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Movie reviews: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY | A STAR IS BORN

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Bohemian Rhapsody plays more like a Queen greatest hits version than a no-holds barred expose on the group and that’s ok. To a point.

This film still rocks, and in all the right places.

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Maybe it’s because actor Romi Malek (i Robot, The Pacific) nearly does the impossible and gives a right royal performance as the grandiose but tortured singer Freddie Mercury (Sacha Baron Cohen was initially signed on for the role – but left after creative differences with the Executive Producers ,who just so happen to be Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen).

Romi plays Freddie with the right amount of Mercury swagger and bravado, and he’s a shoe-in nomination for the Best Actor Oscar.

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The movie production was fright with difficulties – Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, The X-Men) taken off the project, and another director Dexter Fletcher was brought in to steer the ship. Whether or not that had an effect on the final film is not obvious.

What is obvious are the mistakes.

There were a few glaring ones chronologically in terms of their music history –  like the scene when they record We Will Rock You is set a few years too late, (Read this great article by Chris Taylor about the mistakes here) and for Queen fans that may irritate (like myself).  Sure, in a movie you need a bit of creative license to serve the film – but the music chronology was all over the place.

The scenes which show how their now immortalised song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was recorded is a riot – but the casting of Mike Myers as a fictional Manager who hated the song is too much of a nod to the car head butting scene from the movie Wayne’s World.

The producers seem to want to show the fun side of Rock – but at times it borders on a ‘This is Spinal Tap‘ feel, which isn’t what Queen was all about.

Also, the movie portrays Mercury’s sex life as if he was a lonely prisoner to the vices of his personal manager Paul Prentice – whereas if you read the book ‘ Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury ‘by Lesley Ann-Jones, Mercury was anything but.

It all just feels a bit too safe. I guess Brian May and Roger Taylor as executive producers wanted to keep their rock legend and their old friend intact and sugar-coated sweet, (so there’s no mention of them playing at Sun-City in an Apartheid South Africa, and the sordid but legendary orgy at New Orleans in 1977).

It makes this film not as strong or compelling as it could’ve been.

Imagine what this movie could’ve been if Martin Scorsese was directing this?

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That aside, what the film does really well is capture what has been rated by many Rock critics as the greatest televised live rock performance in history –  the Live Aid Concert which they performed in 1985 at Wembley Stadium.  That sequence is fantastic . It really feels like your on the stage with Queen, as they charge through that blistering 18 minute set that brought the whole world together (and to donate). Watching Mercury literally getting the whole world to rock together in unison is a kinda magic moment on the big screen. (Sorry, I just had to throw in a Queen song in a sentence).

If you haven’t seen the original 1985 Live-Aid set, click on this link.

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To get a better picture on the history of Queen, grab the DVD Doco  ‘The Best Days Of Our Lives’, but overall the film is a whole lotta fun and a great celebration of one of the great Rock bands of our time.

 

A STAR IS BORN

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Lady Gaga based her stage name on the Queen song ‘Radio Gaga’ so it seemed appropriate to review this film as well.

I must admit, I did shed a very small tear when she sang on stage an hour into the movie. It’s a wonderful build up as struggling singer-waitress Ally (played by Lady Gaga ) has suddenly been given the keys to the jet-setting world of Rock ’n’ Roll as she is given a moment to sing her own song in front of a packed-out stadium. It’s probably the sweetest moment I’ve seen on film this year  – when her star truly is ‘born’ with her reluctant then glorious duet with Bradley Cooper as they sing the beautiful country-tinged rock ballad ‘The Shallows’.

Well whadaya know.

Lady Gaga, in that moment – you may have just won the Oscar for Best Song and a Best Actress nomination next year.

It’s one of the better rock ballads I’ve heard since…well, there’s a few.

‘Alone’ by Heart in the late 1980s comes to mind. Then there’s Meat Loaf. Guns’n’Roses. Pat Benatar, God even Whitesnake, The Cars, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon?…ok stop now.

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It’s a stunning transformation to see her natural beauty on the big screen. She sheds all the make-up (as well as the zany costumes and the meat) and bares all. I never was a fan and always thought she was just a Madonna wanna-be, but here the poker face is gone with a stunning performance. It’s her vulnerability on screen that makes this film sing.

The film also shows the harsh reality of the music business and how music & soul can get murky & soulless quite quickly. Here, it’s conjured up in the form a slimey manager, a hip-hop dance group and a Sleazy Spice Girl pop tune with a drone of a dumb drum machine beat and not a worthy songwriting lyric in sight.

Now, that’s when I really started to cry.

It’s ironic how when Ally finds fame and fortune in the film – she suddenly becomes Lady Gagaesque and essentially herself. For me, that transformation from Ally to Lady was the saddest thing of the film.

Jackson Maine sees it too, and from there his demise escalates to a tragic end.

Cue Softex Tissue ad.

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Bradley Cooper in his first film as Director could easily have stuffed this re-make up and turn it into sugar and schmaltz, like the 1976 remake which starred Barbara Streisand & Kris Kristofferson (pic above). But he directs this with a thoughtful conviction and goes all-out on the emotion.

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Playing the weary but hard-drinking Country Rock star Jackson Maine, he sees the star quality in Ally and not only falls in love but tries to steer her away from the soulless commercial side of the music business. Cooper in the Director’s chair is comfortable wearing his heart on his sleeve, and he’s totally convincing acting and riffing on the electric guitar as a country singer. He must’ve seen actors who’ve also played weary country singers before like Robert Duvall,  Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell.

Yes, that Colin Farrell.

Hey, he’s actually not too bad in ‘Crazy Heart’.

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Back to the film – Cooper does have a few Aces up his sleeve. There’s Lady Gaga of course, but most importantly, there’s also the great Sam Elliott who plays Cooper’s big brother Bobby Maine.

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Elliott is coolness personified with gravel-voice gravitas to match, and his performance is mesmerising. He’s a sure bet to grab a best supporting actor nomination next year.

And let’s not forget that Andrew Dice Clay (Yes! that’s Ford Fairlane!) has a great turn playing Ally’s father, and there’s short cameos from Dave Chapelle, and NZ’s very own Country Star Marlon Williams playing in the Roy Orbison tribute scene.

It does lose it’s way in the last half of the film (much like Jackson Maine’s drinking)
But this is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta’s film. And with Bradley Cooper providing the right direction – A Star is Born has moments when it genuinely shines.

END

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2018 by .

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