Bohemian Rhapsody

I like Queen. I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fan but when my parents bought me my first CD player back in around 1992 the first CD album I bought was Queen’s Greatest Hits Vol 2. I also wouldn’t say that I’m really familiar with the Queen backstory but I have seen a few documentaries on Freddie Mercury and Live Aid so I was interested to see what the film’s take on it was and I have to say I was quite disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, Rami Malek is very good as Freddie Mercury and the supporting cast are also good (side note: did anyone else think that Joseph Mazzello who plays John Deacon looks a bit like a young Lee Mack? No? Just me then) but there’s no real substance to the film and it really feels like a two hour advert for Queen’s music and, by extension, the We Will Rock You musical.

The story starts with Freddie Mercury meeting up with Roger Taylor and Brian May literally seconds after their lead singer left which didn’t happen (read May’s account of how they met here) and from this point on the story lurches from liberty to liberty mashing together events that could never had co-existed at the same time for the sake of artistic licence.

Parts of the story that would have been truly interesting such as Mercury’s descent into his drug-fulled hedonistic lifestyle, the real relationship between “super-villain” Paul Prenter and Mercury (the film really twists the timeline about with this aspect of the story) and the real relationship between Mercury and the put-upon Mary Austin (it took him 5 months to ask her out, not a few days) are glossed over or are so far removed from truth that you wonder why they are included at all.

I know that films have to cram in a lot in a limited time frame but given that they used 20 minutes of the film for the Live Aid recreation I think this could have been cut down to allow for more story and place things in the proper order that they actually happened – I mean that’s not too much to ask is it? Surely a film that’s about real people and real events should be told in a relatively truthful manner or have a whacking great big disclaimer at the start. For example, the band didn’t break up in 1983 when Freddie signed the solo deal – in fact they released an album in 1984, Freddie didn’t find out he was HIV positive until well after Live Aid took place (some put it at least 2 years after) and boyfriend Jim was a hairdresser not a waiter – and these are just some minor discrepancies that I’ve highlighted.

While the Live Aid portion of the show is great, unless you have seen the original version (which I am assuming most people under 40 won’t have) then it won’t really mean anything to you. Afterwards I thought given how accurate the recreation was it would have been nice to cut between the real and recreated version to show Mercury’s personality and the accuracy of Malek’s performance.

Speaking of Malek’s performance, I found it rather flat. While not a hugely expressive character when off stage, Mercury did show emotion in his voice (see the interview below) but Malek shows very little inflection and it’s all quite on one level – almost emotionless really which I don’t think does Mercury justice.

Additionally, in the credits all songs are listed as being performed by Queen so I basically spent 2 hours of my life watching Lip Sync Battle. In fact I might as well have watched Paul Rudd AKA Ant-Man do a Freddie Mercury impression… oh, hang on… by the power of the internet I bring you Paul Rudd singing Queen in a Lip Sync Battle!

When you consider that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspon  recreated all of Johnny Cash’s and June Carter’s songs for Walk The Line that’s what you call a proper biopic and sort of what I was expecting – after all so much was made of choosing Remi Malek after Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out/was dropped that I guess I expected a “full Mercury” performance.

Considering that the film took almost 10 years to make I’m surprised that it turned out the way it did – of course Brian May and Roger Taylor came out looking good (they were executive producers after all) and John Deacon gets some credit for the creative input he had into Queen’s hits I think it does Freddie a bit of a disservice. While a “warts and all” film may not be to everyones taste whitewashing over the majority of his behaviour doesn’t really tell us the man he was, only the view that others want to present.

Overall, I think the film was a huge missed opportunity that didn’t really take itself seriously I mean, Mike Myers’ Ray Foster (another character that didn’t exist) saying that Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t any good? You’re seriously going to go there?

The directing was lazy and by-the-book but I guess that’s bound to happen when the director (Bryan Singer) goes AWOL and gets fired half-way through filming (Dexter Fletcher of “Press Gang” fame had to finish the film but doesn’t seem to get any credit anywhere)

The best scene in the film was a recreation of an actual piece of film so didn’t really need any direction and the “clever’ zoom under the piano and through Freddie’s legs to focus on May’s guitar solo was super-contrived (Was this Singer or Fletcher? We’ll have to wait for the Blu-Ray extras folks!) but about the only original aspect of the piece. The one shining light were the production values, they really captured the tone of the time from the costumes and hair to the kitsch gaudiness of Mercury’s home and that was the one aspect of the film I did admire.

Oh, and one final gripe (among the many I haven’t even covered): are you seriously trying to tell me that no one called in to pledge any money until Queen went on the stage as the film hints at? There were 15 acts before Queen took to the stage including Dire Straits, Sade and Sting And Phil Collins and not one of those could raise one red cent? (Insert massive raspberry noise here).

So, my final verdict: Lazy, Lying and Listless – it’s more like one of those cheap movies they put out on the Hallmark Channel or True Movies rather than a “Hollywood Blockbuster”.

Should you watch this film? If it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and you have a basket of ironing to do it will provide an adequate backdrop but I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch it – especially if you’re a Queen fan as I think you’ll get quite annoyed with the way the story’s laid out.

My only hope is that the upcoming Elton John biopic “Rocketman” doesn’t fall foul of the same lack of integrity – but who knows as it’s directed by none other than a certain Dexter Fletcher (small world, eh?) however there’s one main difference in that the star – Taron Egerton – actually sings all of the musical numbers in the film himself.

Now, that’s a proper musical biopic I want to see.

Added bonus: There’s a running joke through Bohemian Rhapsody about Roger Taylor’s song “I’m in love with my car” I have to say it’s truly awful and no wonder they take the piss out of it

Do you agree with me? Let me know in the comments what you thought of the film.

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is the tale of musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), an artist who’s seen better days, and Ally (Lady Gaga) a shy waitress who is in need of some self-belief (unless she’s singing in a drag bar then she’s a musical harlot).

Maine’s search for post-concert booze sees him rock up (rock, geddit?!) at a random bar just in time to catch Ally sing and he’s bowled over by her performance – well, I’m assuming he was wowed by her voice as he was so shit-faced I doubt he could have translated the song from French in order to understand the words. They spend the rest of the night together talking about music, punching cops – you know, a standard night with a total stranger – and a bond begins to form over a bag of frozen peas.

Ally confesses that she writes her own songs but won’t sing them as she’s been knocked back too many times, just before singing one of the songs she’s written. Despite the hypocrisy, this scene is really touching and it feels that the emotion of the scene was driven very much by Lady Gaga’s own experiences of the music industry – and there-in lies one of the main problems with the film: I felt as though we were watching a dramatisation of Gaga’s career from being a “serious” musician to moving into pop as that’s what sells.

It’s also unclear what Maine’s role is in all of this. I got the impression he was supposed to be some washed-up musician that takes Ally under his wing and gets jealous of her success but over the course of the film he’s touring and has songs on a juke box so he’s very much in the public eye still – and that’s another flaw in the film: Ally asks him why he’s jealous but I don’t think he is, he just wants her to avoid the mistakes he’s made and stay true to her music. The thing is she is kind of staying true to it, she knows the popular stuff sells and seems to be having fun doing it so what’s the harm? I was hoping to see her go full-blown diva which would have explained a lot of the tension between Jackson and Ally but that never really came across.

The script is very loosely written, it feels as though most of the film was improvised and that the only bits that were scripted were the concert scenes and that was purely because they filmed at real concerts so only had limited time. I’m not sure about the directing either – it’s not bad for a directorial debut (it’s Cooper’s first directing gig) but there’s just something missing that doesn’t allow the full emotions of the characters to come across and as a result I was left not really feeling for either of them.

Cooper plays a boozed up Maine very well, the scene that takes place at the Grammy Awards is certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination, and even though there is eventually some backstory about why he drinks and takes drugs it happens so late on in the film I don’t really care any more (and its just serves to set something up later rather than being proper exposition).

Lady Gaga is excellent as Ally, in fact I can’t think of anyone else who could have played the role (although apparently Beyonce was linked to the script at one point), and she will certainly be a strong contender for Best Actress at all the major awards.

I haven’t seen the 1970’s version of A Star Is Born (or the 1950’s or the 1930’s – yes this is like the 4th version) so I don’t have anything to directly compare this version to (although I did watch the trailer and was completely fascinated by Barbara Streisand’s perm) but I was left feeling a little flat – as was the rest of the audience at our preview screening. I’ve been to films where they’ve clapped at the end and cheered but never had I heard an entire audience audibly go “Oh…..” at the end of a film – until now.

I can see why people are raving about it –  I think that’s only because there’s not been another film of this type released (it feels like it’s all been Superheroes) but it’s a shame it couldn’t have gone that little step further to stop me feeling rather deflated at the end.

Fair warning: There’s alcohol and drug abuse, references to suicide, flashing lights and a flash of a naked Gaga so it’s certainly not suitable for everyone.

Watch this if you’d like something that’s not a superhero movie and want to punish your boyfriend for making you watch Ant-Man And The Wasp

To cheer you up after seeing this, check out Bab’s hair