Film Review: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (USA/UK 2018) ***

Bohemian Rhapsody Poster
Trailer

A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen‘s legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert.

Director:

Bryan Singer

Writers:

Anthony McCarten (screenplay by), Anthony McCarten (story by) | 1 more credit »

 

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a biography of the British rock band Queen concentrating on lead signer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek from I, ROBOT and PAPILLON) set from the band’s formation to the band’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert in 1985.  Director credit goes to Bryan Singer though he was replaced before shooting was compete by Dexter Fletcher.  (America’s director’s guild, the DGA only allows one director credit).

The story centres on Freddie Mercury.  He is shown at the start of the film at odds with his Pakistani family, particularly his strict father in his small London home.  After a visit to a small club, he replaces the band’s lead singer and before long, he leads the band now called Queen to fame.  The script by Anthony McCarten gives Mercury a lot of credit (perhaps too much) for the band’s success.  The other band members (with Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Queen lead guitarist, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, Queen drummer and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon, Queen bass guitarist) are given brief mention.

Besides this flaw giving Mercury too much credit – the film even bookmarks the film with his entrance onto the Live Aid Concert- the film is overlong, stretching past the 2 hour length.  The climax of the film – Queen’s performance of their hits could have been shortened for  better effect.  The desire to please audiences results in the film falling into clichéd territory.  Father of the family finally approves his son’s success, including the father’s advice of good thoughts, good words, good deeds being repeated at the film’s conclusion.  The blowing of a kiss by Mercury to his mother, as promised is yet another example.  Mercury’s story also falls into the standard mould of rock band/singer’s biographies – of rise to stardom, fall from grace and recovery back to existence with life lessons learnt, with hit songs dispersed in the process.

What the film benefits from is lead actor’s Rami Malek’s diversified performance, especially his showmanship during the Live Aid Convert.  Malek has demonstrated his acting chops already this year with an unforgettable performance in PAPILLON.

Mercury’s relationships are also given full display including his bi-sexualilty.  Mercury’s first girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) is demoted from first-class lover to best friend as Freddie finally takes on a male partner, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker).

As in most biographies on subjects with AIDs, the audience is informed that Mercury has contacted the decease with credits informing that his death later followed from complications due to the disease, with no details of his suffering or maybe regret.

Queen fans should be pleased with the rendering of most of the band’s hits including the title song, “Another One Bites the Dust and “We are the Champions.”

One of the film’s producers is Queen’s third manager, Jim Beach, played by veteran Brit actor Tom Hollander.  Mike Myers has a small role as n EMI executive.

What BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has going for it are the performances of the band’s songs and Malek’s acting.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ5uRRIZrBI

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Film Review: PAPILLON (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Papillon Poster
A prisoner detained on a remote island plots his escape in this second adaptation of the novels by Henri Charrière.

Director:

Michael Noer

Writers:

Aaron Guzikowski (screenplay by), Henri Charrière(based upon the books “Papillon” and “Banco” by) |2 more credits »

 

Why bother remaking the successful 1973 biography of French convict Henri Charrière nicknamed PAPILLON who escaped from Devil’s Island in 1941?  After all, that film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring two huge stars of the time Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman is still readily available on DVD.

A few reasons!  One would be that no one would likely remember anything about the 1973 film.  After all it is is is almost half a century ago.  I can only remember two things about the 1973 film – Dustin Hoffman eating a cockroach and Steve McQueen jumping off the cliff in the final escape scene.

The new PAPILLON is not too bad.  Despite not having as big star names, Charlie Hunnam (THE LOST CITY OF Z) and Rami Malek (I, ROBOT) inhabit their roles very convincingly.  There is no cockroach eating scene but the food served actually looks not half bad, like the consommé with diced vegetables in a tin can.  In fact, Papi (as Charrière is called in short) is tempted with the soup in order to reveal the name of his conspirator.  

PAPILLON is the nickname of Charrière likely from his butterfly tattoo on his body.  The film opens with his frolicking with his girlfriend, Nenette (Eve Hewson) in Paris after nicking some jewels from the big boss he was working for.  Thus framed for murder, Charrière, is unjustly convicted of murder and condemned to life in a notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, South America.  Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega, who in exchange for his protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape, ultimately resulting in a bond of lasting friendship.

For a film shot in Paris and set in France and French Guiana, not a word of French is spoken in the film.  The filmmakers must thing speaking English with a French accent is sufficient, though the 1973 original had the same flaw.  But true that commercial audiences rather hear dubbed dialogue than read subtitles.

If one can remember the 1973 version, this film is very similar as the new script by Aaron Guzikowski is based on Charrière’s autobiographies Papillon and Banco, as well as the former’s 1973 film adaptation, which was written by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr.  In fact, credit is given to the script by Trumbo and Semple Jr. in the closing credits.

PAPILLON 2017 moves fast enough for its 133 running time.  The film is not a film about escape but a film about the strained but lasting relationship of the two men.  But the film’s only escape sequence with Papi, Dega and two other prisoners (Roland Moller and Joel Bassman) is the film’s highpoint, especially trying to survive a storm in a broken boat in the wide ocean.  The hard prison conditions, though hard to watch make extremely intriguing fodder.  One wonders how inhuman human beings can be.  The film also demonstrates the triumph of the human spirit over mounting adversities.  So, despite the dim outlook of the film’s heroes, it is still a film of hope and not despair.

It would be interesting to watch both films back to back to observe the different treatment of each director and actors towards this timeless material.  Both films are equally well shot and absorbing and definitely worth seeing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqj7XOv9mC8

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Film Review: BUSTER’S MAL HEART (USA 2016) ***

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busters_mal_heart.pg.jpgA family man’s chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter leaves him on the run from the police and an impending event known as The Inversion.

Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writer: Sarah Adina Smith
Stars: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil

Review by Gilbert Seah

 If quirky films are your cup of tea, writer/director Sarah Adina Smith’s (MIDNIGHT SWIM) BUSTER’S MAL HEART has much to offer. The title is even strange – a mix between Spanish and English which translates to Buster’s Bad Heart because the film’s protagonist is Latino and that he is discovered to have a bad heart in the later part of the film.

The film is occasionally as confusing as the film is quirky, primarily because Smith does not take the route of a straight narrative. Her film opens with a troubled man sporting a full beard growth looking like a mountain hillbilly, nicknamed Buster by the media (Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek) on the run in the wilderness, hunted down by the local police. The film flashbacks to 5 days prior to explain the incidents leading to the state of affairs. But the film quickly jumps back in time to the present, so that the 5 days prior does not hold for more than 5 minutes or so. If one can forgive the confusion, Smith’s film is as intriguing as it is absorbing. Be forewarned that this is a mindf*** film, so be prepared for an open ending.

Buster is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows — where he has acquired the nickname “Buster” — to rant about the impending dangers of Y2K, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man.

Smith also intercuts her film with Buster (Rami Malek) who was once Jonah, a hard-working husband and father whose job as the night-shift concierge at a hotel took its toll on his mood and, consequently, his marriage to the sensitive and long-suffering Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil).

Things are going well work and family-wise, until a chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter (DJ Qualls) changes the course of his life forever. The drifter warns of Y2K and how he will benefit from the disaster. The audience already knows the nonsense from the false prophets as Y2K has passed with nothing happening with all it false prophets put to ridicule. But the drifter warns of an earth’s inversion. This is shown as inverted numbers as in clocks in hotel room numbers.

Smith’s film is full of polar opposites. Buster is at one point a family man and hotel clerk, neat, well-groomed and handsome. In the other, he is unkempt, bearded, untidy and ghastly. Butler can also be quiet, calm and calculated while angry and loud, screaming at the top of his voice in another scene. Actor Rami Malek is excellent in his role of Buster, able to convey different personalities. DJ Qualls is also impressive as the talkative drifter.

BUSTER’S MAL HEART is a strange film. There are unexplained segments like the one with Buster in a small rowboat in the middle of a vast ocean. Or an unexplained killing in the hotel room which the audience is supposed to deduce the culprit. Still, BUSTER’S MAL HEART is a carefully crafted film, nevertheless and should prove an intriguing experience.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9S9F5DRhbg

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Happy Birthday: Rami Malek

ramimalek.jpgHappy Birthday actor Rami Malek

Born: Rami Said Malek
May 12, 1981 in Los Angeles, California, USA

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

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