Bad Times at the El Royale

Twentieth Century Fox
I’m not sure how Bad Times at the El Royale snuck up on me. All year long, I read movie bloggers, listen to podcasts and follow Twitter to determine what the buzz-worthy movies are, to make sure they are on my radar. I follow all the buzz coming out of festivals and conventions, and note all the movies with big name stars, directors or writers, to make sure not to miss them. On top of that, I follow Oscar season with breathless anticipation, as trying to guess the movies that will make the ultimate cut is almost more fun than playing the lotto. Sure, there are always movies that come out that I didn’t know about, but they are usually kids movies, horror movies or some other movie that the studios either want to bury or get out there with little fanfare, in order to avoid criticism. It is truly rare that a high-quality adult movie with movie stars gets released and I didn’t know about it. And yet, the first time I had ever heard of Bad Times at the El Royale was when I saw an ad on television for it. And, when I did, I was even more confused. What was this movie that looks like a cross between Tarantino and the Coens? Jeff Bridges is in it? Chris Hemsworth is shirtless in the rain? How did I not know about this movie? Is it a joke? Is it really bad? What is this movie and where did it come from?

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First Man

Universal Pictures / DreamWorks
The love affair between movies and space has been around since, well, the beginning. One of the first movies ever made was Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902), about a group of astronauts who travel to the moon. It seems man has always been fascinated with space flight and the history of cinema has reflected that curiosity, sense of adventure and wonder. Even though space movies have ventured much deeper into the void since 1902, the moon was and will always be our most intimately explored subject, as it is the closest to us, yet still far enough away to seem unreachable by any average person. So close, and, yet…so far.

Even this deep into humanity’s existence, space travel is reserved for the most daring, the most capable and the most dedicated. Only a noted few in history have ventured beyond our atmosphere, which, in the annals of human history, still counts as the rarest achievement. For a little perspective, up until 2010, 3,412 people have climbed Mt. Everest, the greatest achievement on this planet, whereas, as of 2013, only 536 people have ever been to space. And, of those 536, only 12 have ever walked on the face of the moon. Only 12 souls have ever set foot on an interplanetary object other than ours. I can’t imagine a story more made for the movies than that of the first person ever to do so.

So, when I heard that director Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning director of La La Land, my favorite movie of 2016, was making a movie about Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and it starred Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, I was in. I was beyond excited for the possibilities with these artists working together to combine the adventure and beauty of space with the true story of an American legend. Well, the movie, First Man, is now out and I have finally seen it. And, sad to say, I was disappointed. For all it could have been—for all I was expecting and hoping it to be—it ended up being something quite different.

So close, and, yet, so far.

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A Star is Born

Warner Bros.
One of the many things I’ve learned about movies as I’ve gotten older is that, if you wait long enough, everything good will eventually get re-made. Sometimes, even things that weren’t good get re-made. In the case of A Star Is Born, it didn’t just get re-made once, but now, 81 years after the original, 64 after the first re-make and 42 years after the RE-re-make, we are given a fourth version of the same story. Is fourth time the charm? Well, that depends.

Something that is either a detriment or an advantage to me watching Bradley Cooper’s current version of A Star is Born is the fact that I have never seen any of the three previous movie incarnations of William A. Wellman and Robert Carson’s original story about a young singer and the aging, alcoholic rock star who propels her to stardom. The original, from 1937, starred Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. The first re-make, in 1954, starred Judy Garland and James Mason. And then in 1976 came the Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson version. And now, 2018’s A Star is Born stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. If it seems crazy, even in an industry where original thinking is as rare as Halley’s Comet, that the same story would continue to be re-done so many times, it will all make sense when you see it. A Star is Born is a story custom-made for Hollywood, made for the big screen, made for a world where the collision of music and movies is often box office gold. Many pop stars have starred in movies where they played some version of themselves….some worked (The Bodyguard, 8 Mile, The Rose, Purple Rain) and some didn’t (Glitter, Crossroads), but they have always been fascinating. And some pop stars look and feel more at home on the big screen than others. While I’ve never seen Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand’s takes on this character, I can’t imagine any of them inhabiting this story any better or with more bravura than Lady Gaga does. I only wish the rest of the movie could have risen up to meet her.

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