Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9739Post Garrett Gilchrist
Sun Nov 11, 2018 4:57 am

Here's the crowdfund to restore the unreleased George Romero horror film, The Amusement Park.

https://www.georgearomerofoundation.org ... ement-park

https://twitter.com/DanielDKraus/status ... 7499901953

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9766Post Garrett Gilchrist
Thu Nov 29, 2018 7:23 am

Hey, screenwriters. Look back on your career. Hands up if you wrote Star Wars, American Graffiti, Howard the Duck, Radioland Murders and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

No hands going up?

RIP Gloria Katz.

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9788Post Garrett Gilchrist
Tue Dec 18, 2018 5:57 am

Every expose of Woody Allen:
https://imgur.com/TCOwn4A

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9789Post Garrett Gilchrist
Wed Dec 19, 2018 5:55 am

Ralph Breaks The Internet (Wreck It Ralph 2) - Inventive, thrilling, and well worth seeing, but still a mildly disappointing followup to 2012's Wreck It Ralph. Then again, the first film was one of the best that Disney has made lately. Filled with passing references to video game culture, it starred John C. Reilly as a villain from an 80s arcade game, who gets tired of being the "bad guy" and goes on a journey to find himself, ending up in racing game Sugar Rush, with wannabe racer Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). It was a little bit surprising to see cameos by video game characters in a Disney film, but that was just window dressing, as the film hinged on the emotional journey of the lead characters. The sequel attempts to recreate that by delving into internet culture and memes, as window dressing for another emotional journey for Ralph and Vanellope. It's imaginative, fast-paced and looks great, but it's diminishing returns at this point. There's little to complain about, but this is Disney at its most risk-averse. It reminded me a lot of Disney's Princess and the Frog (2009), in which the film seemed terrified that its characters would seem unlikeable for even a moment. This works well enough for children but tends to cripple the emotional impact of the scenes. Everyone is smiling, friendly and helpful 99 percent of the time, and it gets a little weird.

As Ralph and Vanellope enter the Internet - visualized as a high-tech city - they meet various new characters, some of them street racers and shady hustlers from the "wrong side of the tracks." Spoiler alert though, none of these characters are villains. There is no villain - the film takes great care to shave the sharper edges off of these characters until there's nothing much to say about them. The conflict hinges entirely around what the two lead characters have to learn about themselves. That part is satisfying enough, and visualized as a "monster" which is actually fairly creepy. It's great that this film is emotionally about something, and it delivers. But otherwise the film feels rewritten and noted to death, everything sanded down into the most inoffensive version of itself. It doesn't have much to say about internet culture either. There's a scene where Ralph "reads the comments" and feels sad, but this doesn't pay off in any larger story sense. A leftover, perhaps, from an earlier draft.

It looks like the film was being changed and rewritten right up until release, as the trailers showed material not in the film.
One trailer featured a whole scene of Ralph and Vanellope entering a mobile game, and feeding pancakes to a bunny, which explodes, scaring a child. This scene is a bit weirder and darker than the rest of the film, and has been moved to the end credits, with the child in question pointing this out in dialogue. Which is weird. It was probably part of an earlier sequence where Ralph is making videos for a Youtube clone called BuzzTube. And probably someone said it was too dark and stopped the film dead, and it probably got cut along with a lot of other stuff we'll never see. There is, at least, a good after-the-credits gag.

The trailers played heavily off of two scenes where Vanellope meets the popular Disney princesses. The scenes are very jokey and absurd, and you've probably seen what they have to offer before you've seen the film. It's playing around with material that Disney owns, which might explain why the film feels a little like a commercial for something. Shots of the princesses taking selfies aren't in the film, and a scene of Merida (from Brave) talking in a heavy Scottish accent has been rewritten to function as the punchline to a scene. The princesses in general have been reduced to easy punchlines rather than characters. That makes sense for the few scenes they're in, but these scenes have been so heavily promoted that Disney could just have made a princesses movie and taken the characters a little more seriously.

The sequel also does very little with the characters from the original film, specifically Fix It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) and Sgt. Calhoun (Jane Lynch). It's a missed opportunity to not have these characters come in to save Ralph and Vanellope at some point. The original cast, even Alan Tudyk, return for a few scenes but that's about it. You could argue that this film ignores some plot points from the original. It was a big deal that Ralph left his game for an extended period of time. And the first film's villain had left his own game and taken up residence in another game as a leader. This was depicted as an evil thing to do, but the plot with Ralph and Vanellope here relies on that being okay. Although some of that has to do with how Ralph's actions changed Litwak's Arcade generally at the end of the first film.

At the end, the film does get into why we use the internet in the first place - to keep in touch with friends from whom we've otherwise grown disconnected. It's poignant, if not exactly happy. As before this is a great voice cast who bring a little something extra to their parts. I enjoyed Ralph Breaks The Internet and it's a worthy sequel, but it also feels like there was a better film lurking in these ideas if they'd been willing to take a few more risks and get weirder with it. There's a certain disconnect between taking on internet culture and making a film that won't upset toddlers at any point.

P.S. If Ralph really knew how to use the internet he could have Googled mods and hacks to add new tracks and racers to Sugar Rush.

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9790Post Garrett Gilchrist
Wed Dec 19, 2018 5:59 am

The Favourite - A period drama set in the court of Queen Anne that is also a thoroughly unhinged pitch-black comedy, as if you collected all the rudest and naughtiest ideas that wouldn't make it into an ordinary period piece. Often hilarious and chillingly bleak, it plays out as a dangerous battle of wills between three very strong women with ice in their veins. Three meaty roles played by three great leading ladies - Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone - each an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable problem. The film looks like a well-appointed period drama, which helps the tone from feeling too modern, even as it's clear that the filmmakers are holding nothing back. There's some interesting wide-angle photography and non-linear editing which keeps the film at a fast enough pace. With its biting wit, I wouldn't be surprised if this was pitched as All About Eve (1950), circa 1705. The darkly comic tone ends up somewhere between Very Serious Period Drama and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I wouldn't call it a crowd-pleaser, which is refreshing nowadays. Very memorable performances from the leading ladies and not one you'll soon forget.

Shirkers - A fascinating documentary that's almost certainly a better film than the lost film it discusses. From the Netflix description: "In 1992 teenager Sandi Tan shoots Singapore's first road movie with her enigmatic American mentor, Georges, who then absconded with all of the footage." The loss of this film left a gap that haunts Sandi and her collaborators for over twenty years. The 16mm film was recovered after Georges' death, and illustrates the documentary as Sandi tries to fill in the gaps and the mystery, and understand something about her shady creep of a mentor - who is depicted as a villain throughout. While the film in question doesn't seem like anything very special, it might have been well received in 1993. I spent my teens and twenties as a no-budget filmmaker and this honestly brought back a lot of PTSD from times where I chose the wrong collaborators and lost control of a film. We put so much of ourselves into a feature film. I could make my own "Shirkers" from those regrets and scraps and scars, and I understand how those scars can last a lifetime.

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead - Hosted by Alan Cumming, this Netflix documentary focuses on Orson Welles' unfinished film "The Other Side of the Wind," which has finally been edited together now. Speaking to Welles' collaborators like Peter Bogdanovich, and cheekily using footage from Welles' films like F For Fake and Citizen Kane to illustrate its own story, the film presents a vivid picture of the great filmmaker in decline. We don't really understand Orson Welles from watching this documentary, but we seem to understand him about as well as his collaborators did at the time. They were frustrated with him, and Welles could be cruel and pushed people away who wanted to help him. Welles had been unable to get a film financed in Hollywood for the last few decades of his life, and his own frustration and anger came out because of that, an anger that was poorly focused, and hurt those around him. We see Orson's charm, and how he would hype his next project up to try to get the money and interest in it, and how that never happened. The film keeps Orson at a distance, unable to really get in his head but only focusing on the wreckage he left behind. And a film, which we can now judge on its own merits, if anyone wants to see it. I can't help but compare Welles, at this point in his life, to the animator Richard Williams, who similarly had to hype himself up to death to try to get funding for a film no one wanted to fund. And whose behavior was baffling, in the end, to those around him, and only really understandable from his own point of view. A quote unquote great filmmaker must always be in control, and in charge. And when he isn't, the disconnect can be too much to overcome.

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9793Post Garrett Gilchrist
Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:36 am

Mary Poppins Returns. If those three words sound like a good idea to you, you ought to run out and see this movie right now, because it delivers what it promises. It is a strange undertaking to attempt a direct film sequel to a film from 1964, something my generation all watched as kids, but which probably doesn't mean a lot to kids today. The tone of the film is aggressively retro, repeating as much of the style of the 54-year-old film as it can manage, and pretending that a half-century hasn't passed. At times that seems like a bad idea, like the film is creaking and groaning and covered in dust. But most of what worked then still works now, and the film is nimble and lively enough to win over audiences of all ages ... eventually.

Any review of this film should single out the lead performance. As Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt has an almost impossible task ahead of her. But she is, for this film's purposes, "practically perfect in every way." It's hard now to judge the familiar performance of Julie Andrews, whose family-friendly charms smoothed out the contradictions of the character. But what worked in a children's musical in 1964 might not work today. Emily Blunt's performance leans into the baked-in bizarreness of the character as if it's a feature rather than a problem, deftly stepping over any potential minefields. Mary Poppins presents herself as a strict, poised, no-nonsense nanny, here to teach children a lesson, and then takes them on magical flights of musical-theater fantasy, which she afterwards denies. She does teach the children and adults a lesson, in a very roundabout way. She's a whirlwind of unexplained power, which she uses sparingly to fix the problems she sees in the Banks family in as short a time as possible. She also has a very high opinion of herself, which she makes plain at every opportunity, and those who've known her for more than a few minutes tend to share that opinion, to the point of participating in musical numbers to that effect. She's mysterious, though we can be assured there's no more to her than what we see, and it would be easy for her to come across as controlling and abusive, but we know that whatever she's doing is for the family's own good.

Emily Blunt is not, technically speaking, Julie Andrews, but she evokes Andrews' performance eerily, while adding back some sharp edges to the character that are all her own. She is the exaggeratedly proper British nanny, walking in like royalty and expecting everyone else to keep up. Her warmth and her iciness extend a long ways in both directions, and Blunt manages to be funny, sexy and very weird without betraying the essence of the character. She does a lot of that non-verbally. In the film's showpiece, "A Cover Is Not the Book," Mary Poppins sings and dances with animated animals, while evoking British music-hall theater. There's a hint of theatrical adult naughtiness here without actually crossing any inappropriate lines. Affecting a cockney accent, with a bob haircut and bowler hat, she could be a Bob Fosse character.

She is accompanied by Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter whose character replaces Dick Van Dyke's Bert from the original, complete with a similarly fake-sounding cockney accent. Jack is a bit childlike himself, and holds on to memories of Mary Poppins' magic that adults are supposed to forget. Lin-Manuel Miranda is, of course, best known for creating and starring in the Broadway smash-hit Hamilton. Between this and his songwriting work on Moana, he's contributed to very traditional Disney films which nonetheless have had a good idea of how to use his unique qualities. He's playing a broad, wide-eyed and kid-friendly character, singing and dancing, but his music-hall performance also includes some fast rap-like sections not unlike Hamilton, showing his skill as a performer while still sounding appropriately old-fashioned.

It's a film full of large, theatrical performances which actually work. The film's idea of magic is inseparable from eccentric musical-theater nonsense which all goes on a little too long, testing a viewer's patience but not breaking it. Movie musicals of the 60s were full of stuff like that. Suddenly Meryl Streep turns up for one scene and musical number, as the quirkiest character she can manage. There's not much point to it, but Streep is a brilliant enough actress to make the most of the material, get some laughs, and get out just as the audience is getting sick of it. She looks like she's having a grand old time, and if it's a letdown it's only because the last musical number involved animated penguins. The costumes, at such moments, are dazzling.

A 93-year old Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury turn up for one musical number each, and it's not hard to imagine that they're actually playing some form of Bert and Eglantine, their lead characters from Mary Poppins (1964) and the similarly-themed Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) respectively. And yes, they've still got it. The film's desire to seem like an authentic 60s musical certainly extends to some issues with pacing. It's a film which throws nonsense at you and lets it run its course, and you just have to go along for the ride. Jack and the lamplighters get an extended dance sequence, just to resemble the original film's "Chim Chim Cher-ee." There's something haunting about that Oscar-winning song, and the new number "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" is serviceable but not at the same level. It even looked like the cinematography in that number was trying to match the sodium glow of 60s Disney chromakey photography.

The songs by Marc Shaiman (and Scott Whitman) have been described as "forgettable" in the press, and their fault is largely that they conform to 1960s musical standards all too well. These songs actually sound a lot like "Spoonful of Sugar" or "Substitutiary Locomotion," or something the Sherman Brothers would have composed on an off day. The songs are all solid, and probably better than half the songs in "Mary Poppins," the ones you don't remember. Compared to "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" specifically, there's nothing here quite as interesting as "The Age of Not Believing," "Portobello Road," "The Beautiful Briny."

And a 60s-style soundtrack probably isn't enough for audiences in 2018, unless it's very good indeed, rather than simply very solid and servicable. All the songs do their job, and none of them wear out their welcome, though they all teeter on that edge. There's a gorgeous extended animated sequence supervised by Jim Capobianco and involving many ex-Disney animators. The art style is looser and simpler than an actual Disney film of the 60s but has roughly the same feel, and the actual animation is very good. The effects in the film are ambitious, using a moving and handheld-style camera in ways that the original film obviously couldn't. It ends up looking a bit like a theme park ride, and injects some energy into the proceedings. For a few minutes, at least, this is almost the 2D-animated Disney film that you've been waiting for, that for some reason Disney hasn't been making since 2004. If Mary Poppins were real, she could have come in and sorted them out. I wouldn't have asked any questions about her methods.

Balanced with the film's magical nonsense is a serious dramatic storyline in which Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) has lost his wife and is about to lose his home. The film calls it the Slump, their take on the Great Depression. Whishaw is very good in the role, relatable even when losing his temper and directing his pain at his children. At the end, we see his childlike wonder restored, and oddly the performance doesn't work at all. Emily Mortimer plays Jane Banks. She brings a raggedy energy and humor to an underwritten role, and has some convincing chemistry with "Jack." I would like to have seen more from her. The three child actors are all good enough in very central roles, and if they weren't it would have shown very badly. Colin Firth, as the bank manager, is convincingly villainous while playing the role as a very normal man. It would have been easy, in a children's film, for Firth to go over the top.

David Warner is also there.

Writer PL Travers, an interesting person in her own right, was famously unhappy with Disney's adaptation, which took out anything approaching the darker tones in her books. She wrote eight books about Mary Poppins, and an unproduced film sequel in the 80s. Disney made a movie about all of this, Saving Mr. Banks (2013), stretching the truth a bit and saying she was wrong and Disney was right and Mary Poppins the Movie is Great Actually. I wonder what she would have thought about Mary Poppins Returns. It's certainly a sequel to the original, attempting the same tone a shocking fifty-four years later. As a serious drama it nearly works. As a Disney musical it nearly works. And as a Mary Poppins film, well ...

See, the thing about Mary Poppins is, you just have to trust her. She's going to throw all manner of nonsense at you. It's going to be weird, and you'll wonder, "why is this happening?" But you have to just trust that it'll all be okay in the end. It's for your own good, you see. You want to feel like a child again, don't you?

Don't you?

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9798Post Garrett Gilchrist
Sat Dec 22, 2018 5:50 pm

Believe the hype. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a truly great superhero film, a truly great Spider-Man film, and probably the most visually dazzling and experimental film you'll see all year, or next year. It takes a lot of risks and digs into the silliest corners of Spider-Man lore, while masterfully telling the story of young Miles Morales learning to take on the mantle of a hero, as a down-and-out Peter B. Parker learns to recapture the spark he's lost. The voice cast is perfect, and you'll love Gwen Stacey, Peter Porker, Spider-Man Noir and company.

(I don't think the anime-parody look of Peni Parker worked in CG - it seemed very half-baked and they needed more authentic animation if they were going for an anime look. As it is, they've made the character into a joke, and a visually unappealing one at that. Very much a missed opportunity, although making three of the characters jokey probably helps the story focus on Miles. They would absolutely have to take Peni more seriously and redesign her if making her a lead character.)

(Given that, I was pleasantly surprised by Spider-Ham and the voice cast generally. Gwen made a big impression as you'd expect but didn't have enough to do. Not much of a problem as we'll be seeing more of her. A movie with this many extra characters leaves you wanting more, but Miles' journey felt fully fleshed out, which is what matters. I recommend this on a big screen so you can appreciate the texture effects placed over the CG. The small audience I saw it with didn't seem to give a damn about the Spider-Man memes and inside jokes, especially during the end credits, but I can appreciate a film which tries to do too much rather than too little. And it was all stuff that a lot of casual "fans" will recognize, like the two who turn up in the end tag.)

(The casting really makes it work. It's amusing that Noir is Nicolas Cage, and he makes the most of each line. Also John Mulaney cranks up the cartoony superhero-ness to the right level. A Spider-Women film is in development with Jessica, Gwen and Cindy I think, maybe May. And Gwen is in the animated Marvel Rising on TV. Kinda wanted 70s Japanese Spider-Man to be in this, though not for too long. Maybe with Peni or **end tag spoiler** )

(Shoutout to all of us for surviving the Christian and Dog Movie previews attached to this one, btw. Shoutout to all of us for surviving the Christian and Dog Movie previews attached to this one, btw. Also something about a kid King Arthur which probably makes one of my old screenplays unsellable now.)

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 9834Post Garrett Gilchrist
Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:33 pm

VICE and Bohemian Rhapsody, two biopics sitting at 63% at Rotten Tomatoes. Let's talk about both.

VICE - Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney in a film by Adam McKay, director of "Anchorman" and "The Big Short," another political film about the mid-2000s financial crisis. Many critics are comparing "Vice" to "The Big Short" and finding "Vice" comes up short, but that's a little unfair since this is a more difficult target to hit. The target audience watching "Vice" will have lived through the Presidency of George W. Bush and will have strong opinions about what exactly happened during those years and what it all meant. This is simply Adam McKay's personal take on what Dick Cheney's reign as Vice President was all about, and it's an interesting one.

Inevitably, making this work as a movie will often make audiences say "That can't be what happened," and will annoy them by quickly glossing over important details, like Jeb Bush's role in stopping the Florida recount. There's just too much to say about the W Bush Presidency, and this version of it picks and chooses. The result is a film which won't fully please most viewers, but there's still a lot to like.

I was reminded a bit of Oliver Stone's Nixon, in that by making Cheney the lead character it has to humanize someone who was famously secretive and unlikeable. But that's an actor's job, and Christian Bale is an unusual choice for Cheney but an appropriate one, as he's happy to play characters who are forceful and effective without being likeable. Stone humanized Nixon, while McKay both humanizes and dehumanizes Cheney - showing him as a family man with a dark heart. He's thoughtful and calculating, never losing his temper, and solidly if barely compelling as a lead.

I've rarely been impressed by Christian Bale since as an actor he has no warmth. But that works very much to his advantage here.

This version of Dick Cheney is someone who desired power above all else - a man who wanted to be President and found a way to be that, in all but name. Cheney's personal politics barely enter the picture as motivation. He wants power, and to achieve certain goals. The devastating effect this has on the world is placed largely on his shoulders here, with the other architects of the disastrous W Bush Presidency fading into the background. The film extrapolates that a bit to show echoes of what is happening today in the Trump era. This all leads to a question the film asks but doesn't answer- how much of all this is the fault of the Presidency, and how much the fault of the American people, for wanting it?

Indeed the film overplays its hand at the very end, directly pointing its finger at the American people, and at the cinemagoers watching this film, in a cartoonish way. That will leave some viewers feeling defensive or annoyed, with a bad taste in their mouth.

For a liberal audience, the George W. Bush White House was a who's who of terrible people who we really don't see as charismatic or sympathetic, but who have to be that here in a movie. We get Amy Adams as Dick's ambitious wife Lynne Cheney, who helps build his career and reputation as a far-right politician. There's Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, who plays a key role in starting the Iraq War and immediately regrets it. Sam Rockwell feels like ideal casting for George W. Bush, though he's more charismatic and fun than the real thing, and the film deemphasizes his role in all of this in favor of Cheney. The equally Machiavellian Karl Rove barely merits a mention since he's once of "W's people," and we don't spend much time on Roger Ailes, though we feel the effects of FOX News. Then there's Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. As in "Battle of the Sexes," Carell does a darker turn on his familiar "Michael Scott" type of character, which again makes the character more interesting and lively than the real man, but feels appropriate enough here, as he only has to get across what a "boy's club" the Republican party was.

To the extent that the film humanizes Cheney at all, it finds ways to compare him to George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, who are cartoonish "good ole boys" here, more so than in real life.

It's a cheeky film which experiments with its scenes like a comedian looking for the most effective way to phrase a joke. This only sort of works and will play better at home than it might have in theaters, where each experiment ran the risk of losing the audience. The film stumbles almost at the beginning, by depicting Cheney as the "real President" and acting like this was a secret unknown to the public, rather than how Cheney was perceived by pretty much everyone at the time (which lets off George W Bush too easily).

Given what we know about these people in real life, it's hard to buy the bigger acting moments where they really feel emotions and care enough about each other to help or hurt one another. An actor has to be empathetic and the Republican party has, of late, built itself on the rejection of empathy. To his credit, Christian Bale plays Cheney as something of a void, about as much as he could get away with as a lead actor. He's still clearly "Christian Bale" rather than "Dick Cheney" but he's also the black hole that makes the story work, and feel at all true to the ethos of the modern GOP. Amy Adams is also typically good as Lynne Cheney, who pushes her husband to bigger and darker successes.

There's a lot to be said about the W Bush years, and this film set itself a somewhat impossible task in taking on such recent history. Conservatives will forcefully reject the film, while liberals and leftists will quibble about details, feeling like their film skips a lot and often eschews the truth in favor of its story. Given all of that, it's remarkable that the film is as good as it is. The film's few scenes between Bale's Cheney and Rockwell's George W Bush are electric, and the film has a lot to say about a secretive man who there's not usually much to say about.


BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY - An entertaining if generic biopic of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, which has done well at the box office but remains mired in controversy due to persistent rumors that director Bryan Singer (like his actor friend Kevin Spacey) is a sexual predator who spent decades pursuing underage boys. Putting that aside to even discuss the film, Bryan Singer is a competent but bland film director whose work is nonetheless distinguished by a lack of style. He's made money at the box office but done nothing to distinguish himself as a director worth following. His first X-Men film showed no understanding of its source material. His Superman Returns showed a fanboy's love of Christopher Reeve's widely beloved portrayal of Superman, but didn't have much to say beyond that. Presumably, Freddie Mercury is another childhood hero and crush for Bryan Singer - an electric performer who everyone loved. But the film isn't really about anything, and will leave audiences knowing less about Mercury than they did before watching it.

As one critic put it, "Bryan Singer hasn't watched Walk Hard." The spoof of music biopics, starring John C. Reilly, should have put a stake in the heart of these TV movie grade stories about musicians (like Ray and Walk the Line) that all seem to hit the same beats. There are lots of cliches, and years of history always seem to get condensed into a single scene. We get that here, as the band are fighting when suddenly someone decides to write "Another One Bites the Dust," or "We Will Rock You." There's a scene where Freddie Mercury sits down and thinks to himself, "I think I'll write Bohemian Rhapsody right now." The film has very little to say about Freddie Mercury beyond the fact that Queen's music was great.

It was great, though, and the film has that going for it. It felt like most of the film's runtime is taken up by the film's version of Queen performing their greatest hits. Indeed, Freddie Mercury was probably the greatest rock star of the late seventies, and would be on any shortlist of the greatest rock stars of all time. He was a savagely charismatic entertainer with a voice that could cut glass. He didn't write most of Queen's hits but he did write the brilliantly bizarre and experimental rock opera "Bohemian Rhapsody." In one of the movie's better scenes, Mercury visits the Kenny Everett radio show (Cuddly Ken) and plays the track, to rather poor reviews from the press.

Rami Malek, of Mr. Robot fame, plays Mercury, and he has a reputation as being quite a good actor. That doesn't really show in this film. Slurring his words through large false teeth, Malek's Mercury is arrogant and opaque, except in his loneliness and search for love and acceptance. Malek has an unusual face, although he's still handsome. You could say the same about Mercury, but it's still sort of an awkward match. The frog-eyed Malek never quite manages the sexual magnetism or charm that Mercury had. He does his damndest to capture Mercury's onstage energy, though. The film's showpiece, at the end, is a lengthy, CGI-filled recreation of Queen's performance at Live Aid. Throughout the film you'll see and hear Queen's familiar hit songs, and the film certainly delivers big-screen entertainment in that regard.

It falters on a character level, though, as we rarely feel very close to Freddie Mercury, or really in his head. I'd heard at one point that the original script focused on the other members of Queen, who are all pretty well cast here, but fade into the background since this is very much Freddie's story. And he's a flamboyant figure, saying "darling" a lot and talking about how great the next song's going to be, but without the charm that the character should really have. He feels mannered and distant.

The editing of the film is often incoherent, cutting to other members of the band doing not much at all, and not lingering on shots long enough to process the performances. One suspects this was mandated by the surviving band members, as is the vague but lingering sense that the film is actually insulting Freddie Mercury throughout. While we don't get much sense of character from the other band members, it's hard not to feel that they're being allowed to tell their own story with the benefit of hindsight, and Freddie isn't. The film, for example, shames Freddie for becoming isolated from the band and recording a solo album, leading to an angry breakup as they accuse him of murdering the band. Mercury later comes back with his tail between his legs in time for his Band Aid performance. It's all very structured as a screenplay, and none of it actually happened. Queen never broke up like that, and the other bandmembers had recorded solo work before Freddie did. The film spends a lot of time kicking this cartoonish version of Freddie for flaws he didn't have and mistakes he didn't make in real life, exaggerating either for dramatic effect or with hindsight. The other bandmembers aren't portrayed with the same flaws, nor are they the least bit interesting in the film.

There are a couple of scenes with Mike Myers, as a record executive who doesn't like the idea of Queen doing more experimental work, like Bohemian Rhapsody. Myers and company famously included Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie Wayne's World, and there's a direct reference to this in the dialogue. Here, the scenes seem to go on for ages, The entire audience are presumably watching because they love Queen, Freddie Mercury, and the song "Bohemian Rhapsody." And yet when Malek's Mercury is talking about how it's going to be the greatest song of all time, or how it is the greatest song and Shrek just doesn't understand, somehow Freddie Mercury comes across as the arrogant and unlikeable one. And this comes after Myer's character is clearly set up as the jerk in this situation.

I'm tempted to blame director Bryan Singer here, who remains an easy target due to the rumors (and sexual misconduct lawsuits) aforementioned. Mercury called himself bisexual (and clearly has feelings for Lucy Boynton's Mary Austin) but lived as a gay man, living a late-70s rock star life, and died tragically young due to AIDS. The film (and presumably director Bryan Singer) takes a rather old-fashioned and conservative approach to all this. (Appropriate, perhaps, for the early 80s subject matter, but eyes will roll in 2018.) It won't shock audiences today that Freddie Mercury was gay, but Singer tends to treat Freddie's sexuality like a vice, like a shameful black hole he's sinking down into, even while making sure that gayness is always on display in the performances. There's very little discussion of drug and alcohol addiction, like you might expect from a music biopic. What little we see of Freddie's parties, and of his sexuality, seems to be the stand-in for all other vices. We don't see much of the fun of his success (and David Bowie doesn't show up). When things get the least bit weird, the band tap out, like they were never living the rock star life at all. No sex and drugs, as if the surviving bandmembers insisted on being portrayed as innocent of any vice. Freddie shoulders that alone, like it's a burden of some kind.

If I had to psychoanalyze, maybe Bryan Singer is a sexual predator who is ashamed of his own sexuality, and who also turned Superman (of all people) into a creepy stalker. Those rumors have followed Singer his entire career, and maybe this film should have found another director who wouldn't bring any shame to the material. It's hard to imagine Freddie Mercury ever being ashamed of who he was in any way (apart from wanting to reinvent himself as a rock star and ignore who he was as a child, which the film does discuss). The film doesn't present Mercury as someone who had anything to be ashamed of either, especially as it doesn't go into drugs or whatever went on at those parties. I shouldn't mention the rumors about Bryan Singer's parties, but basically it's a shame that such a unique talent as Mercury is given a fairly generic film by a fairly generic director. I feel like any experienced director could have made this film about as well, and probably better. (Indeed, much of the film was directed by Dexter Fletcher instead, as Singer had vanished from the set, and this contributes to the feeling that it has no strong directorial style.)

The film is at least entertaining, even dazzling at times, and gets across some of the appeal of Queen, although it's telling that the credits roll over footage of Freddie and the actual band, who we'd rather have seen instead. It all feels like a TV movie level script with a big Hollywood budget, and CGI.

It's definitely good enough for what it is, but there's also nothing unusual, experimental, surprising or groundbreaking about it. Considering you could describe Freddie Mercury with those words, it's fair to say he deserved better.



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