Movie Review: A Star Is Born (2018)

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Summary: A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.
Pros:
Cast and Characters. We meet a few people along the way in the film, but I’ll stick to the two main people, though I want to give Anthony Ramos a shout out because I always get excited when I see people from Hamilton in other things.
  • Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine. He is an established singer-songwriter, not sure how long he’s been in the business but it’s clear he’s been doing it a long time to the point where he’s jaded and of course an alcoholic. He stumbles into the first bar he sees one night (well his driver dropped him off) and he gets to see Ally perform a song in French and he is immediately taken. He becomes a mentor for her and later the love interest. Jackson has a lot of issues, daddy issues, self-issues and all the other issues but he does care about Ally and really does try to do right by her, especially at the beginning. I give him credit for that. I don’t think he’s unlikable, but I can see why someone might not like him, I just thought he was sad and kind of a tragic figure. Bradley Cooper did a really good job with him. He surprises me when he’s playing a serious role, I don’t know why lol, but anyway, he did well with keeping Jackson right at the corner of “I like him, he’s sad” or “Wow, this guy is a dick” which works for his character. Great expression in his eyes. *sighs* His eyes. Beautiful. I really thought he shone in the second half.
  • Lady Gaga as Ally. She is a waitress who sings in a Drag Queen nightclub. She is a singer-songwriter who is pretty much amazing at what she does. Ally performs a song in French “La Vie en Rose” I think and pretty much has Jackson by his heartstrings when she lays on the bar counter and looks at him (I never realized how big and green her eyes are… eyes are kind of a big thing in the movie as Bradley Cooper as the director, kept a lot of the shots close in on the actor’s faces so we get to see their eyes quite a bit in the film). She loves to sing and write songs but is a bit discouraged after she was told she had a beautiful voice but her nose was too big, so when Jackson believes people would want to hear her, needed to hear her, she’s against it at first but once she gets out there, it becomes something she craves plus she’s great at it. Ally is sweet, and she understands how to handle Jackson, but she does get a little lost in the industry later. I thought Lady Gaga was good, this is the first time I’ve seen her act and I thought she was the highlight of the film, the star and I liked that Bradley Cooper gave her top billing. All the emotional stuff she handled well, and I was impressed.
The Music. The highlight of the movie is the music, how it’s used and the connection that people have through the music. First, the singing is fantastic, Lady Gaga can SING. We knew this, but this movie really allows her to showcase her singing chops and whenever she did sing, especially in the beginning of the movie, I got chills. Honest. Bradley Cooper also surprisingly can sing as well. I guess his character sings country or something along those lines which I thought he did well and when they sang together, obviously she overpowered him, but he held his own. As for the songs themselves, the only one I really remember is the “Shallow” one because it’s catchy and I feel like it’ll be nominated for “Best Original Song” which is cool but I think they used those songs as ways to connect moments in the movie, or connect characters, it wasn’t just characters singing songs (until ya know, the generic pop songs later). Definitely the highlight.
The First Half. I prefer the first half. It’s much stronger and better paced than the second half. I really wondered for a while if it was because the first half was lighter than the second and I decided that’s not the reason, I just think the story flowed better in the first half, the characters were more interesting and the story had the chance to go in an original direction but didn’t so first half is definitely stronger. Plus, all of the stuff with his brother, they had a great moment (No idea what they said half the time lol, but it was an emotional moment).
Chemistry. Like I said previously, I think the first half is stronger than the second half. I thought that Gaga and Cooper had amazing chemistry. The first moment he saw her singing in that Drag Club and she looked over at him, it was like “whoa” and I was on board for what I was sure going to be an interesting relationship and indeedy it was. I really liked how they seemed to understand each other on a different level. They have a conversation outside of a mini-mart and he’s telling her a bit of his story and she just makes up a song verse for him. Throughout the movie, we see a lot of moments between them, I mean crazy stuff ensues, but she knows how to handle him and it’s very clear they love each other. While the second half dragged on for me, I thought the two of them really held it together as a couple going through something interesting.
Cons:
Predictable/Cliché. I called this movie from the beginning. I’ve never seen any of the other incarnations of the movie so I’m solely going off this and, the movie and story is very predictable and cliché. Jackson Maine is the established singer-songwriter who has a sad past, and who struggles with vices such as drugs and alcohol, he has a heart of gold but can’t seem to get out of his own way. Yep. He discovers a hopeful artist who wants to be a singer but thinks she can’t because of her appearance, he believes in her, she sings with him and then she becomes a star because a industry person is interested and she loses her sound blah blah blah, I called all of that and I was a bit upset when I was right. I may not have seen the other movies, but I have seen this movie so many times that I was hoping for a bit of originality and it seemed to start off that way in the first half but then it fell into the usual in the second half.
Second Half. Dragged on way too long. I started getting antsy. That hardly ever happens to me, long movies don’t bother me at all but the second was much weaker and I felt like I was watching a movie unfold that I’d already seen before. I got a bit irritated with that and I didn’t think the characters were as interesting as they were before, almost like the development we were getting in the beginning didn’t come full circle. I think the biggest thing is that Bradley Cooper does well in the second half, almost like the first half was dedicated to Gaga’s character and the second half for Cooper, which worked out I guess lol.
Overall, I liked A Star Is Born, I don’t think I liked it as much as other people do but I think it’s a really good movie. This is Lady Gaga’s movie as she does such a great job, especially with the singing and the emotional bits. Bradley Cooper also does really well, and I thought his direction was handled well and that he really tried to focus on the characters and their emotions (sometimes that’s annoying because you can’t really see what’s going on around the character, but it worked most times). The music is the highlight outside of Lady Gaga and I loved how they all fit the scenes they were in, or how it was used to describe a character at that moment. There was great chemistry and the first half of the movie was really good, I was totally invested. My biggest problem is the fact that the second half was weaker than the first half and it was totally predictable. It annoyed me, and I also thought it was too long because I started getting antsy as the film felt like it dragged on. Oh yeah, I totally needed subtitles in some pockets of the film. But, I liked it and I’m sure it’ll receive a lot of Oscar nominations.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars.
Have you seen A Star Is Born? What are your thoughts?
Which movie featuring a singer turned actress/actor is your favorite??
Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to like and follow this blog for more Movie Reviews!
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Book Review: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now (2018)

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Summary: I’ve got seven days to come clean to my new dad. Seven days to tell the truth…

For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Pros:
Characters. We actually met a LOT of characters in this book but I think going through all of them or even mentioning would kind of ruin you getting to know them as Tiffany does so I’m not going to do that.
  • Tiffany Sly. She is our protagonist and our narrator. She just turned 16 and is traveling to California to live with a father she’s never met. In the first chapter, we learn that she is terrified of flying, and also terrified to meet Anthony Stone. She has anxiety and she’s always worried about things that could possibly kill her. Irrational fears and what not. She is very nervous about meeting her father, but she’s also a bit in doubt since not long before she departed, another man came to her home, thinking he might be her father and he wants her to take a DNA test. So she’s thinking about that, plus, the other man is going to serve her father a court order so she has to take a DNA test and she’s thinking about that time frame. Seven days to confirm who might be her father. She marches to the beat of her own drum, she doesn’t conform, at least not completely, she does try not to test the waters, but she can’t help but to speak out against certain things she finds ridiculous that her new family does. She’s easy to befriend Marcus, even though he did come off as weird in the beginning and everyone freaks out about him, but she was pretty easy about it. She’s from Chicago, so she tries really hard not to be a stereotype in this new place, that’s also majority white. I really liked Tiffany, there wasn’t anything about her I didn’t like. She’s super tall, so of course people assume she likes and/or plays a sport but she’s into music. I loved her “nerdiness” and just how it was just natural and a part of her and not something shocking because she’s a black girl into what she’s into.
  • Anthony Stone. He is a potential father for Tiffany, but he is the one she’s going to live with. We don’t really get to meet him until the second or third chapter, and he’s interesting but also seems very detached and I did not like him, mostly in the beginning. I softened up to him more towards the end, but it was a hard journey. I felt like Tiffany when it came to him. She was kind of awkward with him, but unsure if he could be her father, especially once she meets him and sees what he looks like. There are moments where it feels right, where you wonder “Wow, maybe he is her father” but then he does something outrageous and you’re like “NO! He can’t be her dad!” I mean this dude has some pretty ridiculous moments, but he’s also kind of tragic in ways. A lot of things that dealt with him made me cry, especially at the end. Oh man. I had so much whiplash with him but I think Dana L. Davis wrote an interesting man.
  • Marcus McKinney. Definitely my favorite character of the book, he’s definitely a secondary leading character but I loved every bit with him. When we first meet him, I was a little unsure to what he was doing, or what he looked like because of his description but it becomes clear later. It does take a while to learn what is up with him but I think that’s part of his charm as well. He doesn’t care anything about what other people think about him and he just lives his life because it’s his to live. There is something different about him and Tiffany doesn’t really pick up on it until later, but she never makes a big deal about anything. Marcus doesn’t either. He became a great friend for Tiffany and she for him. He wrote a book in the book and I actually want to read his book.
Realistic Dialogue. I definitely have to give Dana L. Davis praise, because the dialogue in this book was very realistic. Especially for the teenage characters. I always complain when I read certain young adult books because it seems like the authors don’t really understand how teenagers respond to things, or how they speak to each other. Sometimes it comes off really pretentious or childlike and just ugh, but Dana L. Davis does it so well. Tiffany sounded like a true 16-year-old teenage African-American girl. The conversations she would have with her grandmother on the phone, with her best friend, even the conversations she would have with London and her other sisters. It just really flowed well and it sounded genuine instead of generic and awkward. I mean outside of Tiffany being awkward in general.
Humorous. I laughed quite a lot reading this book. The dialogue is so funny, and the interactions between characters is always entertaining. The book is told in Tiffany’s point of view, so we get a lot of her inner thoughts and her reactions to things, her irrational fears, her though processes, or her telling us how other characters are looking at her, or reacting was very funny. Also, Marcus being so enigmatic as he was, was also pretty funny too and he did it without trying it was just part of his character. Also, Neveah is maybe where most of the humor comes from when it comes to dialogue. That little girl will say whatever it is she wants and doesn’t find the problem with it.
The Family Dynamic. Tiffany’s mother passed before the events of the book, she is still very hurt from it, but she has hope, since she is going to live with her father in California. She’s never met him so it’s a first anyway, but I think we see of the family is pretty interesting. I don’t necessarily agree with what the Stones do, or even believe in, I think it’s a little extreme, but that’s how it is for some families and I appreciate that the book really touched on that. Their family was dysfunctional and they tried to pretend like they weren’t. I always find that very interesting because there is so many options to explore. Also, when Tiffany gets added to the mix, it’s very weird and awkward at first, but as the book progresses, the women of the family, well some of them, really become a strong lifeline for her, or her for them. It was a great natural progression.
Very emotional. I cried. A lot actually. The book deals with death and grief, and loneliness and family, and abandonment and I can understand a lot of that. I’m definitely not going to get into anything, but I do think if you’ve lost a parent, or someone you were close to, this would really hit home for you. Also, Tiffany has anxiety, among other things and seeing her deal with that, or dealing with her father who doesn’t believe in that kind of stuff, it’s hard and challenging but the way it’s handled is really beautiful. I think the end, the last few chapters are what really got me, especially after the trip in Malibu. Oh man, I can imagine if you don’t cry but don’t be surprised if you do.
Thought provoking. Marcus McKinney is a fantastic character, probably my favorite in the story but he is so smart and his beliefs are truly amazing. I’ve never met anyone like him but I can imagine I’d befriend him as well. He’s a bit odd at first glance, sure, but the way he thinks about God and energy, I was like “he’s legit” and I actually feel the same way in some instances. I talked about it with my coworker the other day and we both were like “so deep”. I mean, I really thought about it while he would explain it to Tiffany. Plus, there was something special about him anyway, so he felt like a pure person.
Cons:
Unfinished Plotlines. I do think there is a lot that happens in this book. We get a lot of information and while I do think the book handles a lot of it really well, I do wish it would have gone a bit deeper, particularly with Pumpkin. She apparently she’s on the spectrum and at first I thought it was just something the mom made up, or they thought because they didn’t know how to really parent her outbursts, but the mom does try but nothing else really comes of that. Not that it had to be a big part of the story, but since it was brought up and since it was something Tiffany was around, I thought we should have seen more of that. Also, with London, there is something that happens with her and it does kind of become a little big something, but it kind of just ends. It was kind of strange to be honest.
Overall, I really loved Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now because it felt like an authentic story. Tiffany was a realistic teenager, she didn’t feel like an adult’s view of a teenager which I appreciated. I loved her interactions with other characters, and how she just marched to the beat of her own drum, she didn’t care because it was who she was. She loved her music, she loved the idea of what a father would be like to her and I think that’s all beautiful and so realistic for a teenage girl whose never had a father. I thought while complicated, Anthony Stone was a great character and someone who I ended up really liking and thinking was tragic by the end. Marcus was my favorite and I just want to sit and speak with him and also read his book. It’s funny, it’s emotional, it made me go “TELL EM AGAIN GIRL” and I finished it in a day so I loved it. My only real negative was that I felt there were a few storylines that didn’t get wrapped up as easily and I thought about it afterwards. But regardless, fantastic story.
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars.
What I’m reading Next:
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

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Movie Review: Coco (2017)

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Summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to work out the mystery.
Pros:
Cast and Characters. There are a lot of characters in this film, but I’m not going to go over all of them. Just the two main characters and some of the supporting because of their roles in the film. Just know that all of the characters are bright, colorful and likable!
  • Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel Rivera. He is a 12-year-old aspiring musician. He feels out-of-place in his family of shoemakers. He doesn’t want to be stuck in this mundane process that his family is stuck in. They have banned music and he doesn’t understand this, at least in a way that keeps him from loving music. Miguel wants to be a musician and he finds ways to protect his love. What I loved about Miguel is that he felt like a kid. He made his mistakes. He acts like a kid. When he decides to steal a guitar in order to play for the talent show, he faces the consequences of his actions… then he gets a second chance… and he steals the guitar again. That’s hilarious and so accurate. He is clever, he’s funny and determined. Miguel knows what he wants and he does what he can to go after it, and even as the story continues and things are discovered, he rolls with it. Anthony Gonzalez was great, he reminded me of Auli’i Cravalho as Moana in how she sat in her character, he did the same thing with Miguel. I really enjoyed his energy for this character. Plus, he has a great singing voice on him.
  • Gael García Bernal as Hector. He is a charming trickster in the Land of the Dead. When we first meet him, he’s trying to make it through customs (they have a whole system it’s great lol), by pretending to be a celebrity and it’s revealed that he tries to sneak over the bridge every year. So, when he meets Miguel, he enlists his help in order to actually make it over the bridge at some point. Hector is a charming character and a lot is revealed about him that turns him into a tragic character as well. He was probably my favorite character in the movie. At times he seems very selfish, or like he can’t be trusted and there’s more to him that makes him relatable and you can’t help but to feel bad for him. I’ve never seen Gael Garcia Bernal in anything, I saw one but I don’t remember him in it and it’s been so long, but I really liked his voice. He’s very charming and he helps Hector be likable and tragic at the same time. Also, he has a nice singing voice.
Supporting Characters.
  • Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz. The most famous musician in the history of Mexico. He is also Miguel’s idol, he’s the reason why he wants to be a musician. He even inspires Miguel to build a guitar that looks just like his. He has many fans around the world, but his untimely death (lol it’s hilarious) puts him in the Land of the Dead, but he’s even more beloved there due to his charm and charisma. I definitely can’t give anything away with him, but it all makes sense once you watch the film. I like Benjamin Bratt and his voice is great for this character. The larger than life personality, the charisma, and even the ego, just works. Bratt only sings Remember Me in the film, while Antonio Sol does the singing at other times in the film.
  • Alanna Ubach as Mama Imelda. She is Miguel’s great-great-grandmother. The ban on music started with her. There is a lovely opening scene in which Miguel tells the story of her life and how her heart was broken. Due to her husband choosing music over her and their child (Coco), she dedicates her life to creating roots for her family. A shoemaking business. Mama Imelda is a businesswoman and she protects her family. Even when Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead, she does whatever it takes to help him. Alanna Ubach (she was Maria in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and she’s in Legally Blonde) is great! I loved her voice for this character. She is just the right balance of maturity, fierce determination (Miguel obviously gets it from her) and love for her family. She has a great song during the climax of the film.
  • Other Characters. Most of the other characters are Miguel’s family. Most notably, Renee Victor as Abuelita Elena, she is Miguel’s grandmother and she takes after Mama Imelda in that she strongly enforces the ban on music. She’s funny and a bit extreme. Ana Ofelia Murguia as Mama Coco and she gives us a very emotional performance anytime Mama Coco actually speaks. She is Miguel’s great-grandmother. His parents, his family in the Land are all great and colorful characters!
The Look of the Film. Oh man! Pixar is amazing! The look of this film is so beautiful! The colors! Oh wow! The Land of the Dead is so beautiful. The flowers are so vibrant and beautiful, and useful in the story. The way the skeletons look in how there are little-engraved designs in the faces, they look like the masks or the painted skull faces which was a nice touch. The world that is created is inviting and beautiful. Even when Miguel sees it for the first time, my eyes were huge. It’s a feast for the eyes. I want to go and see it for myself, but ya know as a visitor, not a permanent resident. Plus, the attention to detail on the little city of Santa Cecilia is also beautiful, it feels like a real place and while I don’t know much about Dia de Muertos, but I like how the graveyard where families would leave offerings for their families looked like how I’ve seen them before.
The Story. I think this movie created a way for kids to process death. It’s a way in that it’s  spirited and touching. At the center, the movie is about family, connection, culture and of course following your heart in a way that doesn’t compromise who you are. It doesn’t feel overly complicated but it also isn’t just a simple story that it feels elementary or childish. It has its twist and turns and it’s emotional. The story can be felt by everyone.
The Music. So I’m listening to the soundtrack while I write this because I didn’t really remember it after leaving the theater minus a few sung songs because of the accompanying scene. Listening to it, the songs I liked in the scenes are still good songs. Germaine Franco, Adrian Molina, Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (The Lopez’s wrote the music in Frozen) wrote the songs and Michael Giacchino composed the score. I liked Hector’s lullaby and “Everyone Knows Juanita” because it’s cute and the scene is emotional. “Un Poco Loco” is probably my favorite in the film because Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal have so much fun in that song and its super cute! “Proud Corazon” is also a great song for the ending of the film. As I mentioned before Mama Imelda’s song during the climax is also great, it’s in Spanish “La Llorona” and the scene is great.
Emotional. There may be light spoilers here. Just like any Pixar movie or Disney affiliated, they love to add the emotions. I’m also an emotional person these days, but I teared up a lot and I think I full on cried towards the end of the film. I have a big family so that definitely connected with me. One of the big things for the people in the Land of the Dead is that they can only remain there as long as their living family continues to put their pictures up on their ofrenda (alter). The living must also continue to share with their children about their ancestors so their stories can continue to live on. If that does not happen, then the spirit is considered a “forgotten”, and they have a “Final death” in that their spirit completely moves on because they have no connection anymore. That kind of stuff is emotional. Plus, Miguel’s reactions to seeing that happen to people he may have just met were also emotional. A scene after the climax is emotional, I cried. I teared up when Hector sang his lullaby. Then the scene towards the end when Miguel sings Remember Me made me cry. So…if you’re a crier, expect to cry. If you’re not a crier, that’s fine, just know the movie will still get you in the feels.
Cons:
Not Enough Music. I don’t think there is enough of it in a movie about becoming a musician. I don’t think it needed to be a musical or anything, but the music was pretty spare. It’s a nitpick but something I noticed.
Lags/Feels Slow. In some parts of the film, it feels like it just lags for a moment and I did pull my phone out during those few times, it’s not boring but it definitely feels like the pace slows down and that makes it feel longer than it should and it’s not that long, it’s barely two hours.
Overall, I really loved Coco! I think Pixar has done it again. This movie has heart, it has a strong story, strong leading characters, great supporting characters. Everyone is well-developed and feel like a real family. I definitely don’t want to spoil anything but the title is very important. The film is beautiful with how it looks. Everything is so vibrant and colorful! The songs are fun and accompany their scene well, even listening to the soundtrack, I can’t help but love them on their own. Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal were great in their roles and had great chemistry with each other. It’s emotional as well and focuses on family, culture, and connection. It has a few flaws in that mostly it lags a bit making it feel slow in places and a minor nitpick with it not having enough music from the characters. Otherwise, I think Coco is a great family film, or see it by yourself and have a nice treat of a sweet movie!
Rating: 4.49 out of 5 stars.
Have you seen Coco? Are you interested?
So tell me: What is your favorite Pixar movie??
Comment below and let me know your thoughts and your answer to my question!
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His Angel’s Song

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. He was extremely nervous, but she told him, she said it would be alright. His turn was approaching and she wasn’t here. Brown eyes scanned the crowd once more but he could not find that beautiful head of twisted hair.
“Emmanuel Thomas.”
Eyes wide, the young man turned his attention from the door, she wasn’t coming. He felt dejected and did not move forward. The host of the program motioned for him to come on stage, he even repeated his name to the crowd but Emmanuel did not move. He couldn’t do this. She promised.
You have to share this song with the world. You have to play it. You have to sing Emmanuel. I promise I’ll be there when you do.
Her voice echoed in his ears. It surrounded him. Comforted him.
“Last call Emmanuel Thomas.” The Host sounded annoyed and with a exhalation, Emmanuel climbed the steps to the stage. Even if she wasn’t here, he had to do this. He couldn’t quit. Not again. He always quit things because they were too hard, because who would want to listen to him? He never felt good enough. Not anymore.
He was by no means shy, but this? Standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people? Hundreds of people who were going to hear him play a guitar and sing? Man. He was scared. He never played his guitar in front of anyone.
“Uh.” Clears throat. “Hi, I’m Emmanuel, uh, and I’m going to sing this song I wrote a long time ago. It’s called…”
Emmanuel scanned the crowd, his heart thumping, but everything slowed as he saw her, his angel, near the door, at the very back. Her beautiful brown skin glowed under the muted lights, her long twists hung around her shoulders like a lion’s mane. Everything else silenced as he stared at her.
You can do this. Sing for me Emmanuel. 
She nodded at him. Confidence poured through him. He sat back on the stool, lifted his guitar. “This song is called My Angel’s Song.”