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Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’ Is a Masterpiece

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Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’ Is a Masterpiece
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro. Jason McDonald/Netflix

Maestro is the movie of the year. Amendment: not to slight the amazing Oppenheimer, make that one of the two best films of the year. But Bradley Cooper’s warts-and-all biopic about volatile conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein has more passion, tenderness and heartbreaking resonance—and it’s a lot more fun.  


MAESTRO ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
Directed by: Bradley Cooper 
Written by: Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer 
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan
Running time: 129 mins.


Cooper, already revered as an actor of extraordinary skill, is fast becoming one of our best contemporary film directors. His recent take on A Star Is Born extracted a career-changing performance from Lady Gaga (not even in the same league with George Cukor’s definitive 1954 version starring Judy Garland, but impressive). Now, he shows massive improvement in every creative department—acting, screenwriting, cinematography, editing, scoring—to create not only the celebration of a great man but a great tribute to filmmaking itself.

Maestro is the closest thing to perfection I’ve seen on the screen in a very long time. Despite the prosthetic nose he designed for himself to look more like Bernstein that raised the hackles of some offended viewers but was publicly approved and applauded by members of Bernstein’s own family, it’s a meticulously calibrated character study that personifies the conflicted traits, mannerisms, triumphs and flaws of a musical genius who conducted his life like the movements in a symphony, paying a supreme price for the privilege—and the loving, long-suffering wife who wrote and signed the check.  

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Admire or admonish the result, but protests are a waste of time. Every ravishing frame is the exclusive vision of Bradley Cooper. It’s his film, and he’s in the catbird seat from start to finish.

Or, I should say, it’s Carey Mulligan’s film, because as Lenny’s patient, devoted wife Felicia, who sacrificed her own acting career to guide, support and honor his fame while coping with the pain and humiliation of his numerous homosexual affairs throughout their tortured marriage and the negative effect they had on her, this thrilling, inventive, brilliant and beautiful actress is endlessly mesmerizing. From the day a dying Bruno Walter surrendered his baton and Lenny became a 25-year-old sensation conducting the New York Philharmonic to the day Felicia died of cancer, she was the primary force throughout his life and career, and with radiant naturalism, Mulligan gives ballast to a great centerpiece. Cooper’s direction and exemplary screenplay, co-authored by Josh Singer, are admirably generous in allowing her performance the space it deserves.

The film leaves no stone unturned and no turn unstoned as it investigates every turbulent chapter in Bernstein’s career. You get the Broadway forays with Betty Comden and Adolph Green that produced Candide, On the Town, and West Side Story.  From every angle, the director moves into Lenny’s skin with blistering ease. Blending himself in bed with the bodies of his male lovers, chain-smoking and talking like a rapid-fire machine gun, conducting with a baton in one hand and a cigarette in the other, lowering his voice and speaking through his nose almost without breathing, and filling the screen with heart-stopping musical sequences from Beethoven to Mahler’s 2nd Symphony to recreating those popular Young People’s Concerts on Omnibus, Mr. Cooper is awesome. Vocally and physically, he literally disappears into the role.

When the elements combine, you get a film as welcome and rare as a perfect Christmas morning. Maestro is a masterpiece.

Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’ Is a Masterpiece

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Movie Reviews

Film review: Ru brings Kim Thúy's beloved novel to achingly beautiful life — Stir

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Film review: Ru brings Kim Thúy's beloved novel to achingly beautiful life — Stir

AUTHOR KIM THÚY’S Governor General’s Award–winning novel Ru gives unique access to the refugee experience, following her family from Vietnam across the ocean to a new life in Canada. But what makes the book, and the extraordinary new movie based on it, so touching is the specific mix of that story with the French-Canadian culture that the family learns to call its own. 

In his new screen adaptation, Canadian director Charles-Olivier Michaud finds the warmth and humour in everything from a stepdance welcome in a community gym to the healing magic of maple taffy made on fresh snow. Or ham decorated with canned pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries. Or a fridge full of donated shepherd pies. 

The story is told nonchronologically, through the eyes of preteen Tinh (a remarkably unaffected Chloé Djandji) and following her family’s harrowing journey from upper-class comfort in Vietnam to the refugees once known as “boat people”, eventually starting over again in Canada. The culture shock is immediate: upon arrival in Quebec, the trip into Granby is by bus, through a blizzard, following a snowplow. In one of Michaud’s poetically surreal moments, a wide-eyed Tinh spots a new bride, crying and drinking champagne, still wearing her long white gown, on the hall floor of the motel the family calls home for many weeks. 

The script (by Thuy working with Michaud and Jacques Davidts)  uses restraint but never glosses over the trauma the parents and their children carry with them into their new lives. Via flashbacks, we see soldiers ransacking the family’s books and belongings, and witness the inhumanity of the dank boat hold. Through assured visual storytelling, Ru lets us in on the experience of forced migration—specifically, the trials, big and small, that “boat people” faced—whether it’s a parent sewing money into shirt hems or a camera slowly panning through a garment factory. In one scene, Tinh’s mother (a steely Chantal Thuy) stares from the ship hull, up a long ladder to the first daylight she’s seen in weeks. It’s a complex mix of despair about what’s behind her and fear of the unknown that awaits at the top of the hatch. Later, she refuses to speak to her daughter and two young sons in anything but French, and drives them to study harder. At the same time, the parents’ sacrifices are moving, the educated father (a quietly dignified Jean Bui) mopping cathedral floors and delivering Chinese food. What’s so poignant is that everyone’s too busy to pay too much attention to the growing pains and trauma that Tinh is quietly navigating herself—at a time when PTSD wasn’t a term yet, and everyone, even children, were expected to tough things out.

To his credit, director Michaud chooses not to tell this story through a lot of dialogue, but rather through imagery and often achingly beautiful visual details. A perfect symbol of all of the cultural upheaval comes with recurring shots of a second-hand toaster, which a kind Quebec sponsor assumes will be a necessity for the Vietnamese family’s breakfasts, but that becomes a chopstick holder abandoned in a corner. 

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‘American Fiction’ movie review: Write stuff from Jeffrey Wright 

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‘American Fiction’ movie review: Write stuff from Jeffrey Wright 

A still from ‘American Fiction’ 

One is almost looking over one’s shoulder to avoid the hyperbole that American Fiction so cleverly and savagely attacks. Based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel, Erasure, Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut is a glorious ride through the earnest silliness of academia and the publishing industry.

American Fiction

Director: Cord Jefferson

Cast: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown

Storyline: A literary author decides to write a trashy book as a joke only to have it turned on him when the world takes the book seriously

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Run time: 117 minutes

Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a literary author whose books, though well reviewed, do not sell. His agent, Arthur (John Ortiz) says publishers reject his latest manuscript for not being ‘black’ enough. After an altercation over race with a student at the Los Angeles college where he teaches, Monk is asked to go on a leave of absence and spend time with his family in Boston.

While attending a literature festival, Monk finds his panel poorly attended though another author, Sintara Golden’s (Issa Rae), is packed. Sintara is the flavour of the season with her novel We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, which is full of the expected argot, teen pregnancies and poverty. Meanwhile, Monk meets his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) a recently divorced doctor, who is left as the primary caregiver for their mother, Agnes (Leslie Uggams) after Monk and his brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown) left home.

Cliff is a plastic surgeon whose wife left him on finding him in bed with another man. Monk begins a relationship with his neighbour Coraline (Erika Alexander), a lawyer, who has read and enjoyed one of Monk’s books. Eventually frustrated with the critics’ and publishers’ efforts to reduce the black experience to a bunch of stereotypes and in urgent need for money to pay for his mother’s care, Monk writes My Pafology, packed with gang wars, drugs and pathetic fathers.

Writing under the ridiculous pseudonym of Stagg R. Leigh, Monk is shocked to find his publishers giving him a hefty advance and Hollywood producer Wiley (Adam Brody) offering millions to make a movie based on the book. In an effort to give the “limousine liberals” grit and reality, Monk pretends Leigh is a fugitive from the law. As the book zooms up the bestseller charts, the FBI is after him and Monk has to judge his book for a literary prize.

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A still from ‘American Fiction’ 

A still from ‘American Fiction’ 

Sintara is also on the panel of judges and while the other three judges are all for Leigh winning the prize, Monk is surprised that Sintara finds the book fake and pandering. The climax at the literary award dinner reveals a surprise.

American Fiction is beautifully written and acted, as Wright breathes life into Monk with deft, small touches — his rage, bemusement and tenderness are delightfully understated. The love between the housekeeper, Lorraine, (Myra Lucretia Taylor) and the policeman Maynard (Raymond Anthony Thomas) is a sweet path one can go down as is the fractious yet ultimately warm relationship between the siblings.

Stagg’s characters — Willy the Wonker (Keith David) and Van Go Jenkins (Okieriete Onaodowan) — coming alive is fiendishly clever. The film is filled with these bright touches, including the names and is so reminiscent of the intense discussions in literature class. Indian writing in English went through these labels that literary criticism delighted in from post-colonial to diaspora. Indian movies could also be divided into exotica featuring snake charmers and ruminating cows, the Raj movies, with fainting English roses, and others featuring the oppressed and foul-mouthed gangsters who end up shot to death in bathtubs full of money.

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Up for five Oscars including Best Picture and Actor for Wright, American Fiction proves one does not need to be gloomy to make a point; one can have loads of fun while doing so.

American Fiction is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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‘Dune: Part Two’ review: Love, war, and politics

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‘Dune: Part Two’ review: Love, war, and politics

When David Lynch made his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, it ended up bring a troubled production where the director did not get final cut and tried to encompass the whole source material into one movie. In this age of blockbusters where the narrative is suddenly split into multiple parts, director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve’s decision to split his favorite book from childhood into two parts was the correct choice. While Part One served as an excellent introduction to a distant future where two houses are on the brink of war over the possession of “spice”, Dune: Part Two sets the stage for battle. 

Picking up where Part One left off, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) seek refuge with the Fremen following the destruction of House Atreides at the hands of House Harkonnen. As Paul learns the ways of the Fremen, where he develops romantic feelings towards Chani (Zendaya), some of the people believe in a prophecy of Paul being a messiah that will bring prosperity to Planet Arrakis. In conflict with where his destiny lies, Paul hopes to unite the Fremen people of the desert planet to wage war against House Harkonnen. 

Whereas the predecessor streamlined Herbert’s dense narrative to focus on the rivalry between the two Houses, while giving us teases from the native Fremen people to the intergalactic politics, Dune: Part Two goes bigger on showing what Paul is to the allies and foes he makes along the way. Watching Part One prior to Part Two is essential, and although the new additions to the story bring more density than what came before, the film has a very clear goal and that is the journey of Paul.

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When you look at known sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Avatar, they have a very black-and-white approach to the hero’s journey, specifically how they present the theme of the Chosen One. Upon reading Herbert’s Dune – a book that precedes all those franchises – the author was interested in what it means to be a leader from the challenges Paul confronts and how much great power causes him to lose himself. This is something that Dune: Part Two’s script and Chalamet’s performance captures, with Paul wanting to fight alongside the Fremem who start to see him as the prophet of which he initially rejects, only for outside forces and his own ambiguous visions shift him towards a dark fate. 

While Timothée Chalamet delivers a performance that changes throughout the course of Dune: Part Two, there are two other performers who are as important to the main narrative. One of which is Rebecca Ferguson, who continues to shine as Lady Jessica, who has always been in conflict as both a loving mother and a member of the Bene Gesserit, and her arc here shows a sinister side that encourages Paul as the prophet. The other performer is Zendaya, who serves as the beating heart of the movie as Chani, a warrior who fights for her people and yet her love for Paul complicates things, given her disbelief of the prophecy. 

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As for the new characters, Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan and Christopher Walken as her father, the Padishah Emperor, have limited screen-time, but leave enough of an impression, at least a glimpse into the other worlds beyond the desert landscapes of Arrakis. Anytime to visit Geidi Prime, the home of House Harkonnen, is a cause for celebration in how it relishes in its HR Giger-inspired aesthetics, as well as featuring the film’s most visually striking sequence, which is a gladiatorial match shot in monochrome. It is also here where we are introduced to the psychotic, murderous Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, played by Elvis himself Austin Butler, who goes through the transformation that is freakish but captivating to watch. 

Going back to the titular planet of Arrakis, this is where the action takes place, and considering that its predecessor had some incredible set-pieces, the sequel adds more weapons, more ornithopters and most importantly, more giant sandworms. With Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s sweeping score, the grand spectacle is there for us to awe at, but Villeneuve never loses sight of the characters who might lose their lives during a time of war, even if some of them are riding on sandworms to achieve victory. 

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Like Part One, fans of Herbert’s books may question Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts’s handling of the source material, whether it is certain liberties or the abrupt ending. Considering this film covers the remainder of Herbert’s first book, Villeneuve has expressed interest in making a third film based on Dune Messiah, the second novel in the series. Dune: Part Two certainly leaves things open-ended, which may frustrate some, but should Part Three get made, not only will we see the actual conclusion to Paul’s story, but possibly the end of one of the greatest sci-fi film trilogies in recent years.

dune: part two

‘Dune: Part Two’ review: Love, war, and politics

Dune: Part Two

Bigger and better than its predecessor, Dune: Part Two delivers the spectacle that has to be on the big screen, but never loses sight of its ideas and characters that capture the spirit of Frank Herbert’s source material.

An incredible ensemble, led by the holy trinity of Chalamet, Ferguson and Zendaya.

A compelling story of love, war and politics that deconstructs the traditional hero’s journey.

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Greig Fraser’s cinematography, it stunningly showcases the different aesthetics of the various planets.

Hans Zimmer’s score that is both grand and oddly soothing.

With possible plans of a third instalment, there are story elements that are left open-ended, which may frustrate some.

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