November 2018


A_Star_is_BornMy second musical movie of the weekend. You can guess who was picking the movies in this house. Hint. It wasn’t me.

A Star Is Born is a remake of the 1937 original, which was remade in 1954, then remade again in 1976, then remade yet again Bollywood style in 2013. So we should all be familiar with the story, yes? Also, this is another movie that was stuck in development hell for years and at one point was poised to be directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Beyonce and Tom Cruise. Yeah. Phew.

Bradley Cooper, in perhaps the performance of his life, plays Jackson Mane, a famous country-rock singer whose star is on the wane and who from the off is battling his demons of alcoholism and drug abuse. After a concert and out of car booze, he pulls over at a drag bar where he sees Ally, a waitress and singer-songwriter perform La Vie en Rose. Captivated by her, they talk through the night and into the morning and they learn more about each other. He encourages (pretty much forces) her to confront her own insecurities and puts her on stage at his next concert. And so begins Ally’s ascent while Jackson’s trajectory is on a different course.

Lady Gaga is simply amazing in the role of Ally. It’s a knockout performance. When she first plucks up the courage and steps into the spotlight, I confess to having some moisture in the corner of my eyes. I absolutely felt her anxiety before she coaxed one foot in front of the other. I hope she continues down the acting path.

Scattered through we have brilliant supporting performances from Sam Elliott as Jackson’s older brother and manager, Bobby — because OF COURSE Sam Elliott is Bradley Cooper’s brother — and Andrew Dice Clay (what?!) as Ally’s dad. Didn’t we last see him in 1990’s The Adventures of Ford Fairlane?

There’s something universally appealing about the plot; given the number of remakes that’s a pretty obvious comment. Here, it’s freshened up by Cooper’s direction and writing, helped by Eric Roth and Will Fetters. There’s a certain mumblecore feel about a lot of the scenes and I get the sense there was plenty of improvisation here and in the first act that really helped cement the new existence Ally found herself in and the friendship she established with Jack. It felt normal. The casual mumble from Cooper where he invites Ally to be at his next concert despite her having to work and then ending up on a private jet was pitch perfect. Halfway through the second act, if I’m honest, it started to become tiresome, especially when doubled up with Jackson’s increasing deafness.

While I’m kinda complaining, Dave Chappelle was ridiculously underused. If you’re going to have Dave Chappelle in a movie, give him more to do than pick Bradley Cooper out of a bush. And the story is pretty light on story. Post-movie, you could easily describe to a friend what happened in a couple of sentences and one breath.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that this is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and he does a pretty good job. Maybe it could be argued that he puts himself in scenes he doesn’t need to be in, but he’s helped by having a cinematographer like Matthew Libatique who has worked extensively with Darren Aronofsky and I thought the pacing was mostly spot on.

The music, I could take or leave. I preferred Lady Gaga singing the more country-rock influenced stuff over the pop music that required dance routines, but nothing was objectionable and I will probably buy the soundtrack.

I didn’t think I’d be typing this, but it’s definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen this year and I’m really looking forward to the 2030 remake when it comes around.

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Bohemian_Rhapsody_posterIs this the real life?

It’s no secret that the biopic of Freddy Mercury and, to a lesser extent, Queen has spent a bit of time in production hell. Multiple directors, changing lead actors, problems with the script. Since its conception in 2010, it hasn’t had to look too hard for its woes, perhaps because two of the surviving members are heavily involved and want to control how they and Freddy are portrayed. Well, it’s finally been made, it’s out, and we can all cast our judgment on it.

Okay, here’s what’s good. The actors, for the most part, are great and they eek every ounce they can get from the story. It is to their credit that they get so much. The songs are wisely chosen. The capturing of an age is pinpoint in its accuracy.

That’s about it. Full disclosure, I wouldn’t describe myself as a Queen fanatic, but I have their Greatest Hits, I liked most of their singles, and I remember where I was when (spoiler alert) I found out he’d died.

I have no idea if I’m right, but I’m willing to wager one of the Royal Bank of Scotland twenty pound notes that I carry around everywhere with me that 95% of the non-musical parts of this movie never happened in the way the movie would have you believe. For example, I’m pretty sure Queen weren’t solely responsible for the success of Live Aid.

I’m all for creative license but the manner in which major events happened without pause or dramatic tension was pretty laughable, and all delivered through a script by Anthony McCarten (who can write; I’ve seen The Theory of Everything) that you can practically smell. Line after line splats as it lands, doused with the nuance and subtlety of a dog turd on a stick. It felt very much to me like if you were to approach a 14 year old kid who has their own band and a vague interest in writing, gave them the brief of writing the story of a flamboyant front man and three largely interchangeable band mates, it probably would be as good as what’s presented here.

I’m left with the impression that none of the band actually liked each other all that much, and they tolerated Freddy more than anything else. In two and a quarter hours, I know no more about them or their relationships now than I did this afternoon when I decided to go see the movie.

I’m a kid of the 70s. I grew up in the 80s. I’m not sure every gay man had a penchant for leather and was issued a textbook moustache from the leader of the biker group they were part of. The movie insists otherwise.

But, look. The music is great, plucking out the high points of a scattered back catalogue. The Live Aid section for the most part is shot for shot although songs are skipped and abridged unapologetically. In fairness, Rami Malek does an absolutely sensational job inhabiting the body and character of Freddy Mercury. Gwilym Lee is more Brian May than Brian May. Joseph Mazzello is a double for John Deacon. Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor … well, Ben Hardy has a nice blond wig, I guess. Outside the band, Lucy Boynton did a great turn as Mary, Freddy’s fiancee and lifelong friend. If that’s all you’re interested in, you’ll more than likely have a ball.

For me, I need more than that. The problem where the music is concerned is there’s no history to how these anthemic songs came into being. Freddy already has the melody for Bohemian Rhapsody. John Deacon comes to the band with the riff to Another One Bites The Dust without any notes of the inspiration. We Will Rock You seems to have come from a killing time exercise, or Step Class, while everyone waited for Freddy to arrive. Everything happens so easily. Too easily. The band records their debut album, it’s heard by an EMI A&R guy, it’s a success, they go from strength to strength and, in a particularly low lull, say city names out loud while on tour for a bit. Later, on other tours, city names fly out of the screen in threes.

Elsewhere, Mike Myers is an odd choice as EMI executive Ray Foster, and our attention is drawn, unforgivably, to this when, in assessing his thoughts on Bohemian Rhapsody, he predicts that no kids are ever going to sit in a car and nod along to this. Urgh. Tom Hollander does everything he can as the band’s lawyer/agent. And it took me an outrageously long time to twig that the band manager was Littlefinger out of off of The Game of the Thrones. By which I mean, my wife told me.

The acting chops are meaty indeed. The musical performances are fantastic. The failure of this project is entirely down to a dreadful script, questionable homosexual stereotypes, and a willingness to downplay Freddy into a bland, sad, lonely man who never understood who he really was. Queen isn’t at all interesting. Freddy Mercury is. Someone should’ve noticed that.

Is this just fantasy?