Sunday, December 2, 2018

Stick to the Script

This is a tale of two movies.

Despite zero interest on my part, two of my favorite people wanted to spend perfectly good money to see "A Star is Born" Friday night. Putting love and friendship ahead of losing two hours and fifteen minutes of my life that I could never get back, I went.

And I didn't even get popcorn, because I'd just scarfed one of Giustino's Bianca pizzas, so I didn't even have butter to console me.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Mac and Mr. Wright were counting on the film to prove wrong my Negative Nancy prognostications about a remake of a remake of a 1937 movie. And while I've never seen the original, I have seen versions one and two and had no real need for a 21st century version.

As for why, I've got reasons. Of course I do.

I'd only seen Bradley Cooper in one movie ("Burnt") and while he was attractive enough, nothing about his acting said I needed to see him in another. Something about seeing a former alcoholic play an alcoholic was distasteful to me. And while I can appreciate a first time director as much as anyone, I think it takes a lot of hubris for someone to wear both the hats of first time director and leading man.

If that wasn't sufficient, I was equally unimpressed with the choice of Lady Gaga as his costar and not just because I haven't heard any of her songs. Both versions two and three of "A Star is Born" benefited from casting a double threat - actress/singers Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand - so what on earth made Cooper think that casting a singer who hadn't acted made sense?

But despite all my reservations, I went along for one simple reason. If I saw it and hated it, I'd have full justification for trash-talking it, whereas if not, my opinion was based solely on what I'd read and a gut feeling.

Ding, ding, ding, I have my justification in spades.

Plus now I can also speak to other weaknesses: characters with no chemistry, a film that checked the millennial buttons without actually aiding the story, a weak screenplay and some bad directorial calls. Somebody needed to call "Cut!" on some of Bradley's scenes and clearly he wasn't going to do it.

And while the people in the row next to us were sniffing and sobbing by the end, knowing the story and its tragic conclusion meant I didn't have to worry about that.

Best of all, Mr. Wright and Mac didn't hold back once we exited the theater, neither one too proud to admit that it was a disappointment. Mac did allow that she could look at Bradley's bare chest all night long and that Gaga had done a fine job with singing, but not much more.

Except for the hours of my life lost, it was the best possible outcome I could have hoped for.

Now, tonight, that was a whole different ball of wax.

Back in September, I'd bought a ticket for the Afrikana Film Festival's screening of "Sorry to Bother You," but then the threat of Hurricane Florence had canceled the festival. By the time it got rescheduled for this weekend, tickets had sold out, so I went solo to the Grace Street Theater.

Which didn't mean I didn't run into plenty of familiar faces - the retired VMFA pro, the DJ spinning records, the former gallerist, the diversity specialist, a former Floyd Avenue neighbor - as well as being introduced to the couple next to me, film buffs who knew nothing of the VCU Cinemateque series (though I made sure they do now).

Musician and activist-turned first time director Boots Riley came out to introduce his comedy/fantasy/sci-fi film "Sorry To Bother You," a film about the dangers of capitalist exploitation that I'd missed when it played in local theaters. Lauded by critics for its ambition, scathing humor and originality, it nailed the crazy times we live in.

"If you had told me back then that it would take seven years to make this film, it wouldn't have gotten made," he announced from the stage. He also shared that all the actors, including Danny Glover and Armie Hammer, as well as Patton Oswald and David Cross in voice roles, worked for scale because they believed in the project.

Also, P.S. Bradley, Boots wasn't foolish enough to star in the film he was directing.

Interestingly enough, the black comedy had originally had a line about "making America great again," a line he'd had to edit out once the Groper-in-Chief hijacked our country and made it his motto. So while the dystopian tale was written before he began dismantling the country, its ferocious satire felt pulled from the pages of the Washington Post I'd brought to read before the film began.

The story of a lowly black telemarketer in Oakland whose life changes when he's advised by a more seasoned employee to use his "white voice" on the phone, it was one of those films where you had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. It would have been tough to foresee a plot line about a company that offered people lifetime labor contracts in exchange for room, board and medical care.

Oh, wait, didn't we used to call that slavery?

When the movie ended jarringly, the audience gasped and groaned in surprise, only to be fooled because there was an addendum that changed everything at the very last second. It was impossible not be impressed with how many difficult subjects Boots had tackled in his first film or how thoughtfully he answered questions during the Q & A period with the audience.

All I can say is, kudos to Afrikana Film festival for gathering a full house of black, white and brown people to watch a film that allowed us look at the state of race in our country while laughing at its absurdity.

If you'd told me that I'd swing from soul-crushing mediocrity to trail-blazing capitalistic commentary on film in 24 hours, I might have asked to skip the former.

But where's the satisfaction in that?

No comments:

Post a Comment