Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With 2019 approaching, now’s the perfect time to reflect back on the highs and lows in 2018 entertainment, in no particular order. I didn’t play as many new games this year, but the movie category has more than enough to make up for it, plus the return of the Worst Movie and Worst Game categories, reserved only for the particularly horrible.

Top Movies of 2018

After ten years of commitment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Infinity War made the journey feel worth it. Thanos was fleshed out to a greater extent than his previous appearances and the story is surprisingly tragic in its development and conclusion, all while teasing the true finale, now known as Avengers: Endgame. Perhaps the only thing holding this movie back, however, is the fact that, for better or worse, a complete understanding of the events in Infinity War requires knowledge of all 18 previous MCU movies.

Deadpool 2 is an R-Rated superhero film, and sequel, done right. It’s hilarious like the original, but is also able to couple that with a story that explores more of the tragic aspect of Deadpool. Two recuts would follow, Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut and Once Upon a Deadpool, and while they are enjoyable in their own right, neither of them can quite top the original theatrical cut.

Despite releasing in February, Game Night was the comedic gem the trailers made it out to be. The premise of a game night gone wrong went a long way thanks to clever writing and smart, well-timed humor backed by talented actors. Definitely worth watching more than once.

Though lumped in with all of the live-action Disney remakes, Christopher Robin is actually more of a continuation of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that explores how Christopher Robin’s life turned out after going off to boarding school and serving in the war. While not perfect, Christopher Robin is a welcome, optimistic change of pace.

Given the dwindling reception of the previous live-action Transformers films, Bumblebee managed to finally do the property justice. Thanks largely to a change in director, Travis Knight instead of Michael Bay, as well as a tighter script and relatively conservative use of special effects, it’s now possible to wholly enjoy a Transformers movie as a movie rather than a guilty pleasure at best.

Considering the reception to Sony’s take on Spider-Man after Sam Raimi’s trilogy and the poor reputation of their animation studio, it’s amazing that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse turned out as well as it did. Into the Spider-Verse offers a refreshing take on the property with stellar animation and a well-written story, as well as featuring Miles Morales as the main character. Whether you’re familiar with Spider-Man films or not, this is a movie you don’t want to miss.

Top Games of 2018

Dragon Ball FighterZ

After decades of attempts at perfecting a Dragon Ball fighting game, FighterZ feels like the one that finally got it right, courtesy of Arc System Works. The attention to detail, including individual character animations and an art style that looks exactly like the anime, is what helps sell the presentation, which is fortunately coupled with gameplay mechanics that are focused more on competitive viability rather than fanservice. Playing Dragon Ball FighterZ is a worthwhile experience, especially if you’re a Dragon Ball fan.

While the God of War series is an all-time classic, the games went on long enough that the formula was getting stale. Enter God of War (2018), which managed to find a way to breathe new life into the franchise. Though there are legitimate criticisms, this game’s take on an older Kratos, the new approach to combat and the exploration of Norse mythology, as opposed to Greek mythology, are nonetheless captivating and the sequel hook at the end felt very much earned. Simply put, it’s a must-play game for PS4 owners.

After the sleeper hit that was Undertale, TobyFox has proven that he is capable of even more with the surprise release of Deltarune Chapter 1. While the story is sort of a compressed version of Undertale, the party-style combat system is a natural expansion of the unique TPS/Bullet Hell hybrid of its predecessor, the combat sprites are colorful and more detailed and the new characters are written so well that they leave a lasting impression even months after you finish your first playthrough. Hopefully, TobyFox finds the resources necessary to deliver on additional chapters of Deltarune in the future.

Top Disappointments of 2018

I wasn’t that enthusiastic about Solo based on the initial trailers and the reports of a troubled production and actually watching it didn’t do much to change my mind. It’s by no means a bad movie, but the story is weakened by its use of Expanded Universe lore, something that maybe only a fraction of fans would’ve been invested in from the get-go, plus the fact that the actors seem more like they’re playing dress up. Add in a hook for a sequel that’s never going to happen and you’re left walking away with a feeling of emptiness.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Jurassic Park going in, since the premise is pretty dumb when you think about it, but I still enjoyed certain aspects of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World and hoped Fallen Kingdom would be an improvement. Unfortunately, it’s anything but, largely due to poor logic and terrible decisions on part of the characters. I don’t know why they ever thought keeping the dinosaurs alive was a good idea, but if the teased sequel ever comes to pass, then hopefully, by some miracle, the characters finally come to their senses.

For a movie as good as the original Wreck-It Ralph, I didn’t expect Ralph Breaks the Internet to be so disappointing. Where the original was very well-written and executed, the sequel feels like more of a quick cash grab so that Disney could spend a good chunk of the movie advertising all of their properties. The characters are a little more self-absorbed, the writing relies too much on ignoring the consequences that the original revolved around and film’s interpretation of internet culture will unfortunately date the movie within a few years, in spite of how clever some of the references can get. Unlike the original, this one is more of a take-it-or-leave-it.

Worst Movie of 2018

I don’t know how it was possible, but the Sharknado franchise somehow got even worse in its final installment. With rocky time travel logic, a number of Z-list cameos, terrible special effects, an abundance of anachronisms and a wholly unsatisfying ending, only Sharknado die-hards will find The Last Sharknado even remotely entertaining.

Worst Game of 2018

There’s no way to really sugarcoat this, but The Quiet Man is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. It’s a three-hour movie with some buggy, glitch-ridden brawler segments tacked on so that it can just barely qualify as a game. It fails as a movie because you need to sit through an indecipherable mess to view The Quiet Man -Answered-, a marginal improvement that elevates it to merely an unwatchable mess, and it fails as a game because of tedious and grindy combat sequences with poorly explained mechanics and missing animations that cause both Dane and the enemies to teleport everywhere. Add to that the ugly graphics and terrible soundtrack and you get a “game” that you are honestly better off experiencing through a Let’s Play on YouTube. Even then, however, there are far better things you could do with three to six precious hours of your life.

2018 - The Highlights (Tetris_King)

The end of the year offers a chance to think about the highlights of the year, both good and bad. Not many games were played this year, resulting in a much shorter list, though there was a spike in new movies watched compared to previous years. Due to the number of superhero movies this year that I actually liked, the Top Movies lists are split between superhero and non-superhero films. Each list is presented in no particular order, with links to respective reviews where applicable.

Top Non-Superhero Movies of 2018

While not exactly masterworks of cinema, the first five live-action Transformers films could (for the most part) be enjoyed as guilty pleasures, with Age of Extinction coming the closest to being a decent movie following the change in lead actor to Mark Wahlberg. Bumblebee is different in that a change of director seemed to be what was needed to make a legitimately good movie on both a storytelling and cinematic level, helped by a much smaller robot cast and fights that are admittedly easier to follow. For those keeping track of lore, although it is designed to be a prequel to the 2007 movie, there are enough retcons (more have been noted than I was able to catch on my first viewing) that make Bumblebee not entirely compatible with the other films. Despite these discrepancies, Bumblebee is also designed such that you do not need prior knowledge to enjoy it and makes for solid family entertainment.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie when it first came out, though when I finally watched it on home video it turned out to be one of the funniest movies to come out this year. There is a perfect blend of comedy and suspense as it follows the events of a friendly game night gone completely wrong, with enough twists to make even the audience question what’s real and what’s part of someone else’s game, aided by some great acting and cinematography.

Christopher Robin tells a genuinely emotional story about an adult Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred-Acre Wood and reconnecting with his inner child. Though labeled as one of Disney’s live-action remakes, it’s more of a continuation from the end of 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that still manages to preserve the general innocence of the source material. Winnie the Pooh fans and children at heart should definitely check this one out.

Top Superhero Movies of 2018

Where Age of Ultron and much of Phase 3 went wrong, Infinity War set right. Thanos is made to be one of the most well-rounded villains in the MCU, to the point where the movie is more about him than any of the Avengers. Knowledge of the preceding 18 films is still required to fully enjoy it (sort of like a pop quiz), though the film is still accessible to those with only a passing knowledge of the MCU.

With how much success the first Deadpool movie had, not to mention how many box office records were broken, a sequel was inevitable. Though not quite as good due to how much raunchier it felt the need to be, Deadpool 2 manages to still be a very entertaining and funny movie in its own right. Though a little excessive in how they were released in the same year, Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut (an unrated, extended cut of the movie with more jokes) and Once Upon a Deadpool (a PG-13 cut where Deadpool reads a sanitized version of the story to Fred Savage a la The Princess Bride) are also worth watching at least once.

I wasn’t sure what to expect after Justice League proved to be kind of a mess. Aquaman turned out to be a close second in terms of quality to Wonder Woman, surpassing my previous expectations. There are some pacing issues that bog it down a little (did it really need to be around two and a half hours?), though despite that it was a pretty enjoyable movie, enough to give me higher hopes for the DCEU’s next follow-up, Shazam!

In what is perhaps the best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2, Into the Spider-Verse takes full advantage of its comic book style to deliver a really fun experience. The animation is spectacular and the writing manages to juggle a large ensemble of characters very well such that it doesn’t feel bloated. This is a definite must-see for Spider-Man fans, though the movie makes sure that even the most casual fan can have a good time as well.

Top Games of 2018

While the God of War games are generally enjoyable, the Greek mythology setting and gameplay style was getting pretty stale (see: God of War: Ascension), so a change of setting to Norse mythology and an overhauled gameplay style make for a nice change of pace. Kratos goes through some nice character evolution as he goes on a journey with his son Atreus as they explore a beautifully-designed Norse setting while starting to encounter members of the Norse pantheon that are out to get them. The game also hints at a sequel as well as the potential to explore Egyptian mythology sometime in the future, both of which I can’t wait to see play out.

Though I haven’t played very many games on PlayStation VR as of yet, Moss proves what is possible even when the game is not in first-person. Aside from the player’s presence being justified in-universe, the fact that you can more-or-less get up and freely look around the scenery makes you feel like you are part of Quill’s adventure, sometimes even making you wish you could physically reach out to help her. Though not explicitly spelled out on the box, the game presents itself as being Part 1 of a larger story, something I would gladly invest in seeing continue.

In an attempt to breath new life into the toys-to-life genre, developer Ubisoft decided to take a different approach and focus on a play style inspired by model kits, which turned out really well in the long run. Aside from taking full advantage of this unique gameplay (compared to other games in the genre), one of the best features included is the ability to play with or without the toys, making it much more portable and opening up a lot more options to players. The Switch version (which I played) includes special content based on Nintendo’s Star Fox brand, giving newcomers a taste of Star Fox lore and providing existing fans incentive to pick up this game. Based on how well the concept played out, it would be interesting to see where Ubisoft takes it from here, if at all.

Top Disappointments of 2018

Not the worst Star Wars movie out there, though it certainly doesn’t match up to Rogue One in terms of how well it works as a prequel. Casting aside, it’s not exactly a good sign when the story relies on the audience having knowledge of Expanded Universe material in order to follow it. It also for some reason sets itself up for a sequel that will likely never come to pass due to its failure at the box office.

Though divisive, Jurassic World was at least decently enjoyable thanks to the performance of Chris Pratt, even if its story didn’t make the most sense. However, not even Chris Pratt could save the mess that is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. To keep it short, I was agreeing with Jeff Goldblum’s character in that they should have just left the dinosaurs to die after what happened in the last movie (or even the original Jurassic Park). The post-credits scene is also one of the weakest I have ever seen, much like the rest of the movie, which doesn’t exactly bode well for the future of the franchise.

I had low expectations going in and I was still let down. The story doesn’t make much sense even by Sharknado standards, plus the increased abundance of forced jokes and unnecessary cameos don’t help matters. Thankfully the franchise is finally done and (hopefully) we can all move on from this.

Ralph Breaks the Internet has all of the heart and none of the soul that the original Wreck-It Ralph had. Despite having the same director, the movie commits the sin of going against the first movie’s message and internal logic in order to make it work, something which bugged me the entire time. The movie’s depiction of the internet, and especially online gaming, is very clever and well-designed, however there was a point where it felt more like an ad for (while being a self-parody of) Disney. While unnecessary sequels have proven to work at times, this is sadly not one of them.

Honorable Mentions

While it didn’t make it onto my Top Games list (as I had not played very many new games this year), it seemed disingenuous not to include the new Spider-Man game on this list. Though I haven’t much experience with this type of game, I found myself invested in the game’s continuity and characters as well as wanting to explore every nook and cranny of New York to see what I could find. This is a must-play for fans of Spider-Man and the gameplay style of the Batman: Arkham series and I’m interested in seeing where/if developer Insomniac can expand on this new universe.

2018 - The Highlights (lionsroar)

Films watched for the first time and reviewed in 2018

Note: Since Trophy Unlocked has to pay for most of the movies we see in the theaters and for most of the films we watch at home, we don’t have the scope of a newspaper reviewer. We don’t see everything that’s out, so our ratings of films are based on what we decide to spend our money on.

The Highlights, in no particular order:

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro's take on the Creature from the Black Lagoon gives it a definite Cold War twist.  Imaginative to say the least. A tour de force for actress Sally Hawkins who goes above and beyond in her depiction of Elisa Esposito, the mute cleaning woman who befriends the beast. Michael Shannon's performance as Col. Richard Strickland is also very good as well. A horror film with a heart, this film won Best Picture honors at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Avengers: Infinity War

For a film that was the 19th in a series that has been going on for ten years, there was a lot riding on Avengers: Infinity War. Over that time, seeing Marvel films was a lot like school, I began to feel like I had to see the films rather than wanted to see them. However, Infinity War is a good partial payoff for all the time invested. The story is not concluded, but this was a very entertaining film.

Deadpool 2 and Once Upon a Deadpool

Deadpool 2 may have its flaws but our favorite merc is back and Cable has come with him. I believe I saw this film at least three times this year in its various versions, including twice in the theater with the original and Once Upon A Deadpool versions. Ryan Reynolds is the driving force behind this and deserves much of the credit for making a successful R-rated Superhero franchise. The PG-13 version released at the holidays uses the same wraparound story that The Princess Bride used, complete with Fred Savage reprising his role. 

Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut with yet another A Star is Born remake. Lady Gaga plays the protege who surpasses her mentor becoming the bigger success as he drifts into alcoholism. The end result is a very strong film that will definitely be remembered during Awards season. Looking forward to seeing what Cooper does when he takes a path less trodden and directs something original.


After five live-action films, the Transformers series moved from Michael Bay to director Travis Knight, perhaps best-known for the stop-motion films made at Laika Studios. While the film relies less on special effects than previous films, there is also a better human character at the center of the story, Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld. I would strongly recommend them to keep making movies with her in the lead and Knight behind the camera. This is the best of the Transformers live-action films. One hopes that the franchise hasn't found its footing too late.

The disappointments, in no particular order:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

For a film that was nominated for Best Screenplay, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) was a second act looking for a third. More of a character study than a complete film. The film has what I consider to be a lousy ending, leaving unresolved what I would assume was the point the film was setting up.

Early Man

I am normally a big fan of Nick Park's work, but this seems to be one of the weaker of Aardman Animation's films. Entertaining, the plot was very predictable. You expect more from them than the usual underdog sports film. Good, but it could have been a lot better.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Remember when Star Wars films were few and far between? In their rush to capitalize on the franchise, Disney has been making one-offs in addition to the main series. Sometimes these are very good, like Rogue One. Other times they are rather ill-conceived like Solo: A Star Wars Story. This film seems like a money grab from the get-go but fails to deliver the goods. While I'm a fan of Alden Ehrenreich's, I would say he was miscast as Han Solo and the altered origin story doesn't necessarily jibe with what is already out in the Star Wars universe.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

After the success of Wreck-It Ralph, it seemed unlikely that there wouldn't be a sequel. Too bad that it turns something somewhat original into an internet version of The Emoji Movie. Not only did they miss out on the obvious sequel title Ralph Wrecks the Internet, but they turned it into something desperately close to a commercial about

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

There is so much wrong with this film that I'm not sure where to start. The film starts with the dinosaurs that, by the way, kill and eat people, are in danger when a volcano explodes on their island. Instead of rejoicing that these man-made genetic mutants are going to go extinct, there are plans to try and save them. Dumber still would be to try and weaponize them, which they try to do in the film as well. The film sets itself up for a trilogy since you've got to have one these days, but I think I'll stay home next time. Time for this franchise to go extinct as well.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ready Player One

When Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, was first announced, I didn’t know what to expect. When excerpts from the New York Times bestselling book floated around, I got the impression that it was basically wall-to-wall 80s pop culture references connected by a mediocre plot. This was one reason I didn’t see the movie when it came out initially, but after months of social pressure I finally caved in and actually watched it. To my surprise, it was better than I had expected, though still not that great of a movie.

In the year 2045, people escape to a VR universe known as OASIS, created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) of Gregarious Games. After Halliday’s death, a pre-recorded message is sent out to world, revealing that whoever can find three hidden keys can unlock a hidden gate, behind which is an Easter Egg that will grant them complete ownership of OASIS, along with $500 Billion. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphan living in the “stacks” in Columbus Ohio, seeks the Egg so he can have a better life, along with his online friends Aech (Lena Waithe), Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao). His biggest hurdle, however, is Nolan Sorento (Ben Mendelsohn), owner of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who seeks to control OASIS for himself by using countless employees and indentured servants, called “Sixers”, to find and complete the challenges.

The story is not that hard to follow, a plus considering the setting, but the individual plot points can be pretty hit and miss, oftentimes relying on certain coincidences/contrivances to help advance the story. For example, without spoiling anything, it apparently took thousands of players four years to even consider looking for an invisible wall during one of the challenges to obtain a key. Another challenge requires taking creative liberties with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) to “actionize” it, with one character saved from death, aka “Zeroing Out”, entirely because the plot needed him to stay alive. On perhaps a lesser note, it’s noticeable that the police don’t get involved at any point in the story until the very end.

That isn’t to say that Ready Player One doesn’t have interesting ideas, like the setting and the technology, just that the execution is unrefined.

One of the more obvious references; Wade Watts as Parzival (Tye Sheridan)
about to race with a replica of the DeLorean from Back to the Future Part II.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Ready Player One, and presumably the reason a number of people saw this movie is the first place, is the numerous pop culture references. In-story, characters practically worship 1980s pop culture, as they believe that this period of time, which Halliday grew up with, could contain the necessary clues to finding the three hidden keys. From what little I saw in the novel, the references made as a result could result in unwieldy descriptions literally lasting at least a whole page.

In the movie, these references are comparatively far subtler, like a modern “Where’s Waldo?” where eagle-eyed viewers may spot some visual reference to their favorite icons if it’s not already pointed out. Some of these references, just from memory, include Minecraft, Overwatch, The Iron Giant, Gundam, Akira, Street Fighter, Back to the Future, Superman, The Atari 2600 (both the console and games), The Shining, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Battletoads, Looney Tunes, Sanrio properties, King Kong and Batman (1966). And that’s just merely scratching the surface. I personally liked this execution of the references, since the game VRChat allows a system where player avatars can resemble copyrighted characters, though it’s rather noticeable that all the characters that Warner Bros. didn’t need to license are all characters owned by them in some form. As a result, the usage of the Giant from The Iron Giant, while somewhat justified in-universe and from a production standpoint as a replacement for Ultraman, feels wrong considering the message of the movie it’s from. I’ll also mention here that not even the music is safe from references, since aside from the licensed music, the score itself references composer Alan Silvestri’s work on Back to the Future and music from The Shining.

There’s not much I can really say about the acting, as the actors can’t do much about the general lack of depth in the characters, but T.J. Miller, surprisingly enough, stood out in his role as i-R0k. i-R0k doesn’t really do very much, but he manages to be a good source of levity due to his casual nature despite also taking his job as an antagonist seriously.

Ready Player One is very much a Spielberg film, but ultimately one that’s just okay. It’s not a bad movie, since the story does have some interesting ideas and a better execution of pop culture references than the novel, but the general lack of depth and a host of small issues ultimately hold it back from being great. Give it a try if you’re a Spielberg fan or someone who just wants a chance to see a lot of their favorite things onscreen, but this is otherwise a game you don’t need to play.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Stubs - What Price Hollywood?

What Price Hollywood? (1932) Starring: Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman, Neil Hamilton, Gregory Ratoff, Brooks Benedict, Louise Beavers, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson Directed by George Cukor. Screenplay by Gene Fowler, Rowland Brown, Ben Markson, Jane Murfin. Produced by  David O. Selznick (Executive Producer) Pandro S. Berman (Associate Producer) Run Time: 89 minutes. USA Black and White Drama

Hollywood has never met a good story that it didn’t want to remake, sometimes again and again. Take A Star is Born. There have been four versions of the film made, A Star is Born (1937), starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March; A Star is Born (1954) starring Judy Garland and James Mason; A Star is Born (1976) with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and A Star is Born (2018) with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. (There was even an Indian remake Aashiqui 2 (2013)).

But before A Star is Born comes What Price Hollywood? (1932), directed by George Cukor at RKO under David O. Selznick the Head of Production. While Selznick would also be the producer behind the first A Star is Born, which he made for United Artists, RKO would undertake a comparative point-by-point analysis of the storylines of the two films and, based on the perceived similarities, recommended that a plagiarism suit be filed against Selznick.

Selznick wanted to make a film that was true to Hollywood and even added some of his own experiences into the plot about scandals in tinsel town. Loosely based on the marriage of silent star Colleen Moore and alcoholic producer John McCormick, other stories were added as there is no end to Hollywood filmmakers who have lost their own battles with the bottle.

To play the part of the director, Lowell Sherman, an actor and director, was cast. While he was never a household name as a director, he did go on to make She Done Him Wrong (1933) and Morning Glory (1933). A Broadway actor and film actor himself, he added some character traits he'd observed in his then brother-in-law, John Barrymore.

Selznick originally wanted to cast Clara Bow, the irrepressible silent star of such films as Wings (1927), who had fallen on hard times with the arrival of the talkies. However, Bow, herself an alcoholic, couldn’t lose the necessary weight to play the part. At the last minute, Selznick gave the role to Constance Bennett, then a contract player at RKO. Bennett was a very popular actress in the 1920s and 30s and was once the highest paid actress in Hollywood.

To direct, Selznick chose his best friend in Hollywood, George Cukor. At the time Cukor had only recently begun to direct films by himself, having co-directed several films at Paramount Pictures where he had worked with Selznick. Even though he had not yet scored a hit on his own, Selznick entrusted him with the film.

Originally called a variety of titles including Hollywood Merry-Go-Round, The Truth About Hollywood, and Hollywood Madness, the film, made on a budget of $411,676, went into production on April 4, 1932, wrapped on May 13th and was released on June 24, 1932.

Like many girls, Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) dreams of being a movie star.

The film revolves around Mary Evans (Constance Bennett), a waitress at the once iconic Hollywood Brown Derby (a restaurant now closed but best remembered for co-owner Robert Cobb’s Cobb salad).

The Brown Derby restaurant. Gone but not forgotten completely.

Mary is pretty and sassy and wants to be an actress. One night at work, she manages to amuse alcoholic film director Maximilian "Max" Carey (Lowell Sherman) with her sharp wit and clever observations. A bit of an eccentric, Carey invites her to the premiere of his latest film, which is being presented at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Mary catches the attention of eccentric director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman).

They drive there in a jalopy he bought off a motorist just for the occasion. He introduces her to the radio audience that is listening in and then spends the night drinking and carousing with her.

He buys a jalopy to drive to his film's premiere in Hollywood.

The next morning, not wanting to waste the opportunity, the ever-ambitious Mary cajoles Max into taking her to the set of his latest production and eventually convinces him to give her a walk-on part in the film. Untrained as an actor, Mary performs her role terribly and despite the work that is done with her, she is fired from the production.

Mary practices her scene on the staircase at her rooming house.

But Mary doesn’t give up that easily. Determined to keep the part, Mary practices at home that night until she finds the proper rhythm and style for her delivery. The next day, she stuns Julius Saxe (Gregory Ratoff), the film's producer, with her performance and is signed to a seven-year studio contract (only in the movies).

Her improved acting catches the attention of Julius Saxe (Gregory Ratoff), the film's producer.

Later, now a successful actress, Mary is on set near the exclusive Santa Barbara Polo Field, where she meets Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton), an Eastern-bred snobby millionaire. He asks her to dinner and she makes some outlandish demands which he keeps, though she decides to skip the engagement. Undeterred, Lonny kidnaps her from her hotel room and practically drags her to the dinner he’s arranged for her. She resists but eventually succumbs to his will.

Mary on location in Santa Barabara with producer Julius Saxe. Here she meets Lonny.

After a fiery courtship, Mary and Lonny marry in an opulent, much-publicized ceremony, but differences in their social backgrounds as well as the pressures of Mary's Hollywood career soon take their toll on the marriage. Lonny doesn’t have the patience for such things as fan magazine interviews and such.

Lonny (Neil Hamilton) shows contempt for Hollywood.

At the same time, Carey’s alcoholism takes its toll on his career until he is forced out of motion pictures.

Max shows up one night outside Mary and Lonny's bedroom.

One night, a distraught Carey shows up drunk in Mary's bedroom and this is the last straw for Lonny. Mary can’t turn her back on Carey, who had been so important to her career, but Lonny doesn’t see it that way and, in a jealous rage, leaves, later filing for divorce.

Now alone, Mary gives birth to Lonny's son but refuses to allow Lonny to see the baby.

Max's life flashes through his head as he commits suicide.

After Mary bails an intoxicated Carey out of jail, Carey, distraught at his life, commits suicide in Mary's bedroom. Her career is now ruined by the subsequent scandal and Mary flees Hollywood, taking her son and moving to France.

But no matter how far away she goes, Lonny, now repentant, finds her. He informs her that Saxe wants her to star in his next movie. In the end, Lonny is reunited with Mary and their son.

Upon its release, the film got good reviews but still lost money. Making $571,000 at the box office, RKO showed it losing $50,000 when all was said and done. The film did manage an Academy Award nomination for Adela Rogers St. Johns and Jane Murfin Best Story but lost out to Frances Marion for The Champ (1931).

The film did though help make Cukor into a successful director and his future films with the studio including A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Our Betters (1933), and Little Women (1933) would make Selznick’s reign there RKO’s golden age. When Selznick moved to MGM, Cukor followed, there directing such films as Dinner at Eight (1933) and David Copperfield (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Camille (1936) working with both Selznick and Irving Thalberg.

Constance Bennett, who had made her career up to that moment wearing elegant clothing in films, really stretched herself as an actress. She would go on to appear in such films as Bed of Roses (1933), Topper (1937), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), Two-Faced Woman (1941) and The Unsuspected (1947).

Lowell Sherman was good as "Max" Carey but his own directorial career would be short-lived. He would act in only one more film, False Faces (1932), and direct only a handful of films before dying at 46 of double pneumonia on December 28, 1934.

Neil Hamilton, who had been acting in films since 1918’s The Beloved Imposter, would go on to appear in Tarzan and His Mate (1934), the second in that series, but he’s probably best remembered for his role as Commissioner Gordon on the 1960s Batman series. He plays snotty very well here to the point that the reunion at the end of the film sort of feels false.

But the somewhat forced romantic ending aside, the film has one very memorable sequence. Over the sound of what seemed to be a swarm of bees, but was, in reality, a cigar box being swung around on a string, Max distraught over the negative effect he’s had on his protégé’s life, kills himself. The brainchild of the special effects man, Yugoslavian immigrant Slavko Vorkapich, the sequence includes a quick montage of scenes from Max’s life, his life literally flashing by as he shoots himself and before he falls dead to the floor in slow-motion. This slow-motion death technique would be used to great effect by director Sam Peckinpah in his film The Wild Bunch (1969) almost 40 years later. Vorkapich would also produce memorable montages including the harpies flying through New York at the start of Crime Without Passion (1934), the earthquake in San Francisco (1936) and the locust attack in The Good Earth (1937).

That one scene is well worth the price of admission in my opinion. However, there is more to What Price Hollywood? then that. The film is perhaps the first one to try to give a somewhat realistic look at the trappings of sudden fame and the scourge of alcoholism. Though it has a breezy pace, there is something more substantial to the film and it is definitely worth a viewing, if only to see the origins of A Star is Born, no matter which year’s version you prefer.