Tag Archives: Sam Elliott

TIFF18: A Star Is Born (2018)

When Angelina Jolie directed herself in By The Sea, they called it a vanity project. When Barbra Streisand starred in a remake of A Star Is Born, they called that a vanity project too. Bradley Cooper directs himself in yet another remake of A Star Is Born, and: crickets. Nobody says toot about no vanity project. And it’s not that I begrudge him this project at all; we all choose to do things that will show us in the best light. We just need to be more careful about the language we use when women do the same thing that men have always done.

Have you seen any or all of the previous remakes? This one is really well-done in a lot of ways. Bradley Cooper plays Jack, the established rockstar who can’t get through a show, or life, sober. But one night, in search of his next gin & tonic, he sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform in a drag show and he’s a goner. Ally’s been unable to break into the music business because of her “looks” (ugh) so he gives her her first big break…and then regrets it? Her star shoots up while his pummels down. His hearing loss and his drinking problem and his anger get in the way of his career, but he still finds time to be condescending about Ally’s career trajectory, which he deems less authentic than his own (ugh again). And well, if you haven’t see the previous remakes, I won’t spoil it for you (yet), but: ugh.

Bradley Cooper turns out to be an excellent director who’s hooked up with an excellent cinematographer, Matthew Libatique. And he’s terrific in this. I was particularly astonished in the earlier scenes in which he’s a charming, functional alcoholic. It’s very subtle what he does, and very right – nothing big and sloppy, but there are tell-tale tics suggesting a man who has spent decades drunk. It’s brilliant. And Sam Elliott is fantastic, truly, tearfully terrific. And Dave Chappelle is great for what little he’s in it. And Anthony Ramos manages to stand out amongst all these stars – his face, beaming with pride for his friend, feels so honest. And okay, yes, Lady Gaga is good. Not great, but she doesn’t flub anything up, she’s not wooden, and she’s not even a big distraction. And of course when she’s singing she’s on fire. It’s disingenuous to cast her of course – the biggest thing to happen to pop music since Elvis. It’s insulting to brunettes everywhere (anywhere from 75%-97% of the world’s population) that they just made her hair a little mousy and suddenly the woman whose music cannot be separated from her style, her beauty, her glamourous image, is playing a woman discriminated against on the basis of looks? Let’s take a moment just to remember but a few of the low-key looks she sported to this very movie’s premiere, and ask ourselves again if she was really the best choice for the role.

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And to have her particular hang-up be her nose in this remake, the remake following Barbra Streisand‘s…it’s just rich. Barbra has her own kind of beauty of course, but a much less conventional one. It meant something. Putting Lady Gaga in this role almost makes me feel like they’re laughing at us. And every time they do their “cute” reference to her being ugly, my stomach turns. In fact, this whole idea that a big, rich star could fall for an ugly duckling, could see past her looks and discover talent…it’s quite patronizing. Meanwhile, if my eyes do not deceive me, this imperfect woman has glowing skin and luscious locks and a tight, size-0 figure. And yes he still deigns to look down on her when her career necessitates a makeover. But what does he know of such things? He gets to show up in the same sweat-stained hat every day. The privilege! The privilege to not even recognize that gender divide, to not even have it occur to you. But that brand of career has never been viable for a woman, not in 1937 with the first A Star Is Born, and not in 2018.

[Spoilers ahead]

This movie is ostensibly about how fame is a trap, how Hollywood can eat you up and spit you out, but in the end, it’s still portrayed as the only dream worth having. Ally accuses her father of being a star-fucker but their relationship spontaneously brightens as she gets famous, and she brings him to the Grammys as her date. This is the story Hollywood loves to tell about itself (obviously, they can’t stop remaking it). But the truth is, these ideas are toxic as hell.

Like in all the remakes, when she gets her makeover, her beau is quick to wipe her face clean. We’re so trained to think of this as somehow empowering or worse, romantic, that Bradley Cooper has even admitted to doing the same thing to Lady Gaga in real life. But there’s nothing empowering about a man deciding what your face should look like, and it’s never his place to wipe your face like a child. I was so upset when I heard him repeat this story in the press it made me not want to watch this movie. Lady Gaga’s makeup has never obscured her art – it is her art, or part of it.

I’m not sure how long Cooper and company kicked this movie around  before it eventually made it into production, but it feels like it’s about 20 years late to the conversation. If anything, it’s a death sentence for grizzled old guys like Jack; those who cannot change with the times will be left behind. Of course, I realized right from the opening credits that this movie was never going to get anything right about the music industry. I called it when I spotted the studio behind it: Live Nation Productions. You know, the people who merged with Ticketmaster and forever ruined your actual concert-going experiences? Their service and “convenience” fees add half as much again to ticket prices even though you do all the work yourself, online, and then print out the ticket at home, with your own ink. Since the merger ticket prices have risen 142%, and that’s just for the tickets that scalpers buy up in rigged advanced offerings. In 2018, there isn’t a single venue that Jack could play and not be selling out himself. But the movie of course looks the other way.

Meanwhile, Ally is no cowering Vicki Lester. When the label pushes her, she pushes back. Yes, sometimes she compromises, but she’s paying her dues, she’s happy to be there, and her career is a collaboration in which she has final say.

[Serious spoilers ahead]

Except even in 2018, the man is determined to take that choice away from her.

Ally is ready to sacrifice her career in order to stay home with him, stabilize him. When he realizes this, he kills himself rather than hold her back. Now think about your own loved one deciding that for you – deciding to commit suicide in order to preserve your job. In most fairy tales, we believe in love above all else, but not Hollywood. In Hollywood, fame may be cannibalizing, but career is king. It’s everything. Jack would rather end his own life and break his beloved’s heart rather than risk her tour in Europe. He believes he is saving her from herself. It’s so many flavours of fucked up it made me sick.

I think this movie tried to say something real. It knows that music legends like Jackson Maine are already a thing of the past (is there a single modern-day equivalent?) but even as it pokes holes in the cloudy mythology, it can’t help but place value in his “integrity.” But even as he positions his own career path as the only legitimate one, his jealousy and fear are activated. He, and this film, and the 3 before it, are fueled by the Hollywood fear that for every new star, an old one is pushed out. He rails against it, but his subconscious has a firm grip – “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die” – and Jackson dies along with them.

There are a lot of good elements to this movie and I get that many of you will enjoy it. I’m just finding that 2018 has left me angry, really angry, and I can’t watch movies without that filter of rage and indignation. Movies are the stories we tell of our time, and I don’t really like what this one is saying.

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The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot

Sam Elliott knows he’s recognized for roles in Tombstone or The Big Lebowski. And he’s instantly recognizable too, from his trademark mustache to his deep, commanding voice. But as anyone who’s hit the film festival circuit lately knows, Elliott has shown a preference for independent film in the later stages of his career, and indie film loves him back. In fact, not that long ago he had a role written especially for him – it suits him like a lustrous patch of facial hair. It’s called The Hero, and you should definitely check it out.

But at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Sam Elliott is playing a different, and more specific kind of hero: he’s playing the man who killed Hitler, and then the Bigfoot. These bigger-than-life events serve to bookend the man’s career. When we meet MV5BNjdkNzYwNjYtZDc3MC00Y2Y2LTgzYTctMjkxYTJkYzY1ODE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk4ODI4ODE@._V1_Calvin, he’s a tired old man, safe in his routine, happiest at the bottom of a bottle. But one night the FBI shows up at his door, with a delicate problem on their hands. It’s the Bigfoot. He’s patient zero for a world-ending virus, and he’s already decimating populations up in Canada. Calvin, with a reputation for excellent tracking and a specific immunity to the disease, is a last resort. If he can’t stop the Bigfoot, the president is going to nuke Canada to keep himself safe.

I realize that the title alone spells out two really big scenes that you can’t wait to watch (Aidan Turner plays a young Calvin), but the truth is, it’s what’s in between that really matters, to us and to Calvin, who downplays his heroism and manages to come across as a normal, if heartbroken, man. But it’s the specific ways in which he’s broken that’s interesting. It’s the pain in his face, the pain in his body, the way he loses focus and we get drawn into another intense flashback, and after being inundated by all these memories, we start to realize what life has been like for Calvin in between bouts of adventure, and it’s not a beautiful life.

First time director Robert D. Krzykowski evokes the headline of an obituary with his splashy title, but the story focuses more on aging than on adventuring. This is the winding down of a big life and the toll such a life has taken on a man who is, after all, just a man. Sam Elliott is perfect casting, and I have to imagine to a first time director, it’s also dream casting. There’s something deeply satisfying and not a little cathartic in Elliott’s stoic, deadpan acceptance of some pretty absurd situations. And Krzykowski, in love with process, and detail, is more prone to showing the little moments than making a big spectacle. So the most shocking thing about a movie involving the plot to kill humanity’s embodiment of evil AND a mythic monster infected with a doomsday virus is that it’s really not shocking at all. It’s a moody, bittersweet little indie film with a lot to say about every day things.

SXSW: The Hero

Writer-director Brett Haley made a great little film called I’ll See You In My Dreams. It starred Blythe Danner as a woman coming to terms with widowhood and a new chapter in her still full life. It was a surprisingly mature film from a young film maker, and it has spawned another one. In I’ll See You In My Dreams, Haley cast Sam Elliott as a love interest for Danner, but it was Haley who fell in love. He so enjoyed the experience of working with Sam and his enchanting mustache that he wrote a movie just for him. That movie is called The Hero.

Sam Elliott plays an actor, a guy who used to be a big western star, back when westerns MV5BNjA3OTI2NDc3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU4NDE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1776,1000_AL_were big. Nowadays he’s lucky to get work schilling BBQ sauce. Bad news about his health forces him to put his life into perspective. So does receiving a ‘lifetime achievement’ award at a time when his lifetime is feeling quite finite. He has a tangled relationship with his daughter (Krysten Ritter) and a complicated, budding relationship with a woman roughly his daughter’s age (Laura Prepon). Just about the only person he can talk to is a former costar\current drug dealer (Nick Offerman) who has a pretty relaxed attitude about everything.

The Hero has a languid pace, reminiscent of Sam Elliott himself. The film is introspective, beautifully shot, contemplative, fulsome. This was a must-watch for me because of a playful, giggly Nick Offerman, and he doesn’t disappoint, but he’s a secondary character, as everyone is, to macho Lee Hayden, cowboy in his golden years, not quite ready to ride off into that sunset.

The good news is this is not just another weepy cancer drama. Despite some flaws and heavy-handedness, if you keep your focus on where the film intends, that is, on Sam himself, you won’t be disappointed. This role is Elliott adulation. It gives him the time and space to savour the spotlight all by himself, to feel its warmth, to get applause. His performance earns it and warrants it all the way. Lee Hayden is not a hero, he only played one in the movies. In his personal life he’s a bit of a failure, but he does get one hero thing right: it’s never too late.