BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Cert 12A Stars 5

In a year when musicals have ruled cinema, this supersonic biopic of Freddie Mercury allows rock band Queen to claim their rightful crown as the champions of the box office.

Sympathetic, moving, funny and filled with some of the greatest rock anthems ever recorded, at a rare lick we see Freddie’s rise from airport luggage handler to global superstar.

As the band’s outrageous and supremely gifted vocalist, he struggles to break free of his traditional family, beginning the film by chasing what he wants and ending up with what he needs.

Powered by his finding somebody to love, 1985’s famous Wembley charity gig, Live Aid, becomes a redemptive, poignant and climactic celebration.

Though the film steers away from showing anything graphic, Freddie’s rockstar party life leads to his being diagnosed with AIDS, the disease which would kill him at 45 years old.

Rami Malek is tremendous as Freddie, and who cares if the American-Egyptian doesn’t particularly look like the Parsi Indian Brit, he absolutely captures the essence of the man as we’d like to remember him, dynamic, creative, outrageous and a world class crowd-pleasing frontman.

With the actors miming to the bands actual recordings, Queen’s chart-topping and lengthy back catalogue supercharges the script, and it’s worth the ticket price to hear the soundtrack, which rockets through their best-selling greatest hits album.

The majestic title track is the first song I can remember hearing that wasn’t a church hymn, and the scenes of its recording imbue the song with deeply personal meaning, a trick used repeatedly on songs such as, Love of My Life.

Band members, Brian May and Roger Taylor are executive-producers, and you might expect more of a contribution from their characters. Efforts are made to emphasise their contribution to the group, but even in their own band they were always the supporting act.

It’s a kind of magic this films is as great as it is, after the original director, Bryan Singer, was sacked with two weeks of filming to go. For the sake of brevity some of the dialogue is very direct, but it’s not afraid to ask the important questions, such as ‘how many Galileo’s do we need?’.

For his Tom Hanks-starring 1994 drama, Philadelphia, director Jonathan Demme persuaded Bruce Springsteen to contribute a title track. Demme argued the Boss’ song would encourage people who otherwise might  be disinclined, to go see a film about a gay man who dies of AIDS.

Similarly the music of rock royalty Queen will draw in an audience to this determinedly mainstream Hollywood biopic where they’ll watch a drama which celebrates the life of a much-loved performer who dies from AIDS.

And though this isn’t a ‘message’ film, if it kickstarts a discussion among parents and young teens of sexual health then that can only be a good thing.

Also in this film is a scene featuring a passionate, tender snog between two men, conducted without shame or fear. How many other broad-appeal saturation release Hollywood films will be showing that this year, next year or the year after?

It’s unlikely the upcoming Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will feature Jude Law’s young wizard Dumbledore snogging Johnny Depp’s titular villain. The Star Wars, Marvel and Fast Furious franchises fail repeatedly to do anything more than pay lip service to gay representation at best, and the decision to cut a gay kiss from Star Trek Beyond tells us all we need to know about Hollywood timidity.

I loved last year’s gay drama, God’s Own Country as much as anyone else who saw it, but far more people will see , and I suspect many will be people who wouldn’t normally consider to pay to watch a gay love story.

 isn’t a warts and all expose of the life of Freddie Mercury, it’s the unapologetically enjoyable, accessible, music-laden celebration it sets out to be. It promises a good time and it delivers.

And for once don’t worry about the size of the cinema screen, see this at the venue with the biggest sound system. And this will rock you.

A Star Is Born (2018)

Here’s a spoiler heavy thread on why Bradley Cooper’s #AStarIsBorn fails in regard to its sexual politics and misunderstanding of its own nature.

.#AStarIsBorn 2018 re-tells a story without updating the late-mid 20th century gender politics to reflect our very different times. Of the four versions, the first three were made in the era of the casting couch, the new version in the time of  #Metoo

The first version of #AStarIsBorn was released in 1937, the same year as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We wouldn’t expect the mooted live action version of Disney’s classic animation to have a heroine as passive or as un-ironically domesticated as the original.

.#AStarIsBorn charts the relationship between a wealthy older husband and mentor and his young wife and protege. The first three versions are the product of male producers and directors and predominantly male writers, it’s always framed as a tragic love story.

In 2018’s #AStarIsBorn Bradley Cooper combines those three roles with that of lead actor, and so unthinkingly continues to frame it in the same way, with the male character presented as being a tragic figure

However far from #AStarIsBorn being a tragic love story, it’s a tale of abuse. The key driver of abuse is the desire to control, which Cooper’s character, named Jackson Maine in Cooper’s version, seeks at all times to exert over Lady Gaga’s character, Ally.

Jackson’s controlling nature is flagged up early. He has his chauffeur stake out Ally’s house until she agrees to be flown to his gig. Later he drags her on stage to perform. #AStarIsBorn

Enter record producer, Rez, who because he threatens Jackson’s control over Ally, is framed as the film’s ‘bad guy’. Even though Rez never tries to have sex with Ally, treats her with respect and works hard to make Ally’s career a success. #AStarIsBorn

At this point Jackson tries to reassert his control over Ally by proposing marriage, disapproving of her new career direction, and calling her ugly. And yet the film believes #AStarIsBorn is a romantic love story.

When these strategies fail, Jackson’s heavy drinking nearly sabotages her career at an awards ceremony debacle. Even though Ally cancels her European tour, Jackson violently commits suicide. #AStarIsBorn

Tragically this attempt of gaslighting from the grave works. Ally is made to feel guilty for his death and in publicly taking Jackson’s name, Ally submits once more to his control. #AStarIsBorn

In framing the story in the style of the original and not taking account of the progress in sexual politics, there is a huge dissonance between the film #AStarIsBorn 2018 believes it is – a tragic love story – and the film it actually is – a tragic tale of abuse.

.#AStarIsBorn 2018 is pernicious for equating love with control, and suggesting violence solves ‘romantic’ difficulties.

Plus it’s not best to represent suicide as an act of love when suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. #AStarIsBorn

Here’s hoping the new Snow White meets a prince more respectful and loving of her than Jackson is of Ally. #AStarIsBorn

 

Here’s my review of the film

A STAR IS BORN (2018)

Cert 15 135mins Stars 2

Extrovert pop star Lady Gaga gives a 21st century gloss to this dated, ego-driven and tone deaf musical drama.

This third remake of the 1937 original cleaves closely to the Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson 1976 version in story, tone and nuclear-grade levels of indulgence, courtesy of the multi-tasking Bradley Cooper.

As producer, director, co-writer and star, Cooper offers a mumbling and stumbling turn as ageing alcoholic rocker, Jackson Maine, who thrusts a waitress called Ally to singing superstardom after he discovers her performing in a drag bar.

Cooper is clearly indulging a long held ambition to unleash his inner rock god, which is never a good look for a man over 40, as my 7 year old will tell you.

Known to her parents as Stefani Germanotta, Gaga is a magnetic and affecting presence in her first lead role as Ally, and is unsurprisingly at her best when she unleashes her awesome vocal power. These are the films best and most successful moments, something even beyond Cooper’s ability to get wrong.

A relationship develops between the pair, and we see how the self pitying man-child, Jackson, is unable to cope with Ally’s growing success, with her having to manage his controlling and bullying manner.

There’s no reflection on how the music industry has massively changed since Streisand’s day and social media is almost entirely absent.

Worse, the script demonstrates a tin ear for contemporary issues such as the #metoo movement. There’s an astonishingly lack of judgement in romanticising the behaviour of a rich, famous and powerful older man who marries and abuses his wife and protege, and then to offer his character a note of nobility.

From tinnitus to a sad back-story, Cooper pulls out every stop to afford Jackson sympathy but he’s seemingly unaware the singer’s behaviour is cowardly and weak, making the signature tune, ‘The Shallow’, unintentionally appropriate.