Far From Shallow: The Enduring Power of a Star is Born

*so many spoiler alerts*

Five days on and I remain under the spell of A Star is Born. First of I must unequivocally state that this is not a movie review. Not only I am far from equipped to comment on any fancy film-making concept relating to camerawork or staging, but my last movie “review” basically amounted to “you either love it or hate it”, which i’m sure you’ll agree is groundbreaking stuff. This is simply the expression of a feeling; a sense that this was something very special and the lingering impact it has had.

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In life, it is rare to come across something that not only manages to capture us in a moment but stays with us once a moment passes. Visions of Cooper making goo goo eyes at Gaga etched in my brain; impromptu outbursts of “We’re far from the shallow now”; that feeling of mourning for Jack. This movie has stuck; to the extent that I have found myself nerding out to promotional interviews and critical reviews ever since. Moreover, it has actually driven me to write.

The story is tried and tested. Literally, as it serves as the fourth rendition of A Star is Born. To summarise: Boy meets girl. Boy serenades girl. Girl serenades boy. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy is on his way down. Girl is on her way up. Familiar as it may be, there was something so inherently raw and real about this. The backdrop may have been the stardom of two gorgeously talented human beings but there was little glamour about it.

The music is of course largely contributory to the hype that surrounds the movie. Before the tragedy of the story crushes your heart into microscopic pieces, the music will have you using your sleeve as a tissue. When Ally (Gaga) sets foot on that stage for the first time and Jackson (Cooper) looks on lovingly with his big Arizona eyes as she belts out “I’m off the deep end watch as I dive in”, you’re gone. Caput.

Particularly for me who loves a crooner and has very little interest in the current pop landscape, the music was a breath of fresh air. Between Jackson considering “Maybe it’s Time” to concluding he’s “Out of Time”, this rock and roll served as a welcome interlude. We can kind of understand why Jackson gets so pissed at Ally for singing that awful song about some guy coming around “with an ass like that.”

Within what appears to be a conventional love story, are themes that extend far beyond a whirlwind romance, some of which have more personal resonance than others. Jackson, a long suffering alcoholic, reveals glimpses of the trauma he endured as a child, setting the scene for the movie’s tragic ending. Ally demonstrates complete devotion throughout and is willing to sacrifice her own career in order to support her husband. In the end, Jackson takes his own life to avoid ruining hers and thus A Star is Born.

What might be even more remarkable than a drunk man remembering the lyrics to a song he’s heard only once, is the talent that oozes from these two individuals. As if Bradley Cooper didn’t seem perfect enough with his flowing sandy locks and ability to embody any character on screen, he now can sing flawlessly and direct, no doubt, an oscar winning movie. Similarly Gaga who we knew could write killer songs and perform like a goddess, can now also act and looks like perfection beneath her facade of stage makeup. It really puts into perspective my inability to whistle or follow the routine of a simple step class.

While much of the movie appears bound in tragedy, there is so much positivity to be derived from it. Talent is at its best when unfiltered; having a voice is power; being true to oneself is paramount; love extends far beyond our flaws.

In truth, had I of known the outcome of this film, I doubt I would have gone to see it. I tend to avoid anything that might cause me to feel too much which this did in bucket loads.  But I am glad I did. I’m glad I watched Ally sing that french song in the drag bar. I’m glad I watched Jackson peel off her makeshift eyebrows. I’m glad I watched their love blossom and come to its untimely end. I’m glad I watched A Star is Born.

So there you have it. A non review of a movie which I have just reviewed.

5 out of 5 stars.

 

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The Nightmare Before Christmas: Where Halloween Meets Christmas

“Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams; For the story that you are about to be told took place in the holiday worlds of old.

Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.”

The question “Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas film?” is probably old hat by now, but as that time of year draws near, I can’t help but continue to wonder when the most appropriate time is to indulge in this annual right of passage.  Even if we asked Burton himself, I doubt we’d come to any kind of unanimous understanding.  It is, I believe, entirely subjective.  If you’ve never seen the film before (shame on you), this piece of narrative will be as useful to you as a pumpkin on Christmas day. It is the quintessential example of “love it or hate it”.  In fact, I will go as far as to forbid you to watch this timeless tale and feel nothing. 

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Twenty one years on and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has lost none of it inherent charm.   One of the few popularised stop-motion pictures of our time, the animation automatically gains “classic” film status.  This aspect of the film, while truly captivating, is purely superficial.  What makes the movie a masterpiece is undoubtedly the singular story at the heart of it.  It is here where you’d imagine we might be able to ascertain the true categorisation of the film:

Enter Jack Skellington, the protagonist and King of Halloween Town.  Adored by his loyal subjects, he struggles to understand why he is unfulfilled.  It seems there’s a hollowness that transcends even beyond his physical pumpkin form. This might best be illustrated by his annual attempt to reinvent himself, which provides the memorable opening to the film.  Unhappy with his latest transformation, we follow Jack to the outskirts of Halloween Town.  As he casually laments in the company of his sidekick Zero (some kind of Ghost dog with a coincidentally bright red nose), he inadvertently stumbles into another seasonal dimension: Christmas Town.  Inspired by curiosity and his own personal crisis, he endeavors to make Christmas his own and bring it to Halloween Town.  With every best intention, the diabolical plan is doomed from the start.  The sleigh is a coffin led by a crew of skeleton reindeer; the presents are wrapped in what only can be assumed to be Beetlejuice’s wallpaper; and the stockings are filled with surprises designed to either scare or ensnare the children of Christmas Town. 

While the story largely takes place in Halloween Town, a grim setting consumed by distinct images of darkness and horror, and the majority of characters in our acquaintance are ghosts and ghouls, the underlying message is warm and fuzzy as opposed to being in any way chilling or bleak, thus laying the foundation of an interesting paradox.

In the end, both Christmas and Halloween triumph.  Santa Claus makes amends for Jack’s disastrous efforts and secures a Merry Christmas for his people, while the message of Halloween prevails as Jack finally comes to terms with his true calling as Pumpkin King.  The final scene depicts this perfectly as we watch the snow fall for the first time on Halloween town and a medley of  “This is Halloween” and “What’s This?”, the two most polarising songs of the film, plays.  It is perhaps in this ambiguity that the real splendour lies.  The film has the ability to cross boundaries and appeal to everyone – or at least almost everyone.  Halloween holiday makers and christmas fans alike can indulge in their seasonal preferences and equally fantasize about concepts of Christmas everyday and a perpetual Halloween.

After having just watched it, I feel suitably excited for both occasions and it seems this wasn’t too far off Burton’s intention.  The 1982 poem on which the film was based was reportedly inspired by the director having witnessed a store replace their Halloween display with a Christmas one, signifying that once Halloween is complete, we’re already in pursuit of the next “thrill”.  His Nightmare Before Christmas grants us rare permission to appreciate and anticipate both events simultaneously and with equal excitement.  Burton becomes both our Bogeyman and Santa Claus all wrapped in one.

So, if you’re feeling particularly Halloweenie, I suggest you turn out the lights and treat yourself to the horrors of Halloween Town and it’s inhabitants.  The eerie scenery and macabre characters truly put the “eek” in freak.   Alternatively, if you’re on the home straight to Christmas, curl up by the fire and indulge in the festive undertones of this delightful feature.  The scene in Christmas Town alone will warm the cockles of even the hardest of hearts (just wait until you hear that snow crunch). Or if like Jack, you need an excuse to occasionally escape to another land, do what I do and watch it all year round.

A Generation of Lost Boys – A Robin Williams Tribute

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I write this post in light of the recent passing of Robin Williams. I daren’t delve into questions of suicide and depression – i’ll leave that to the “professionals”.  I think instead what I will do, by way of tribute, is consider, not specifically the works of Robin Williams, but rather the genre, which to me at least, he embodied.  My intention is certainly not to pigeon hole his talent into this one category.  I am well aware of his vast capabilities and how well rounded an actor he was. To me though, Robin Williams is, and always will be, Mrs.Doubtfire… Peter Pan… Jack. 

We #90skids have a way of sensationalising the nineties.  Weren’t our movies and cartoons – even our toys – just the best? It is not for me to decide whether the nineties trumps the noughties or whether kids today really do have no idea what they’re missing.  At the end of the day, it’s subjective.  There was, however, something undeniably wholesome about this period in time.  Games, for one, generally involved more than one person and occasionally dared us to venture outside; sitcoms focused on the values of family life; and movies offered us a healthy alternative to reality.

Before horror got truly horrifying, before Pixar pixelated our screens, there was a delightful spell of what might best be described as “family films”.  Not animation but live action, fun for the whole family films. Honey! I Shrunk the Kids, The Mighty Ducks, Home Alone… I could go on forever baby (see what I did there?). There is something so quintessentially nineties about these films that it becomes difficult to even imagine them in today’s world.  Have we just outgrown them? Are their adventures not quite adventurous enough for the modern audience? Perhaps they are to the nineties what Westerns were to the sixties.   A time in space that we can appreciate and look fondly upon but will, most likely never, be revived… which, I guess, is fine. We have the DVDs and the memories.

It is these memories which, I believe, contribute such a huge part to our feeling of loss and grief over Williams’ death. People often ask how we can mourn over people we never knew, or why someone’s death is of more significance because they were “famous”. I would argue that we did know Williams. Perhaps not in a conventional sense but nonetheless in a very real way. To any kid who grew up watching this funny, rather hairy, man play an overgrown child, a nanny, a genie, Robin Williams encompassed a world filled with possibility.  He taught us many important lessons: that dude can sometimes look like a lady, that green goo is not a toy, and that under NO circumstances are we to play mysterious board games that appear to be playing the drums. Most importantly, he taught us that it’s ok to be silly. I think this is maybe why we’ll miss him so much. To many of us, he was much more than an actor; to a generation he represents a time in our lives when we felt truly happy.

To paraphrase Tinkerbell:

“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where (we’ll) always love you, (Robin Williams).”