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Bohemian Rhapsody

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“Fortune favors the bold.”

Bohemian Rhapsody was the first song I ever tried to memorize. As a deeply misunderstood and lonely preteen, there was something about this six minute rock opera and other songs by Queen that spoke to my soul. What I didn’t know then was that Freddie Mercury was a champion for misfits like me. He had a self-assured persona, always holding his head up high and never apologizing for being himself. We won’t know the extent of his inner world but his outward confidence gave us license to be ourselves. If you’re a true misfit, you know the pain of being misunderstood and the intense loneliness that comes with being different from everybody else. But when you find another misfit who gets you… it makes all the difference in the world (source).

Freddie Mercury’s story needed to be told.

Bohemian Rhapsody stars Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. We follow Freddie’s journey from his humble beginnings as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport to his meteoric rise as the lead singer of Queen culminating with their historic performance at Live Aid in 1985. Along with Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazello), these four totally different personalities, each with their own brand of talent, come together to shake up the world of rock ‘n roll. On the road to success they must work with a team of record executives who either don’t believe in them, Ray Foster (Mike Myers), who see an opportunity to manipulate, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), or who stick with them, John Reid (Aiden Gillen) and Jim Beach (Tom Hollander). However the film’s focus remains solely on the biggest star, Freddie Mercury and how he navigates his music career, his relationships with his disapproving father, his supportive mother and sister, his first true love Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and his partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), coming to terms, or not, with his sexuality and his eventual AIDS diagnosis.

Many have criticized Bohemian Rhapsody for softening some harsh truths about Freddie Mercury. Because this is a biopic and not a documentary, some changes were made for entertainment value. However because the story deals with a real life figures, filmmakers risk painting these characters in a harsher-than-necessary light in order to serve the movie’s plot. For example, Paul Prenter, based off the real life manager of Queen/Freddie Mercury, is the clear villain in the movie but his involvement with Mercury was conflated for the story’s benefit. Prenter died of AIDS related complications in 1991, the same year and circumstances that led to Mercury’s death, and can’t defend himself. Biopics have always bent the truth to some extent but should the filmmakers continue to do so? This is an evergreen debate that will always plague biopics.

If we can’t have the absolute truth, what will audiences get out of Bohemian Rhapsody? As close to the essence of Freddie Mercury without having Mercury himself in the picture. And that’s what Rami Malek’s outstanding performance gives us. Malek painstakingly acquired every single mannerism and made it his own. He got every move and every look spot on. Where Malek shines is in the musical performances and he channels Mercury’s unique and flamboyant on stage persona. Malek even perfects Mercury’s voice as it got more gravely as the AIDS began to take a toll on his body.

The film struggles to gain ground but it hits its stride about half way through. There were too many scenes at the beginning that were just plain cheesy or pretentious. The second half had a lot more depth, diving into Mercury’s inner world and struggles and I felt more connected to the story then. I loved the little touches especially the Queen inspired rendition of the 20th Century Fox theme. Peppered through the movie were some humorous moments and some pop culture references. The most notable one is Mike Myers, whose Bohemian Rhapsody scene from Wayne’s World re-introduced the song to a whole new generation, makes the following remark, much to the delight of anyone who will get the reference:

We need a song teenagers can bang their heads to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song.

Malek’s prosthetic teeth took some getting used to. They went for realism (Mercury had an overbite and four extra incisors) but it seemed more artificial. I was worried that there was too much to put me off until the film sent me on an emotional roller coaster I was not expecting. I spent the last 30 minutes of the film just sobbing. I was quite moved by Mercury’s story and was angered by how AIDS took him from us too soon. As a self-declared misfit, I found some truths about myself that I wasn’t quite ready to process.

Bohemian Rhapsody has its problems but Malek delivers an engaging performance that channels the true essence of Freddie Mercury. This one is sure to please fans. Rock on.

 

First Man

First Man

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We’ll never fully realize the level of courage and sacrifice required from the astronauts of those early NASA space missions. They put everything on the line, leaving behind their families and laying down their lives in the name of science and for love of country. It often came at a great cost. And if they were successful and lucky enough to survive their missions, they came back to earth as national heroes, their immortality secured.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Space exploration movies like The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995) offer a glimpse into this world. Director Damien Chazelle’s First Man is the latest in a line of space age dramas and it celebrates one of the greatest accomplishments in human history, the moon landing, through the story of one man, astronaut Neil Armstrong.

First Man follows the story of Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) from the death of his young daughter, to his extensive training and his two biggest missions: Gemini 8 and Apollo 11. The story is equally split between Armstrong’s time at NASA and his work with his fellow astronauts and engineers and his home life with his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and his two sons. The film is just as much a space exploration story as it is  a character study of a complicated man who suffered a tragic loss and struggles to connect with his family. Much time is given to Janet whom, one might be able to argue, is just as courageous as her husband. She has to deal with the stress of not only her husband’s dangerous missions but also his emotional unavailability. In addition she has to keep up her strength to raise her two boys while also being strong for the other astronaut’s wives who inevitably suffer great tragedies of their own.

Ryan Gosling does a marvelous job as the subdued and introspective Neil Armstrong. However I think Claire Foy has the breakout performance as his long-suffering wife Janet. She brings an intensity that not only matches beautifully with Gosling’s performance but also stands on its own. Technically the female parts are far outnumbered by the male but Foy’s performance claims so much of our attention that it feels more like its equally divided than one sided. I wouldn’t be surprised if come award season Foy will be recognized for her performance. Another counterbalance to Armstrong’s character is Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. Buzz is the outspoken, opinionated and charismatic astronaut, the complete opposite of Neil. I love their scenes together. Jason Clarke, who plays the doomed astronaut Ed White, is very well suited for his character and for mid-20th century parts. He just has that look that works. I was happy to see one of my personal faves Ethan Embry in a small role as space engineer and astronaut Pete Conrad.

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First Man must be seen on the big screen for the full impact. I watched it at my local IMAX theater after having missed an opportunity to see this at TIFF. The technical advancements in filmmaking contribute to powerful and awe inspiring depictions of Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 missions. I love how the film lingers on the moon landing, providing the original audio for those first crucial and historic moments but we also spend time in Armstrong’s personal bubble as he takes in his surroundings and taps into some of the emotion he’s been trying to suppress. The Gemini 8 scene was my favorite. It felt so realistic, almost as if I was in the space shuttle with the astronauts. We get a sense of how much power is needed and how many things have to go exactly right to thrust these astronauts into space.

 

 

 

First Man is a technical marvel in filmmaking that puts the audience in the spacecraft and on the moon for a thrilling experience.  It’s also a reserved yet poignant character study of a man on the brink of a great achievement who is struggling with his own demons. It deals with an important subject seriously but never becomes cheesy or pretentious. A must see.

Ferrari: Race to Immortality Poster

Ferrari: Race to Immortality

“It was an era of great glamour and great risk.”

In the 1950s, races like Le Mans and Grand Prix thrilled spectators and made racers celebrities. It was an exciting and scary time in the history of auto racing. This was a gentleman’s sport with much respect for the car and adoration for its driver. A first place win guaranteed immortality. During this time the sport wasn’t quite new but was still suffering from growing pains. Technological advancements ensured faster and more efficient vehicles and racers were beating speed records left and right. However the sport was still incredibly dangerous. From 1950 to 1959, 39 drivers were killed on the racetrack, an alarmingly high mortality rate.

Was the risk worth the glory? Enzo Ferrari thought so.

 

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In a new documentary by director Daryl Goodrich, Ferrari: Race to Immortality explores the pivotal years of 1955-1958, when Ferrari’s Formula One team was celebrated as one of the most successful teams in racing history.  Told through stunning archival footage and audio and interviews with historians, biographers, former racers and those closest to the drivers, we learn about these drivers who lived for the thrill even when death stared them right in the face. Key figures in the documentary include:

Mike Hawthorn
Peter Collins
Luigi Musso
Eugenio Castelotti
Marquis Alonso de Portago
Juan Manuel Fangio

 

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“These guys are warriors.”

The film also offers background on the figure behind the team and the brand, Enzo Ferrari. He had a very complicated relationship with his business and his drivers. Driven by unwavering ambition, he worked tirelessly to bring prestige to his brand Ferrari. It paid off because Ferrari is still known as one of the most important luxury car brands in the world. He felt little emotion for this team members, with the exception of Peter Collins who had a bond with Enzo’s terminally ill son.

A key takeaway from the documentary is how death was perceived by the drivers, team members, their significant others and by society as a whole. Today we can look back at this time and be both horrified at what happened and relieved that the sport is much safer now. But in the 1950s, society embraced death in a way we wouldn’t understand today. In the 1955 Le Mans disaster that killed one driver plus over 80 spectators, the race continued and Mike Hawthorn won. Whenever a fellow competitor died on the track, the wins were tempered with sadness but there was also a resilience to keep on. This is a reminder of what people would do for glory and immortality.

Race To Immortality at Brands Hatch

 

This documentary fully immerses you in the world of 1950s racing. Instead of seeing the talking heads we hear narration over all of the archival footage. The faces of the interview subjects are only revealed in the last 10 minutes. This was an interesting filmmaking technique. The footage keeps you in their world and breaking away to footage of interviews would have just taken the viewer out of it. Also there was a build up of curiosity about the interview subjects. There was some added some emotional resonance at the end when we finally get to see their faces.

Ferrari: Race to Immortality is a poignant documentary about an exciting yet dangerous time in the history of auto racing. It’s available on digital download and is coming to VOD on 7/24.

 

Coming Soon: A new biopic about musician Django Reinhardt

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Stations: Biopic, Feature Film

Time Period: 1940s Paris

Language: French

Django (2017)

Official Synopsis: The year is 1943 in Nazi-occupied Paris and Django Reinhardt is at the pinnacle of his art. The brilliant and carefree jazz guitarist, king of ethereal swing, plays to standing-room-only crowds in the capital’s greatest venues. Meanwhile his gypsy brethren are being persecuted throughout Europe. His life takes a turn for the worse when the Nazi propaganda machine wants to send him on tour in Germany.

DJANGO stars Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Beata Palya, and BimBam Merstein. The film is directed and written by Étienne Comar, adapted from Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko. Cinematography is by Christophe Beaucarne and Monica Coleman edits. Django Reinhardt’s music is interpreted by The Rosenberg Trio – Warren Ellis.

Screenings:
1/23 – Playhouse – Pasadena, CA
1/23 – Royal Theatre – Santa Monica, CA
1/23 – Town CEnter 5 – Encino, CA
1/23 – Laemmle Claremont – Claremont, CA
1/23-1/16 – Ahyra Fine Arts – Beverly Hills, CA
Coming to VOD and iTunes on 2/6.

Visit the Official Website for more details.

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