Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blu-Ray Review: 'A Star Is Born'

When I ultimately seize control of the universe, which is, of course, an integral part of my five-year plan, there will be a special section of Hell reserved for Barbra Streisand. There’s a smug sense of superiority about everything she does that rubs me the wrong way, and she’s nowhere near as talented as she gets credit for. Babs can sing, I’ll give her that, I just hate every song she chooses to belt out—with the exception of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” but that’s only due to the involvement of that most fantastic gentleman Neil Diamond. Watching her try to act, however, is physically painful.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, and the true nature of my feelings are out in the open, I tried as mightily as I’m able to give the Blu-ray Book release of “A Star Is Born” a fair shake. I like Kris Kristofferson, I love musicals of all kinds, and despite my distaste for the headliner, I went into this with as open a mind as is possible given the circumstances. That valiant attempt, however, was for naught, because, much like Streisand, I just don’t like this movie.

“A Star Is Born” is a story that has been told and retold since the 1930s. There has even a rumor floating around for a bit that Clint Eastwood wants to remake the film yet again with Beyonce. While it usually revolves around Hollywood, this particular adaptation has been superimposed on the world of 1970s rock and roll, the silver screen traded in for music halls and massive arenas.

Kristofferson is John Norman Howard, a hard partying, egotistical rocker with a wicked self-destructive streak. He’s an archetype, a stock bad boy musician character, a little bit Jim Morrison, with an occasional Alice Cooper twist for good measure, like when his band, Speedway, wears horrifying monster masks on stage. One night, binging as usual, alienating most of the people around him, John Norman finds his way into a small club where he proceeds to interrupt a performance by the Oreos—two African American women, with Esther Hoffman (Streisand) sandwiched in the middle—with loud drunken conversation and a fist fight with Robert Englund (Freddie Kruegar from “A Nightmare on Elm Street”).

Because their names appear across the top of the Blu-ray package, you know the mismatched pair of Esther and John Norman are going to fall in love. At first Esther is shy and nervous, and can’t believe the big rock star would be interested in little old her. But she’s good for him. He can go an entire day without getting wasted, and is able to sleep through the night without the aid of a handful of downers. Sure, he’s not working, which causes some friction with his old buddies, but there are a lot of sweet montages as they build a life together. Things finally erupt as Esther’s career skyrockets and John Norman’s nose dives into the crapper. While he was off falling in love, all of his friends and partners moved on.

At two hours and twenty minutes long, “A Star Is Born” just goes on and on, meandering around and refusing to get to the point. There is so much wasted time as the story unfolds exactly as you expect every step of the way. John Norman’s injurious tendencies are hammered home again and again. Great, he’s riding a motorcycle on stage and firing a handgun at a helicopter and punching a pushy fan. We get it, he has problems. The drama is bland and toothless, you’re never emotionally invested in either of the central characters, the pace is like watching grass grow in the winter, and there is not an ounce of narrative force moving the film along.

Even the musical numbers can’t make “A Star Is Born” interesting. Most of them are slow Streisand ballads that, while showcasing her vocal talents, are boring as shit, and, like the movie, go on far too long. A few of Kristofferson’s numbers are fun, but they’re few, far between, and after a couple of times, you’re sick of hearing him ask you if you’re a figment of his imagination. And for a movie billed as a musical, there’s a woeful scarcity of musical numbers overall.

“A Star Is Born” won a ton of awards in 1976, including an Oscar for best song, and some acting trophies for both Babs and Kristofferson, but I don’t get the allure. You only need to pick up this release if you’re crazy for Streisand. But if that’s your thing, you’re in luck with this Blu-ray book, because she is all over this bad boy. She has three different commentary tracks, talking over the movie itself, adding her opinions to a series of wardrobe tests, as well as on a collection of deleted scenes and alternate takes. Again, this is like fingernails on a chalkboard for me, but people seem to like her.

The soundtrack has been remastered, but the sound quality is uneven and up and down. At times the dialogue is so quiet you can barely hear it, then the background music in the next scene will pummel your eardrums until you beg for mercy. Though slick, the 40-page booklet is primarily taken up by still photos from the film, though there is some background information. It breaks down the history of the film, and talks about how they shot the massive arena shows.

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