhile, Starr tries to keep herself out of the spotlight. But that proves harder than ever. First, her secrets drive a wedge between her and her friends and boyfriend. She also finds a similar rift between her family and her favourite uncle Carlos, a detective. As the media smears
Many Tupac fans will recognize the title as a reference to his abbreviation of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Enfants Fucks Everyone). In a way, this serves as the theme of the film. Throughout the film, we see the variety of hate given to Khalil, Starr and his siblings. First, it takes the form of the bigoted paranoia of the cop too quick to reach for a gun. Then the hate takes the form of the media, who dismisses Khalil as a drug dealer and a thug. There’s also hate in Garden Heights coming from drug kingpin The King (Anthony Mackie), intimidating locals and recruiting children in dealing. Another receiving hate is Starr’s half-brother Seven, who resents his mother for ignoring in favour of The King and his drugs.
With the book being a major critical and commercial success, the film can’t afford to fail. I’m hoping it captures the extraordinary strain Starr feels form the difficult decisions she’s forced to face and the strength she finds within herself.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Based on a true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me tells the story of Lee Israel, a struggling author who was arrested for forging letters of dead celebrities.
Lee (Melissa McCarthy) is going through tough times in 1991. Once a respected author of biographies, a failed book sent her down a drunken spiral. In Desperation, she starts forging letters of dead celebrities and selling them to book stores. With the help of fellow booze hound Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Lee finds success with her scam. Of course, she’s eventually caught and arrested.
It’s interesting to see McCarthy take on a dramatic role after her recent streak of raunchy comedies. Yes, she was in dramatic roles in films like Life of David Gale and White Oleander, but no one really remembers those films. This one has more media attention than those two. To add to the challenge, she’s playing an unlikable character; a drunken, bitter has-been who scams small business owners. But I think she can make the character empathetic. Plus, you can kind of understand how her circumstances led to her criminal activities.
WHAT THEY HAD
Bridget (Hilary Swank) is forced to return to her hometown when her mother Ruth (Blythe Danner) is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Lately, she’s been walking in the freezing cold, trying to go “home.” After years apart, the family is forced to confront their problems. Her brother Nick (Michael Shannon) was forced to deal with a lot of grief assisting his family while owning a bar. Their father Burt (Robert Forster) fears letting go of the life he’s built with Ruth.
This film is the directorial debut of playwright Elizabeth Chomko. Judging by this film, she seems to have a knack for family dramas. So far, this seems like a compelling drama, with great actors in the lead.
This film is a remake of the classic Italian horror film about a young American ballet dancer who doesn’t realize the Berlin dance academy she’s attending is led by witches. This time the dancer is Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson). While training under the wing of instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), dancers begin to meet mysterious fates. Meanwhile, grieving therapist Dr. Jozef Klemperer (Also Swinton in a gender-bending performance) is determined to discover the hidden secrets of the academy. Also starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
The idea of a horror remake is almost always met with great skepticism. It almost always comes off as a pure cash grab, especially in recent years. There’re always exceptions, leading to modern horror masterpieces like John Carpenter’s the Thing and David Cronenberg’s the Fly. Of course, the main reason is that they were both directed by visionary horror directors at the top of their game. Fortunately, this remake will be sharing this category, with Luca Guadagnino directing. With the world paying attention after his best picture nominee Call Me by Your Name, it’s interesting to see him take a direction into horror. He seems to maintain the sense of visual demonstrated in his previous films, with many beautiful looking shots of the dance academy and dancing routines. He also seems to be more restrained in his horror than the previous version. The previous film was a beautiful sight to behold, with many colour set pieces, exaggerated lighting and gory death scenes. Can Guadagnino match Argento’s masterpiece? The signs lean to yes.
 It’s one of those moments when the behind the scenes drama is more interesting than the actual movie.
 Ironically with IMAX Cameras.