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?

Advertisements

img_6575Well, this is the first time I’ve had cause to use the “short story” category when writing a new post, but would you look at this! It’s a post about a short story!

The short story in question, The First Week in July, has gone live over at Jersey Devil Press this morning. I wrote it towards the end of 2017 but it had started it in the summer of 2016 while on holiday in the Cayman Islands and I basically saw the opening scene of the story play out in front of me. I knew there was a story in there, I just didn’t know what that story was and it took me the best part of eighteen months to figure it out.

It was the first story I’d finished in years, so it just lay in my DropBox until August this year when I took it to my real life writers’ group and it read far better than I remembered. Having been published there a few times before, it kinda felt like a Jersey Devil story. They agreed.

So have a read, let me and them know what you think if you feel compelled to do so, and I hope you enjoy. Who knows when the short story category is going to get used again?

Halloween_(2018)_posterI love Halloween movies. I loved the Return / Revenge of Michael Myers sequels as I can appreciate them for what they were. I loved the Rob Zombie remakes, sort of. I even loved Season of the Witch, and that’s not even a real Halloween movie. I guess I just enjoy the universe these characters inhabit, flaws and all.

This Halloween is, in essence, the new Halloween II. In this new continuity, Michael, now 61, has been locked up for forty years under the supervision of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer, who was Mehmet Osman out of off of EastEnders — that bugged me until I got home to check) following the death of Dr. Loomis. In that time, Michael hasn’t said a word. But, and this surely should have got the authorities to second guess themselves, he’s due to be transferred to a new facility on October 30. Yeah, how about we wait until the next run on November 6?

Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (a brilliant Jamie Lee Curtis) is reclusive mess. Her life changed the night he came home forty years ago, and not for the better. Twice divorced, estranged from her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who blames her for projecting paranoia and fear on her throughout childhood, and struggling to maintain a relationship with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak, Orange is the New Black). For the last four decades, Laurie has built herself a physical and mental fortress and is just waiting for the night he returns.

So in short, yes, I loved lots of the new Halloween. I loved the fact that it had the guts to say forget everything that happened post 1978. I loved the little nods back to the original that were peppered throughout the 106 minute running time. I loved the dynamic shifts in the relationships between Laurie, her daughter, and her granddaughter. I loved that this movie was #MeToo before #MeToo was a thing. Director David Gordon Green does a pretty good job at keeping things moving, and there’s a familiarity in the cinematography that was a nice touch. I also spotted a little nod to Texas Chainsaw Massacre that may or may not have been deliberate.

But. There’s a certain chill that goes down my spine whenever I see the name Danny McBride, particularly when it appears on the same credit that also contains the word “screenplay”. It’s a Pavlovian response that makes me expect disappointment. And the disappointment, I’m afraid, didn’t disappoint.

For all that the film gets right — the cast is great throughout, Jamie Lee Curtis is obviously fantastic, and I thought Bill Patton put in a great shift as the sheriff; also the continuity of Michael having an injured eye was a lovely touch — it just let me down every so often.

The podcasting team of investigative reporters gave us a great way into the story (loved that they were podcasters rather than TV journalists) and deserved more meat on those bones.

And this is a complaint that continued throughout. The reason Halloween worked so well in the 70s was that it took time to develop the characters so that we cared about them as individuals. We expected things to happen that didn’t happen … yet. In this sequel, much like the original sequel (that makes sense, right?), nameless, featureless characters are dispatched in creative ways almost before we get a chance to see them take their first onscreen breath, never mind their last one and none of it is surprising.

Michael’s ability to track down the whereabouts of key characters and his mask at will is a continuity issue that I’m prepared to live with. He’s Michael Myers. It’s Halloween. I can deal with it.

How a certain character managed to get into a certain location puzzled me.

All this said, it does do a lot very well. Allyson being gaslit and then having to fight off unwanted advances couldn’t be more 2018 if it tried. The care that’s gone into building Laurie’s character is so believable that we’re cheering for her more than ever. We know exactly how the last forty years have been for her. And for a sequel, we’re never cheering for Michael in the same way we started cheering for Jason or Freddy … well, maybe there was one death that I was quite pleased to see. The whole concept of fate and its certainty was spot on.

Coming out of the movie theater, I was kinda meh about the whole thing. I hadn’t been as thrilled as I’d wanted to be, although there is a section in the denouement where I did find it difficult to keep watching the screen, but that was the exception. On reflection, I enjoyed it far more that Danny McBride really should’ve allowed.

A triumph? No. Better than the original? Don’t be silly. But the best addition to the Halloween franchise since 1978? Yeah, probably.

 

23C1C236-0B83-43C0-9F5C-18AC08E83906Some big news that I haven’t shared on the blog as part of this campaign of neglect, but in the last couple of days, my debut novel, The Scottish Book of the Dead, has been released. You can find it on Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.

It’s published through Island City Publishing, a small indie press from my area of Michigan. Given that the story is set (mostly) in Scotland and has sprinklings of Scottish dialect throughout and is probably a tougher sell to a Mid Western population than some of the other titles in their stable, it speaks volumes and I’m hugely grateful that they’ve taken a punt on me. Celeste Bennett has been great to work with on this.

Back in 2010, I became interested in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I did some reading on them, learning that they were a collection of stories to guide a departed soul to the afterlife. I wondered what a Scottish version would look like. Turns out, there’s lots of swearing in it.

Initially, this existed as a short story, dealing with a man struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s dead and his unscrupulous brother-in-law’s intent to steal a silver photo frame. It was written entirely in Scots dialect and was published on the McStoryteller’s website and eventually featured on the Edinburgh eBook Festival.

I was driving home one from work one night with my then wife and I remember we were just coming into Alloa when I wondered aloud if I could stretch the idea out into a novel. Given that the Egyptian Book of the Dead was split into four sections, the idea of four intertwined novellas quickly developed. I wrote quite extensive notes, mapped the whole thing out, and basically wrote the 70,000 word story in seven weeks over the summer. It’s pretty much all I did that summer.

It wasn’t until the next year, through the help of a counselor, I realized how much of this story was me dealing with the death of my grandfather in 1990 and my dad in 1998. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious but at the time this came as a bit of a shock.

After one encouraging rejection from Canongate, every other publisher and agent had a problem with the dialect. Deciding that I’d rather be understood and the story was more than the dialect, I’ve toned it down quite a bit but hopefully left enough to give it that Scottish feel.

So there we have it. The book’s eight year journey to publication is over and now it’s a thing that exists in the world, on people’s Kindles and will be on people’s bedside tables, and that’s a pretty cool feeling. I’m a novelist. Wow.

Oh. Please buy my book.

f5eb99f3-e892-4a3a-956d-c536c6a11267-25002-0000243ed0db6d1dJaws 2 is the best shark movie ever made. It is. No, really, it is. It is so. How many helicopters does Jaws 1 eat? Exactly. So I went into The Meg knowing that it was unlikely to be better than Jaws 2, but maybe it would be better than Jaws 3? Surely it would be better than Jaws 4?

Jason Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a kinda International Rescue sort of chap. The movie opens with him having to make the decision to sacrifice two of his co-workers to save eleven others from a nuclear submarine that has apparently taken a bit of a battering from an unseen creature.

Five years later, and Jonas’s ex-wife, Lori (Jessica McNamee) is at the bottom of the ocean investigating a theoretical false floor. Financed by Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), Dr Minway Zhang’s research facility has a suspicion that what they think is the ocean bed is actually a cloud of hydrogen sulfide and this patch of ocean may well be deeper than the Marianas trench. And it is. Lori’s submersible punctures the cloud and discovers a brand new ecosystem of creatures that you’d never think would exist under such extreme pressure, including a MAHOOOOOOOSIVE shark that doesn’t take kindly to the lights on the submersible invading its environment, attacks it and damages their systems. Cue the call out to Jonas for one more suicide rescue mission.

The movie isn’t really about the rescue but in performing it, they seemingly leave a gap in the hydrogen sulfide that allows the really big shark — the titular Meg or Megalodon — to make it out and into the regular ocean. Not only that, but no one tells the really big shark that the changes in pressure should really mean that it explodes when it gets nearer the surface and instead it goes about attacking the research facility. So Jason Statham is going to have to kill it.

Positioned as a horror comedy — Bobby Darrin’s Beyond the Sea in the trailer, anyone? — it’s neither horrific or funny enough to earn either label. Oddly, it seems to take itself fan too seriously for the most part, and steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that it’s utter hockum. There’s a moment when Jason Statham has the opportunity to punch the shark in the face and he doesn’t take it. I’ll never forgive it for that.

It’s cheesy but not cheesy enough. It’s a single slice of Baby Swiss when what it really needs to be is a wheel of Extra Mature Cheddar topped with Stilton and stuffed inside a nice bit of Roquefort. It’s not cheesy in a satisfying way and it’s written by people you’d swear didn’t speak English as their first language — except they do — and they’ve contrived with director Jon Turteltaub to forget to put in anything remotely thrilling or suspenseful into the near two hour running time. It’s not in the least bit exciting and events just plod along from one set piece to another with little in the way of narrative progression in between. Seemingly, Eli Roth was on board to direct and one imagines that while the end result would still probably be bobbins, at least there might’ve been a bit of gore to get worked up about.

It’s not entirely worthless. The dynamic between Statham and Li Bingbing’s Suyin Zhang is quite cute and Shuya Sophia Cai is good as Suyin’s daughter Meiying.

The movie cost a ridiculous amount of money to make and I have no doubt that it’ll turn a profit. But something as dumb and nonsensical as this really should be more fun. And it’s not. Honestly, it’s about on par with Jaws 3.5, and that’s probably the most damning thing I can say about it.

poohDifficult as it may be to believe, but I was looking forward to this, seeing it as a potential stopgap until Paddington 3 has the good grace to be written and made and released and melt my heart all over again.

So how did that work out, then?

Proceedings begin with a young Christopher Robin saying cheerio to Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the rest of the gang for what he believes to be the final time. He’s being sent off to boarding school so will be moving far from The Hundred Acre Wood. There follows the opening credits scene which takes altogether far too long to explain what happens to Christopher in the following years, and in doing so, basically lays out all the beats for everything that’s going to happen over the next hour and three quarters.

Christopher is sent away, loses his father, is told he is now the man of the house, as an adult and now played by Ewan McGregor he meets his wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) has a daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), goes off to war, comes back with an injury, finds himself working long hours for a horrible boss in a factory, spends less and less time with his family and particularly a daughter who barely knows him. He pushes his work ethic on to her and has plans for her to go to boarding school.

He’s forgotten how to have fun. Evelyn can’t remember the last time he laughed. When he has to work instead of joining his wife and kid on a weekend break to his old house in Sussex, we get the feeling that he might either wind up on his own in life or die from stress. Meanwhile, Pooh has lost all his friends, so walks through Christopher Robin’s door in the tree, to find his old pal and get his help.

This is all in the first act. I haven’t spoiled anything. But if you’ve ever seen a movie in your life, I’ve kinda spoiled the whole thing. Yeah. You’re welcome. Nothing that happens beyond this will surprise you. It absolutely follows the path the rigid narrative demands, and that is a huge problem in making any kind of emotional investment in the film.

Not only that, we focus far too much on Christopher, when any fun to be had in the movie comes from Pooh and his friends, but particularly Pooh. All of the voice actors are great. Jim Cummings voices Pooh and Tigger. Brad Garrett is perfect as Eeyore.

Visually, though, it looks weird. The toys are beautifully animated but their eyes lack life which makes it look like The Hundred Acre Wood is actually somewhere on the set of The Walking Dead. Given that the Wood seems to match Christopher Robins’ mood at any given moment, it’s quite dark and foggy a lot of the time, which doesn’t help matters. It’s a really odd film for kids, if that’s even what it’s meant to be. So it occupies a strange place where it’s aimed at the wrong group of people that it hopes will appreciate it.

The actors are good for the most part and there’s a great cameo from Mackenzie Crook that’s over far too quickly, and a wee red balloon manages to be the movies heart, but overall it’s a let down and precisely no threat to a certain Peruvian delight. It could’ve been so much better.

the-first-purge-pg4_advance1sheet_rgb_2_rgb-720x1140I haven’t kept up with The Purge movies. I saw the first one and didn’t really care for it. It took what on the surface was a great idea and then inexplicably turned it into a fairly dull home invasion movie with some social commentary thrown in. Why narrow the focus so much? It didn’t make sense. The two sequels passed me by. They have, however, made a ton of cash. So what do I know?

The First Purge isn’t so much a prequel to the Purge series as it is a sequel to Get Out. There are bits of The Raid in here. There are bits of Attack the Block. The end is basically Die Hard. Written by James DeMonaco, who has written and directed all previous installments, and directed by Gerard McMurray, this is the movie that the first Purge probably should’ve been.To push crime rates below 1% and restore the economy, the New Founding Fathers of America have declared an experiment that’ll Make America Great Again. Honestly, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. It never has.

In Staten Island, for 12 hours, no crime will be punishable up to an including murder, and participants will be rewarded with $5,000. This largely black and latino community, while concerned about the implications, are more interested in throwing street parties for the event than they are killing each other, which forces the NFFA to take matters into their own hands.

We see the story through the eyes of local drug king-pin D’mitri (Insecure’s Y’lan Noel), his ex-girlfriend Nya (Lex Scott Davis), and her brother Isaiah (Jovian Wade) and the main urban villain of the piece Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) who is quite happy to kill as many people as he possibly can with syringes attached to his hand a la Freddie Krueger.

The action is beautifully choreographed and shot and the violence is visceral and brutal at times, but seldom has brutality been staged so perfectly. I’m honestly struggling to think of an American movie that presented its violence in a more artistically satisfying manner. I guess my main problem was I just didn’t care too much if the drug baron lived or died.

It doesn’t take much to see the satire and social commentary of life in the US in 2018. There are allusions to Dylann Roof’s Charleston massacre. There are things that are eerily similar to the events in Charlottesville. You’ll no doubt see things that remind you of the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s even a pussy that is in very real danger of being grabbed. There’s a red cap version of the poster. The movie does nothing to shy away from these comparisons, rather it shoves it right in your face and perhaps it does it a little too forcefully.