Bohemian Rhapsody Still Hard to Pin Down

Freddie Mercury is still an enigma. So is Queen. There’s a danger to pigeonholing the band as either hard metal or popular crowd pleaser, to using Freddie as a poster boy for the gay ’80s or Brian as an emblem for the big-haired glam rockers of the late ’70s. Queen was always hard to pin down.

Hey hey hey hey it was the D.N.A.
Hey hey hey hey that made me this way
–“Sheer Heart Attack” by Queen

Mercury/Malek comparison
Freddie Mercury and Rami Malek at Live Aid. Photo by 20th C. Fox at thenationalae.com.

In the new biopic of the band, “Bohemian Rhapsody,”  Rami Malek is terrific as Mercury, the spark of life and chaos that brings the lush guitar layers of the band’s musicianship to life. Gwilym Lee, Joe Mazzello, and Ben Hardy are lovely as Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor who create the sounds that now rank among the greatest rock songs–the greatest songs–of all time.

What Movie Were They Watching?

The critics have generally panned or dismissed the film. Rotten Tomatoes (a critical compilation) was barely 59% last week. Audience responses, in contrast, have been 94%. One of the greatest curiosities then, as we sat watching, tapping our feet, and singing along under our breath, was why?

The reality was perhaps more interesting, and more nuanced, but in any case the overall narrative architecture of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a Lego palace of clichés. A band strives to get to the top and tastes the sweet and sour sides of success. A misunderstood genius suffers for his art, alienates those who care for him most, and finds forgiveness and redemption. A lot of the story may be true, but none of it feels remotely authentic.–Review from A.O. Scott at The New York Times

A big part of the reason for the negativity is that the film fiddles with Queen and Mercury’s timeline, for dramatic effect. Mercury did not know he had AIDS in 1985 when they performed at Live Aid, the performance that a 2007 BBC poll ranked as the greatest rock performance of all time. One of Freddie’s sustained notes during his a cappella section became known as “The Note Heard Round the World.” Because that performance–in retrospect–looms large in the annals of rockdom and for the history of Queen itself, it would make sense to create it as a climax for their story. Hence, it’s the beginning and end of the movie, hence that glosses over the fact that Freddie lived another six years and that Queen continued to release albums during that time.

Ok, so be forewarned about that lack of historic “accuracy.” Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody Still Hard to Pin Down”

Balance Restored: Ruby Slippers Found

An estimated eight billion people have seen the 1939 Hollywood film version of The Wizard of Oz.  Millions have viewed a pair of the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the film, on display at the Smithsonian. Hundreds more saw another pair on loan to the Judy Garland museum in Minnesota, until it was brazenly stolen by thieves unknown in 2005. Minnesota has been on watch ever since.

Recovered ruby slippers
Recovered ruby slippers via FBI + mysterious sequin, photo at americanhistory.si.edu

But intrepid G-men, those FBI who have been criticized so much lately, were on the case. They announced this week that the slippers have been found, and they are close to apprehending the miscreants. Callooh-Callay!

Before I pontificate further on a few engrossing details in the case, I will point out that as a child of the sixties, I viewed Oz a good dozen times in black and white before ever seeing it in color. My aunt also says that she was watching the movie with my aging, Alzheimer-stricken grandmother and that at the moment when Dorothy opens her sepia-toned tornado-struck house to the colorful world of Oz, my grandmother died. So there is some deep connection between my Minnesota genes and this movie. As with that scene, there is more to the case than meets the eye. Continue reading “Balance Restored: Ruby Slippers Found”

Fantasy and Reality: Oscars 2018

Fact vs. myth. Reality vs. fantasy. Vengeance or forgiveness. Sunny spring or snowy nor’easter. The first weekend in March is the time for the shiny node of Los Angeles to parade its sun and glitz to the world, a perfect contrast to the blizzards of the northeast and a stark reminder of the unreality of the movie world. It’s Uncle Oscar’s birthday!

That unreality was pushed even further by the triumph of this year– the Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. The win has prompted some heated debate in the household. We all liked the movie when we saw it, and my 20-year-old daughter was particularly delighted as she’s been a del Toro fan since Hellboy.  My wife said it really made her think about how they took the “fish out of water” idea and explored it from so many angles. But then, she wrote a short story called “Fish out of Water,” so I guess she oughta know.

Shape of Water, Oscar Best Picture, caricature drawing
Shape of Water cartoon courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine

Best Picture?

Despite what I am about to say, The Shape of Water is an excellent movie, interesting, sophisticated, innovative in its way, and worthy of an award. This award? Well, I don’t know. This is the second year in a row where a fantasy has been close to the top prize, and between La La Land and this movie, I am wondering if there’s a new category of adult fantasy that’s started some sort of trend. Continue reading “Fantasy and Reality: Oscars 2018”

Figure Skating’s Trail of Broken Dreams

I Tonya movie still, broken skate
I, Tonya
courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

The Olympics start in nine days, but this is not–strictly speaking–a post about the Olympics. This is a reflection prompted by seeing the movie, I Tonya, which cleverly insinuated itself into movie screens early enough to put itself in Oscar contention for 2017 but late enough to be seen right before the start of the Pyeongchang Games. The mockumentary-style film is worth seeing as a drama even if you’re not a skate fan. It also reveals the quirks in skate judging that result in odd results, perhaps to Harding, but to so many more that Olympic skate results are practically a conveyor belt of unfair outcomes.

Bashing Someone’s Hopes

Margot Robbie is terrific as Tonya Harding*, the powerful but feisty skater who won the U.S. Nationals but wanted more. Her manipulative and abusive husband launched a plot to scare her competition and his cretinous cohorts improvised with a crowbar to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Harding became a national joke and an international disgrace. I thought the film clearly showed Harding’s culpability in covering up the plot after the fact, lying to the FBI, and suing to keep her Olympic spot.

But afterward I heard some say that they thought the movie showed Harding was robbed, that she should have won a medal, shouldn’t have been pilloried by the press, and deserved more. Harding’s interview with the New York Times this month suggests she still thinks she was mistreated. The film–assuming its accuracy–does make one thing clear: when you are abused by your loved ones, as Harding was by her mother and husband, you come to feel that the world is against you and that you bear no responsibility for whatever happens. Continue reading “Figure Skating’s Trail of Broken Dreams”

Under the Covers of Murder at the Orient Express

A lot of angst-filled snippets are filling social media over Kenneth Branagh’s new version of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express.  People don’t want to see it because no one could be a better Poirot than David Suchet. Or they loved the 1974 production with Albert Finney so much, what could surpass that? Branagh’s moustache looks silly. Who does he think he is? Why mess with the “original”….etc. etc.?

Time out. Let’s talk about covers.

poirot.jpg
From Justwatch.com

The Beatles Love It When Other People Do the Beatles

A cover is a remake.  It should be different but pay homage to the original. There’s an interesting side discussion about whether the word “cover” was specific to white bands covering black artists’ material which you can read here . Let’s bypass that issue; the notion of a cover is more generic in today’s vernacular. Mozart covered Bach. West Side Story covered Romeo and Juliet. Continue reading “Under the Covers of Murder at the Orient Express”