Movie review: A Star Is Born (2018)

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper were not the first actors attached to this project over the years.

A Star Is BornI saw A Star Is Born (2018) without a lot of preconceptions. I never saw the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. And I’d all but forgotten the existence of the 1954 iteration with Judy Garland and James Mason. Both were mentioned in the credits. According to the IMBD, the 1937 take with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, which I was totally unfamiliar with, is NOT credited.

The current film was really solid from the beginning when we first meet Ally (Lady Gaga). She is a shy performer who lives with her loving, though blowhard, father Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay).

By chance, she meets Jackson (Bradley Cooper), a superstar singer and guitar player. The movie, from the beginning until when Ally finally goes on the big stage, I love.

After that, A Star Is Born is pretty solid, though there are probably a couple scenes the director (Bradley Cooper) or one of the writers (including Cooper) might have trimmed. Still, not bad for a first-time director. Lady Gaga is excellent; expect an Oscar nod. Cooper is a very good singer in the country-rock genre.

They weren’t the first stars attached to this project over the years.

Clay, a comedian I didn’t like in the day, I thought was quite fine. And Sam Elliot is always great; here he plays Jack’s protective older brother Bobby.

But a technical glitch at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany diminished the experience. It wasn’t the quality of the filmmaking, it was the quality of the film. It stuttered – think of a compact disc that is stuck – at least six times during the previews.

It happened at least five times during the movie itself, usually not in critical points, although there was an important scene near the end which was negatively affected.

It stuttered so often during the closing credits that I, a huge credits fan, left after the 12th interruption. I know others had already complained, but we went to the concession stand to add our voices. We were told the theater thought it was only on the preview section, not the film itself.

Also, they didn’t want to disappoint viewers by canceling the showing. Guess what: We WERE disappointed that they DIDN’T cancel. I also went online to complain, and to the Landmark Theatre’s credit, they mailed me coupons good for two movie tickets and two small bags of popcorn.


Brooklyn was the first film The Wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre since it was taken over by Landmark Theaters.

brooklyn-movie-saoirse-ronan1The very first time I saw Saorise Ronan on screen in the wonderful The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), I realized I’d seen her before, as a much younger actress. It’s those eyes. As it turns out, she was in Atonement (2007).

In the movie Brooklyn, though, she is the protagonist Eilis Lacey, a young woman in her native Ireland, who has few prospects in her hometown. Her beloved sister Rose encourages her to leave her and their widowed mother and move to America. Specifically, she’ll live in a certain NYC borough in a boarding house with other, mostly beautiful women, and their crusty but caring landlady (the wonderful Julie Walters).

Eventually, Elias finds love with a plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). But a tragic turn forces Eilis to deal with changing realizations about her homeland and her own sense of self-worth.

There were only 2 negative reviews at Rotten Tomatoes out of 152. One read: “Wonderful performances but do we really care about a teenager from Ireland trying to decide between guys?” This person is right about their performances but has totally missed the point of this film, which is that leaving home is sometimes exquisitely difficult.

There are LOL moments involving the boarding house dinner table and at Tony’s home. Jessica Paré played Miss Fortini, Eilis’ supervisor at a fancy department store not unlike Macy’s of the 1950s with a nice mix of sternness and compassion. But you may be inclined to hiss at the screen when Brid Brennan’s crotchety Miss Kelly, Elias’ part-time employer in Ireland appears on the screen.

I’m not familiar with the work of director John Crowley, but writer Nick Hornby was executive producer of two films I liked, About a Boy and An Education, and screenwriter for the latter.

Not incidentally, this was the first film The Wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre since it was taken over by Landmark Theaters, on Black Friday night. One change: those cards we used to buy, 10 for $80, are now gone, replaced by a booklet one can purchase, 25 tickets for $200. Also, they don’t take Discover, but they do accept American Express.

Movie Review: Heart of A Dog

Heart of a Dog is a documentary by artist/musician Laurie Anderson about her very deep relationship with her canine.

heart of a dog.laurie andersonIt’s Tuesday, November 17, the last day that the Spectrum 8 Theatre will be under the current ownership. Come Friday, November 20, the cinema will reopen under the control of the chain, Landmark Theaters.

The current owners insist the new company will keep it just the same. Keith and Sugi Pickard gave me that message the previous Saturday at the APL Foundation Library Gala, and Keith, who’s helping with the concession stand queue repeats the message this night to the Wife and me. I’ve been going there, or to its predecessor, the 3rd Street Cinema in Rensselaer, since 1980.

There are a number of films I’d like to see. But the one playing that seemed avant-garde, least mainstream, most Spectrum-like, was Heart of a Dog, a documentary by artist/musician Laurie Anderson about her very deep relationship with her canine, but also about her late mother, post 9/11 surveillance, and memory. Her late husband Lou Reed makes a brief appearance. It’s impressionistic and meditative and contemplative and musical, and occasionally very funny. Go read some nice reviews, 97% positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sugi Pickard watched that single screening. So did Cathy Frank, the legendary namesake of Cathy’s Waffles in ’80s Albany, who posted her disastrous-looking but still apparently tasty waffles on her Facebook page. It was a Smallbany event of sorts, the end of an era, like the apparent demise of Metroland after 38 years, or the closing of Bob and Ron’s Fish Fry in Albany after 67 years.

Oh, and it was my mom’s birthday, and Laurie was remembering what thing her mom said to her that most sticks to her mind. And it got me thinking some more about MY mom’s words to me. And it was…soothing to contemplate.

MOVIE REVIEW: Ballin’ in the Graveyard

While the term “the graveyard” was meant to define a “do or die” level of play, that section of Washington Park indeed was a cemetery.


I took off from work early one day last month, and the Wife and I saw the documentary Ballin’ in the Graveyard at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. Early on, the participants explained that some of them have played street basketball in various tough neighborhoods in New York City and around the country, yet no game is as intense as the ballin’ in Albany’s Washington Park, less than a dozen blocks from the theater, BTW. These are in-your-face players who do trash-talk to gain an advantage and occasionally will make a bogus call to even up the score.

But the film is only partially about sport. Their success on the court is shown in relationship with meeting the challenges of everyday life. Their court swagger belied the often tranquil demeanor at other times.

While the term “the graveyard” was meant to define a “do or die” level of play, that section of Washington Park indeed was a cemetery, with sections for the city’s black and “stranger” population until 1868, when those bodies were exhumed and reburied. mostly in Albany Rural Cemetery.

The documentary was produced and directed by Paul Kentoffio and Basil Anastassiou, the latter a longtime player, and co-produced by Spectrum owner Keith Pickard.

My wife liked it more as it moved away from basketball and more into their private lives, noting that it was both local and universal. But she also appreciated the notion of the culture and tradition passed down to the next generation. I liked it all.

The movie trailer.

A review by Amy Biancolli

Movie Review: Salt

Oh, look, there’s the building I used to work in! Did they manually change the highway signs or did they just correct them digitally?

I’ve been known to be a self-confessed art-house snob when it comes to movies. Interestingly, our local art house, the Spectrum Theatre, was showing Salt, the new Angelina Jolie movie that was filmed, in part, in Albany, NY, rerouting traffic for a few weeks last summer.

Let me state from the start that Salt isn’t the type of movie the wife and I tend to see. We’ve never viewed any of the Jason Bourne movies, for example. When you see a lot of a certain genre of movie (or listen to a certain genre of music), it develops one’s critical eye (or ear). Still, Salt is what we decided to see on Monday night date night.

I thought, after an intense flashback scene, the beginning of the movie was slow, giving a lot of exposition; I never felt that way again. Salt was an adrenaline rush of action and tension from about 12 minutes in until the end. About 3/4 of the way through, my wife whispered, “I’m exhausted,” and I knew just what she meant.

This is one of those Cold War dramas that seemed farfetched until the recent Russian spy scandal in real life; the difference is that this group is far more competent, insulating themselves even in the halls of government.

I started reading the reviews: “bombastic, bells-and-whistles spectacular” – check; “ludicrous but somehow credible spy thriller” – check; “As she tries to find her husband, and perhaps assassinate the Russian president, she’s not quite sure who or what she is. And neither are we. Which is precisely why the whole thing works” – check; “How many times have we seen Cruise or Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis evade pursuers or when the need arises, disable them? The sex change makes what transpires feel fresh — and unpredictable.” – double-check. Anyone who has seen Die Hard or Mission: Impossible, and I have, has seen some of these tricks before, but somehow this (mostly) worked for me.

Perhaps it’s the star power that is Angelina Jolie. Though I don’t believe I’d seen her in anything since Girl, Interrupted in 1999, she turned out to be perfect for this role; she has…PRESENCE.

The one thing that took me out of the movie – but it’s OK – is probably the thing that I came to see: the highways around Albany, during the absurdly entertaining chase scene. Oh, look, there’s the building I used to work in! I recognize the Environmental Conservation building! Did they manually change the highway signs or did they just correct them digitally? The skyline looked pretty good!

If you see a lot of this genre of movie, you may feel it’s all rehashed plotlines, but we were glad to see it. If you live or lived around Albany, you must see it, if not in theaters, then certainly when it comes out on DVD, just for the ah-ha feeling you’ll have. Though if you wait for the Albany mention during the end credits, you’ll be disappointed.

Other movies using In Paradisum from Requiem, Op. 48 by Faure, in addition to Salt.

Roger Ebert’s positive review


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