BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018)

October 25, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. That VOICE! During my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to see many of rock’s greatest bands live in concert, including: The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and AC/DC. Each of these bands are amazing, but no other concert combined the energy, showmanship and musicianship as Queen (two different tours). And certainly no other lead singer donned a Harlequin leotard … only Freddie Mercury could make that look seem natural.

This is such an odd movie, and one that is somewhat difficult to discuss. It’s billed as an “inspiring story”, though one wonders how self-destructive living, an acrimonious band break-up, and dying young of AIDS could be considered inspiring. It’s not supposed to be a biopic, but the vast majority of the screen time is devoted to Freddie Mercury. And to really confound us, the film kind of drags (pun possibly intended) during the personal story times … and then explodes with greatness during the band and live performance segments.

Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury, and he perfectly captures the swagger and strut of one of rock’s greatest theatrical showmen. Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsari in Zanzibar, and the film shows us his conservative family and time spent working as a baggage handler at Heathrow. Of course, things change quickly once he joins up with guitarist Brian May (played here by Gwylim Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, MARY SHELLEY). When bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) is added, Queen is born.

With a story and script from two Oscar nominated writers, Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN, ironically) and Anthony McCarten (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), it’s surprising that much of the film is downright slow – especially the bits with frenemy Paul (Allen Leach). Perhaps this is more a factor of the issues with the director’s chair, where Bryan Singer is credited despite being fired during production. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel filled in until Dexter Fletcher (next year’s Elton John biopic ROCKETMAN) was hired to complete the film. Lucy Boynton (so good in SING STREET) holds her own as Mercury’s wife and friend Mary Austin, and Mike Myers plays producer Ray Foster (with a tip of the cap to WAYNE’S WORLD). Other supporting work comes courtesy of Dickie Beau as influential DJ Kenny Everett, Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander and Aaron McCusker.

The 20th Century Fox opening fanfare has its own Queen version, and is not to be missed as the film begins. Of course, it’s the infamous 1985 Live Aid performance that is the film’s highlight and one that will leave every audience member pumped up, smiling, and singing along. It’s a stunning sequence on a custom built Wembley Stadium stage, and it helps erase much of the tedium of the film’s non-band scenes. Erasing any doubt as to whether the film is worth the price of addition … hearing that VOICE at full volume on today’s theatrical sound systems. Killer Queen.

watch the trailer:

Advertisements

RUSH (2013)

September 28, 2013

rush1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan are back in their wheelhouse with a film based on real people. Their previous collaboration was Frost/Nixon, and they also had separate “true stories”: Howard with Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, and Morgan with The Queen and The Last King of Scotland. Here they tackle personality opposites and fierce Formula One competitors James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The two lead actors are perfectly cast. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) slips seamlessly into the swashbuckling, rebellious playboy that was Great Britain’s James Hunt. Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds, Goodbye Lenin!) becomes the focused, determined, meticulous Spanish-German Niki Lauda (and could get mentioned come Oscar nomination time). You might think of Hunt as an X-Games type who thrives on publicity and fun, while Lauda is more scientist or engineer driven by the quest for perfection. Both were World Champions and their rivalry brought out the best rush2in each.

Do not think for a second that you need be a Formula One expert or even know the backstory of Hunt and Lauda to enjoy this movie. It is extremely entertaining and exciting. Morgan’s script might hover a bit more on the oh-so-photogenic Hunt/Hemsworth character, but it also does a nice job of preventing the not-so-likable Lauda from being a bad guy. In fact, it demonstrates that champions are not all alike.

The look of the film is exemplary. Beautifully photographed by DP Anthony Dod Mantle (Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire), the colors and grainy texture make this look like it was filmed in the 1970’s, not just based then. While the racing scenes are stunning, it is actually an intimate look at this world and the men of this era. Without dwelling on it, we get a realistic feel for the fiery crash that caused Lauda’s horrific injuries and his extraordinary fight to recovery while in the hospital.

rush jh nl We also get a peek at the very different marriages of these two men. Hunt’s short lived bond with model Suzy Miller (played by Olivia Wilde) ended when her affair with Richard Burton caused the final split between Burton and Liz Taylor. Lauda’s relationship with his wife (Alexandria Maria Lara) occurred without the whirlwind, but in a very real and organic manner. Both are an additional touch of realism to a quite real story.  The photo to the left shows the real Niki Lauda and James Hunt.

There have been no shortage of racing movies over the years. Some good: Le Mans (Steve McQueen) and Grand Prix (James Garner). Some not so good: Days of Thunder (Tom Cruise) and Driven (Sylvester Stallone). Ron Howard’s latest clearly finishes near the top at the finish line.

**NOTE: James Hunt died from a heart attack at age 45 in 1993.  Niki Lauda is 64 years old and has owned and run small airlines and remained involved with racing through management and commentary.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are after an entertaining and exciting movie based on two real life adversaries

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for serious insight into the Formula One world

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmLvpSOh1QA


HEREAFTER (2010)

October 24, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. One of the advantages to not being dependent upon movie reviews for food and shelter is that there is no concern for a superstar holding a grudge against me and my opinions. Make no mistake, director Clint Eastwood is a Hollywood powerhouse and also one of the most consistently fine filmmakers working today. Still, no one bats a thousand … this is a miss, with barely a swing.

The film follows three basic stories. The first revolves around George Lonegan (Matt Damon), who seemingly has true psychic abilities. The problem is that George does not wish to have anything to do with his “powers”. The second involves twin brother, Marcus and Jason, who live with their druggie mom. Things change quickly when Jason is hit and killed by a truck and Marcus is taken away while his mom rehabs. The third story has Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) as an investigative reporter who gets caught in a tsunami while vacationing and has a “near death experience”.

I will not go into detail for any of the three stories other than to say Jay Mohr plays Damon’s money-grubbing brother who wants to take his talent to the big time; the sadness of the surviving twin is tough to take at times as he searches for a connection to his dead brother; and lastly, Marie’s near-death brings her closer to life than she ever was before.

What is most surprising, given the pedigree of Eastwood and writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Last King of Scotland) is that this movie and each of these stories are, for lack of a better word, quite boring. We really get little insight into any of the characters – other than the overall sadness each shows regularly. The sub-story with the most interest involves a brief encounter with a secret research clinic sporting a Nobel Prize winner. The clinic evidently has much research and data on this topic.

As you have already guessed, these three stories intersect near the film’s end. This is a ploy that is all too common in Hollywood these days. I won’t give away how it all comes together, but it bordered on eye-rolling. The film does not depend upon the viewer’s beliefs or understanding, though I personally believe some people do have a heightened sense of awareness and connection. That’s not really what it’s about. It’s more about sadness, loneliness and the need for personal connection while alive.

As usual, Mr. Eastwood has put together a terrific score. And I will gladly admit that the first 7-10 minutes of the film, including the tsunami were captivating … and I loved the connection with Charles Dickens. That’s the best I can offer for the film, and here’s hoping Eastwood’s biopic on J Edgar Hoover brings significantly more interest and entertainment value.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you somehow enjoy watching sad, miserable people talk to other sad, miserable people OR you want to see a really cool CGI tsunami on screen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you aren’t the president of the Clint Eastwood Fan Club OR you find connections between the present and afterlife to be full- baked baloney.