A Star Is Born
As if the world needed another A Star Is Born. Bradley Cooper’s fourth version of the film classic (the others were released in 1937, 1954 and 1976) goes for the gusto, but falls short on a number of counts. Cooper co-stars as rocker Jack Maine, who has a deep growl, solid guitar licks and a penchant for booze and pills. He meets Ally Campana (Lady Gaga) in a bar and next thing she’s singing with him on stage and they’re getting married. But Jack’s a mess and as Ally gets her own record deal, he goes into a complete tailspin. Musically, the film's a mixed bag. While Jack’s tunes (written by Cooper, Jason Aldean and Willie Nelson’s son Lukas) are country-rock solid, Ally’s pop transformation arguably drives Jack mad. Sadly, there’s not an “Evergreen” in the bunch.
Queen gets the full biopic treatment in Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The focus is band singer and icon Freddie Mercury (a thoroughly committed Rami Malek) whose flamboyant lifestyle led to his AIDS-related death in 1991. Along the way, Queen pretty much did it all: topped the charts, toured the world and headlined Live Aid in 1985 at London’s Wembley Stadium, which opens and closes the film. Band squabbles and relationship issues – Freddie married Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) before discovering his bisexuality – punctuate the story, but it’s the song evolutions and the group’s mesmerizing live performances that ultimately stand out. In theaters
Some vanity projects should never be made and Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux is one of them. Natalie Portman plays Celeste Montgomery, who survives a school shooting and becomes a sudden pop star. Once Portman takes over the role from a thoroughly convincing Raffey Cassidy, the movie heads south. Now 31, Celeste has become a jaded diva who’s clueless about the world around her. Clichés abound in this high-minded effort that includes pretentious narration by Willem Dafoe.
Neil Young and Daryl Hannah got married this year and also made a movie. Hannah directs and Young and his band, Promise of the Real, do some acting but mostly play music in Paradox. Set on a Wyoming ranch where beans are served around the campfire and wild animals graze in the nearby woods, it’s bucolic with a touch of mystery. Young (a.k.a. “The Man in the Black Hat") doesn’t say much. He sits in the front yard strumming his guitar and occasionally blurting out messages like "sow the seeds.” The highlights are a lengthy “Southern Man," Lukas and Micah Nelson (Willie’s sons) playing cards and jamming, a cameo by Willie Nelson as a gunslinger and the spectacular natural landscape captured by Hannah.