Saturday, January 19, 2019

Two Visions of the End of the World

John Krasinski & Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place
Apocalyptic tales have been a staple of movies since the 1950s. When Worlds Collide, Fail-Safe, The Omega Man, Deep Impact and The Core are just a few of the many “end of the world” stories that have exploded across the screen. Recently, two films, A Quiet Place and Bird Box, have continued this tradition. A Quiet Place was directed and co-written by John Krasinksi, of The Office and Amazon’s Jack Ryan series. The film tells the story of a couple (played by Krasinksi and his real-life wife Emily Blunt) trying to survive and keep their family together in the aftermath of an invasion of Earth by mysterious creatures. These monsters are blind, but can track their prey by sound and are lightning fast. They have killed much of Earth’s population, and the few survivors have been driven into hiding.

Lee Abbot (Krasinski) and his family struggle to live in this dangerous world, where silence is your ally, and noise is your enemy. One of the unique aspects of the story is that the characters must communicate using sign language. In the film, one of Lee’s children, his daughter Regan, is deaf and wears a cochlear implant. She is portrayed by Millicent Simonds, who is deaf in real life. She adds a layer of verisimilitude to the film, and gives a strong performance. The rest of the cast also does a nice job, mastering the difficult job of conveying much of their characters thoughts and emotions without the use of dialogue.

As a director, Krasinki manages to both use and upend the conventions of this type of tale, subverting our expectations throughout the course of the film. The backstory of the invasion is effectively illustrated by using newspaper clippings posted on the wall of the family’s hideaway, and briefly whispered conversations. There are also a couple of thrilling and suspenseful action sequences where the family must survive attacks by the creatures, using their wits and the few tools at hand. A Quiet Place is as much a story about the Abbot family and their own dynamics, as it is about surviving the invasion. While it has it's darker aspects, it does ultimately celebrate the strong spirit of humanity. A Quiet Place is a well-crafted, intelligent and often unsettling thriller.

Sandra Bullock in Bird Box
Bird Box is an original Netflix film that offers a different version of the apocalypse. Sandra Bullock stars as Malorie, a woman who gets caught up in an invasion of Earth by entities that, when you look at them, manifest as your worst fears, then drive you to suicide. As film opens, she’s with two children, telling them they’re about to begin a dangerous journey. We then flash back five years, to when the creatures first appeared. One of the first victims is Malorie’s sister, Jessica, who is driving her home from an appointment. Chaos ensues around the world as large numbers of people begin wreaking havoc, and killing themselves.

Malorie takes refuge in a house that is sheltering a small group of survivors. As with many end of the world stories, there’s a cross section of personality types in the home. There’s a cynical, acerbic older man (played by John Malkovich) whose wife dies helping Malorie; a naïve young woman, who like Malorie, is pregnant; a supermarket employee named Charlie and Tom, a construction worker, who has assumed de facto leadership of the group. Everyone helps to board up or blackout the windows so that no one can see outside. Charlie thinks he’s figured out how the creatures operate, and theorizes that as long as you don’t look at them, you’ll be fine. The creatures also don’t appear to be able to come indoors.

As time goes on, two things become apparent; not everyone in the house is what they seem, and not everyone who looks at the monsters kills himself or herself immediately. The creatures use some people as pawns to force others to look at them. The movie flashes back and forth between “five years ago” when the invasion first happens, and a current timeframe, when Malorie and two children (all wearing blindfolds) make a perilous journey to locate another group of survivors. Bullock is excellent in her role, but too many of the supporting characters have underwritten parts that aren’t fleshed out, despite the cast’s solid performances. The film fails to explore some of its most interesting ideas. Just how are the creatures able to use some people as lackeys? Why are birds able to sense when the creatures are nearby?

One effective idea is that we never actually see the creatures, as they appear as different things to different people. But Bird Box (based on a novel by Josh Malerman) looks to have its cake and eat it too; it wants to be a meaningful, big budget thriller, and a rock your socks B flick. The movie ends up not really succeeding at either. It’s not a bad film, and it’s watchable, just not very memorable. There’s none of the emotional resonance or intensity of A Quiet Place. Both films are ultimately worth seeing, but if you have to choose one, I’d go with the more subtle terrors of A Quiet Place. Here are links to the trailers for A Quiet Place; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2bR7NhCf_A, which is now available for streaming, and on DVD and Blu-ray and Bird Box; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2AsIXSh2xo, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"Ride the Pink Horse" into Noir Territory

Robert Montgomery, Wanda Hendrix and Thomas Gomez
Robert Montgomery was a talented actor who was as adept at dramatic parts as he was at the comedic roles that initially made him a star. He also had a strong interest in working behind the scenes in films. Montgomery made his debut behind the camera with Lady in the Lake (1947) an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel. The movie was unique for its time, telling the story via the perspective of the lead character, detective Philip Marlowe (played by Montgomery) who is never seen on screen, except for a couple of brief sequences. His second directorial effort, Ride The Pink Horse (1947), is another intriguing, offbeat, and very effective noir tale. The story begins when a disillusioned WWII veteran named Gagin (portrayed by Montgomery) shows up in San Pablo, a small New Mexico town. He's looking for a mobster named Frank Hugo. Gagin is seeking revenge for a friend's murder, and has a plan that involves blackmailing Hugo.

Gagin has arrived during the town's annual fiesta. He's having trouble finding a hotel room until a local girl named Pila helps him locate one. As he hatches his scheme to take down Hugo, he's befriended by Pila and also the ebullient Pancho, who operates the town's carousel. But as often happens in the noir world, things spiral in ways that he doesn't expect. He crosses paths with a Federal agent named Retz, who's also after Hugo, and warns Gagin to stay away from the gangster. Gagin also meets Marjorie, Hugo's girlfriend, who entices him to alter his plan to include her. Gagin then has to contend with both Hugo and Marjorie, who in true femme fatale fashion, isn't all she seems to be. Is Hugo one step ahead of Gagin? Just whose side is Retz on? Is Gagin out to get justice for his friend, or obtain himself a big payday via his blackmail scheme? Will Pilar and Pancho help him escape this web of deceit and double crosses? 

The movie features exquisite cinematography by Russell Metty, who worked on two Orson Welles films, The Stranger and Touch of Evil. There's a particularly striking sequence late in the film when a wounded and disoriented Gagin wanders around the fiesta, trying to get his bearings. The performances are strong; Montgomery deftly conveys Gagin's sense of weariness and isolation, and his struggle to understand the different world in which he finds himself after the war. Wanda Hendrix is wonderful as Pila. The character isn't portrayed as the typical "young girl in love with an older man" part found in many stories of this type. She becomes a friend and guardian angel to Gagin. Pila's optimism and faith is nicely contrasted against Gagin's cynicism. Thomas Gomez (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) also moves past stereotype and portrays Pancho as a truly three dimensional character. Fred Clark is appropriately oily as Frank Hugo. Art Smith as Retz and Andrea King as the double-crossing Marjorie are also very good in their roles.

The film was produced by Joan Harrison, who is best known for her work with Alfred Hitchcock, both for the big screen and on television. The screenplay is by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, based on a book by Dorothy Hughes. Hughes also wrote the novel which served as the basis for the classic Humphrey Bogart noir, In a Lonely Place, directed by Nicholas Ray. Ride The Pink Horse is often screened on Turner Classic Movies and other cable movie channels. There is also a fantastic Blu-ray edition of the film, which was released in 2015 by the Criterion Collection, which has an insightful audio commentary by noir experts by Alain Silver and James Ursini. Ride The Pink Horse features a compelling story in an unusual setting, great cinematography, and some fine performances, all anchored by excellent direction from star Robert Montgomery. Here's a link to the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVcdFIWT6zA.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Monster, A Girl and Multiple Genres

Have you ever seen a movie that's part courtroom drama, part gangster story, part noir tale, and part mad scientist thriller? If the answer is no, then you obviously haven't checked out 1941's The Monster and the Girl, which just might be the oddest mix of genres ever put together. The film opens with Susan Webster (played by Ellen Drew) facing the camera and telling her story in flashback. We begin in a big city courtroom where a man is on trial for murder. Susan is in the audience, and we learn that the defendant is her brother, Scot. He had traveled to the city to save her from the clutches of a gangster named Bruhl, who's forced her to work as a "bar hostess" aka prostitute. It turns out that the dead man is one of Bruhl's men, and Scot (Phillip Terry) was at the scene (where he ended up holding the murder weapon) when the thug was killed. Scot is found guilty, and sentenced to die, despite Susan's heartfelt appeal to the judge.

Paul Lukas & Ellen Drew
A reporter named Sam, who has been covering the trial, takes pity on Susan and tries to help her. Meanwhile, a scientist named Dr. Parry visits Scot in prison. He asks permission to use Scot's brain, after his death, for an experiment. A despondent Scot agrees, and is executed shortly thereafter. The doctor then transplants Scot's brain into a gorilla! What Parry doesn't count on is that the gorilla now has Scot's memories. The "monster" escapes and starts knocking off the members of Bruhl's gang, one by one. The police are baffled by these mysterious killings, in which all the victims are crushed to death. As the gorilla continues his murder spree, Scot's dog, who senses that the monster is Scot, loyally follows him around! Yes, folks, it's a boy and his dog story, too!

Sam and Susan investigate the killings. As the gang members continue to be eliminated, Bruhl suspects someone is targeting him. When Susan goes to confront the gang boss, will she be sealing her own fate? Can the gorilla/Scot complete his final revenge by killing those responsible for his death? It all comes together in the film's climax, which despite the numerous plot threads on display, runs barely over an hour. The solid cast features dependable character actors such as Paul Lukas, who portrays Bruhl, and George Zucco, as...(who else?)..the "mad" scientist, Dr. Parry. Onslow Stevens (House of Dracula), Joseph Calleia (Touch of Evil) and Robert Paige (Son of Dracula) also turn up in supporting roles.

This enjoyable movie, with its delightfully daffy patchwork of genres, features some effective cinematography by Victor Milner and solid direction by Stuart Heisler. The Monster and the Girl was recently celebrated on Turner Classic Movies by John Landis, who selected the film as one of his choices when he acted as a Guest Programmer for an evening last December. Writer-director Landis was very enthusiastic regarding his appreciation of the film, and had a lively conversation with host Ben Mankiewicz about the movie. Alas, the film is currently unavailable on home video, but it does occasionally turn up on some cable movie channels. If you're looking for something a little different in your movie diet, give The Monster and the Girl a try.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

"White Lace & Promises" Celebrates the Words and Music of Paul Williams

Andrew Curry's Portland-based label Curry Cuts has previously released the stellar tribute albums Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock, Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion and Songs. Bond Songs:The Music Of 007. All of these excellent compilations feature a group of talented indie rock and pop artists focusing their talents on a specific musical genre. For the latest Curry Cuts project, Andrew decided to pay tribute to the music of singer-songwriter-actor Paul Williams, with White Lace & Promises: The Songs Of Paul Williams. He graciously took some time out of his schedule to talk with me about the album.

Q: Past projects from Curry Cuts have focused on the music from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the themes from the James Bond films. Why did you select the work of Paul Williams for this album? Are you a fan of his work?

A: Paul was one of those pop culture fixtures when I was growing up in the ‘70s, and I was always fascinated by him. I mean, he was everywhere. I used to see him telling funny stories on talk shows, or singing on variety shows, or acting in movies. I was always struck by how famous he seemed to be, especially since he hardly fit the mold of a conventionally handsome movie star. It was only years later, when I paid a little more attention to songs and songwriters, that I discovered how many era-defining hits he had been a part of writing. All of those gigantic Carpenters hits. All the Muppet songs that he helped write. It was a real eye-opener for me. And it was then when I realized that I was a big fan of his music, not just his talk show persona.

Q: You have a stock company of talented performers (including Eytan Mirsky, Cliff Hillis and Minky Starshine) who’ve appeared on multiple Curry Cuts releases, and appear again on White Lace & Promises. There are a few new faces this time around, such as Sitcom Neighbor and The New Empire. Do the artists featured on your projects seek you out, or do you have a wish list of people you want to work with?

A: I had never thought of it as a stock company, but I suppose it really is. Cliff Hillis has been on all four of my compilations. Minky Starshine, Eytan Mirsky, Lisa Mychols, The Corner Laughers, The Davenports, and Brandon Schott have each appeared on three. Plenty of others have appeared on two of them. I always like working with people whose original music I love, so it’s no surprise that I gravitate towards those folks again and again. But I’m conscious of wanting to work with new people on each project I do. To use the examples that you did, Sitcom Neighbor put out one of my very favorite records of 2017, so I knew I wanted them involved. The New Empire is one of Fernando Perdomo’s many projects, and he’s a longtime favorite of mine, so I was happy when he expressed an interest. I do get approached by musicians interested in appearing on my projects, but I generally go into the planning process with a list of people to invite.

Q: The song selection on White Lace & Promises is excellent, and effectively demonstrates the depth and eclectic nature of Paul Williams’ musical output throughout his long career. I was thrilled to see two songs from Phantom of the Paradise (a film that Williams starred in, and for which he composed the score) on the disc. Did you have a tough time picking out which songs to include on the album?

A: There were so many to choose from! I didn’t want to lean too heavily on his work with the Carpenters or the Muppets, but I’m also well aware that those two acts are how many people got to know Paul in the first place. So leaving off any of those songs just felt arbitrary. But what that meant is that a record I originally envisioned as having 10-12 tracks quickly become one with 23. And I still didn’t get some on there that I wanted, like his recent work with Daft Punk or the songs he did for Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. But that’s the peril of all the records I put out: the instinct to put more and more songs on there. At a certain point, you just have to say, “That’s going to have to be enough.”

Q: The music of a gifted singer-songwriter like Paul Williams lends itself to a variety of interpretations. On White Lace & Promises, I enjoyed hearing the beautifully done cover of “You & Me Against The World” by Lisa Mychols, and I also dug Ballzy Tomorrow’s energized version of “To Put Up With You.” Were there any different takes on songs contributed to the project that surprised you when you first listened to them?

A: Those two tracks are both so fantastic. I was thrilled that XNYMFO and Indy Neidell were able to take a song like “Dangerous Business” from the notorious (and, frankly, undeserved) flop, Ishtar, and turn it into a fully realized track. I mean, the Ishtar soundtrack isn’t just floating around out there. So they had to piece it all together from clips they found on YouTube and the like. That’s just one example, though. The joy of putting these things together is that I could tell you similar stories about virtually every song on the records I’ve put out. The musicians I work with are just so creative.

Q: Unlike your previous releases, White Lace & Promises focuses on the work of one particular artist. I have to ask: Is Paul Williams aware of the project, and has he heard the album? 

A: He is aware of it! In fact, he reached out to me via email a few weeks back to thank me for putting it together. It was the nicest note, and it was entirely unexpected, as I had not written to him first. And then, he tweeted out the first review that we got! It was a legitimate thrill. In putting this record together, I’ve gotten to communicate with a few people who have met or worked with Paul, and to a person, they all say that he’s one of the most genuinely friendly and caring people they’ve met. My very limited dealings with him bear that out. As for whether he’s heard the record, I know for a fact that he’s heard several of the tracks. I sent him the full record a week or two back. I’m waiting for the right time to ask if he’s gotten the chance to hear it all and what he thinks.

Q: Congratulations on the release of another fantastic record. Can you give us any hints about what’s coming up next from Curry Cuts?

A: You know, I had the ‘80s compilation in mind well before the release of my Lite Rock tribute. The Paul Williams idea was swimming around before I even started work on my James Bond record. In other words, my next ideas are always brewing well before I commence working on them. Which is why it’s sort of curious to me that, as of this moment, I don’t even have a vague notion for what might be next. Which is okay. I never want to force anything. But I know that once inspiration hits, I’ll jump right back in. Here’s hoping that I can convince more great musicians to sign up with me!

I'd like to thank Andrew for taking the time to discuss White Lace & Promises with me. For more coverage on the album, you can read my review of the disc at the arts and entertainment website CultureSonar, by following this link:https://www.culturesonar.com/white-lace-promises-evergreen-covers-of-paul-williams/. To learn more about the Curry Cuts albums, or to order any of their releases, you can head over to: https://currycuts.bandcamp.com.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Swinging "Into The Spider-Verse"

Superheroes are flying, jumping and smashing their way across the big screen on a regular basis these days. We don't seem to have reached the saturation point with these films yet, and there are many more on the way. There have been ups (Black Panther, Wonder Woman) and downs (Justice League, Venom) in terms of quality, but one of the best superhero films of 2018 stars everyone's favorite web-slinger: Spider-Man. What's that you say? You've already seen several Spidey films in recent years, including two entries starring Andrew Garfield (a reboot of the series following the three films with Tobey Maguire) and then yet another reboot with Tom Holland, in Spider-Man: Homecoming? And now there's another one? I truly understand your trepidation, but the animated feature Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made.

The film focuses on Miles Morales, a bright New York teenager, who has just started attending a new boarding school. He also indulges in his passion for creating graffiti artwork, much to the chagrin of his police office father. One night, when drawing some graffiti in an abandoned subway station, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, and develops superhuman abilities, similar to those of Spider-Man. When he tries to trace the spider back to its point of origin, he encounters Spider-Man himself, who's fighting the Green Goblin and The Prowler. It turns out that they're working for Wilson Fisk (aka the Kingpin), who's trying to open a doorway to an alternate reality. During the battle, Spider-Man (Peter Parker) is critically injured, and he asks Miles to stop Fisk, because the city will be destroyed if the Kingpin succeeds with his plans.

Miles begins an incredible journey, in which he encounters several spider-characters from other universes. One of these heroes, Peter B. Parker, is an older, embittered version of Spider-Man from an alternate universe, one where he is divorced from his wife, Mary Jane. This Peter Parker has essentially given up on his life as a superhero. Miles bonds with Peter, who becomes a reluctant mentor to him. The other Spider Verse characters, including Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Woman, band together with Peter and Miles to battle Fisk and his team of super-villains, which includes classic villains such as Doctor Octopus, the Scorpion, and Tombstone. But Miles begins to doubt his own abilities, and starts to question whether he wants to wear the mantle of Spider-Man. Will Miles find the hero within himself? Will Fisk succeed with his plans and ultimately destroy the city?

The movie is an energetic, well-crafted tale filled with action, thrills and humor. The writers have found clever ways for the characters to break the fourth wall and quickly relate their origins, so the film never collapses under the weight of too much backstory or exposition. The script features a surprising amount of emotional heft, as Miles embarks on a quest to find out what really makes someone a hero, and ultimately discovers that person within himself. This theme is very much in keeping with the essence of the original Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Spider-Man stories of the 1960s. The film stays true to the character's iconic background, yet still manages to find a fresh and unique spin on its story.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a loving valentine to the world of Spider-Man, featuring heroes, villains and supporting characters from throughout the web-slinger's long history. There are recent creations like the Gwen Stacy version of Spider-Woman, and more vintage variations such as the wall-crawling super pig, Spider-Ham, who debuted back in 1983. The animation is a brilliant mixture of computer-generated and hand drawn styles, which really gets the look of a comic book just right. There is a  true wealth of information in every frame. You're sure to want to see the film a second time in order to catch the wealth of Easter eggs and references you might have missed the first time around. The voice cast, which includes Shameik Moore as Miles, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir and Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker, do an amazing job with their roles.

The excellent screenplay is by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, from a story by Lord. You might recognize Lord's name as one of the co-authors and directors of The Lego Movie, and this film has some of that successful movie's pop culture awareness and savvy humor. The movie is expertly directed by Lord, Rothman, and Bob Persichetti. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a fantastic adventure that pays homage to all the versions of Spider-Man that have appeared in printed and onscreen media since his 1962 debut. Longtime fans will not be disappointed, and newcomers to the Spider-Verse will have a grand time as well. Make sure to stay through the closing credits for the now obligatory post movie scene, which is well worth the wait. Here's a link to the trailer for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg52up16eq0.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Will Otto Kruger "Escape in the Fog?"

What if you had a dream about a murder that seems to be coming true, and no one will believe your story? That’s the premise of the noir-tinged 1945 thriller Escape in the Fog. The story focuses on Eileen Carr, a nurse who’s recuperating from a breakdown she suffered after the ship she was serving on was sunk during a battle. One night, she has a nightmare about witnessing two men attack another man while she’s walking on the Golden Gate Bridge. Eileen wakes up screaming. When several people enter the room at the inn where she’s staying to make sure she’s all right, one of the people who’s at her bedside is the intended murder victim from her dream!

The two have breakfast the next morning. Even though Barry is skeptical of Eileen’s story, he likes her and agrees to help her. The new friends head to San Francisco together. Barry has some business to attend to, though he doesn’t divulge the true nature of that work to Eileen. His boss, Paul Devon, has a new assignment for him. It turns out he’s an undercover agent helping ferret out a network of Nazi spies. But when he disappears during the mission, can Eileen convince Devon that Barry’s in danger, just as she saw in her dream? Or is the likable Devon a double agent out to eliminate Barry?

Otto Kruger in Escape in the Fog
Escape in the Fog is a well-crafted B-movie that’s very typical of its era. The fast-moving tale features a couple of faces that will be quite familiar to classic film fans. Leading lady Nina Foch is probably best remembered for her roles in Executive Suite and An American In Paris, but she also appeared in a number of genre movies such as the thriller My Name Is Julia Ross and the horror outing Return of the VampireThe most recognizable face in the cast may be character actor extraordinare Otto Kruger, who portrays Paul Devon. Kruger was born in Ohio in 1885, and was trained as a musician from an early age. He was studying engineering in college when he decided to try acting as a career. Kruger made his Broadway debut in 1915, where he often played romantic leads, and became something of a matinee idol.

When Hollywood came calling, Kruger quickly established himself as a reliable supporting player. He had a knack for portraying witty, sophisticated villains (and sometimes heroes) in a variety of genres. Kruger was featured in a host of well-known movies throughout his long career, including Duel in the Sun, High Noon and Magnificent Obsession. You’ll likely recognize him from his turns as the suave but deadly Jules Anthor in Murder, My Sweet or the evil Charles Tobin in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur. He was also the psychiatrist hero entranced by the title character (played by Gloria Holden) in Dracula's Daughter. Kruger even battled Johnny Weissmuller's jungle lord in Tarzan's Desert Mystery, a film in which he played a villainous Nazi. He gave an excellent performance as a mob boss in the film noir 711 Ocean Drive, which also starred Edmond O'Brien.

Otto Kruger worked steadily in films through the mid 1960s. He appeared frequently on television in series such as Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza and The Rebel. Sadly, he suffered a stroke later in life, which forced his retirement from acting. His final roles were in the 1964 films Della and Sex and the Single Girl. He passed away in 1974. Otto Kruger brought charm, humor and a stylish sense of menace to his many memorable roles. I never fail to smile when I see him turn up in the cast of a movie I'm watching, and he adds a touch of class to Escape in the Fog whenever he is onscreen. The film is available on DVD and occasionally shows up on Turner Classic Movies and other cable channels. It’s worth a look if you enjoy these types of old school thrillers, and at 65 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. This post is part of the What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by my fellow bloggers at Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club. I'd like to thank them for letting me join in on the fun! You can find out more about the blogathon, and view the other entries here: https://aurorasginjoint.com/2018/11/03/announcement-what-a-character-blogathon-2018/.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Story of Queen is "Rhapsodic"

The biography of Queen and their flamboyant lead singer Freddie Mercury would seem a natural fit for the big screen, but it’s taken a while for the project to reach fruition. The film has been in the works for years, with actors like Sascha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw, and directors such as Tom Hooper and David Fincher reportedly attached to the movie. Filming finally began in 2017, with Bryan Singer behind the cameras, and a screenplay by Anthony McCarten. Then Singer was suddenly fired from the project several weeks before completion, reportedly due to ongoing absences from the set and several clashes with the cast and crew. Dexter Fletcher was brought in to complete the film, though Singer eventually received sole onscreen credit for his direction.

Bohemian Rhapsody (photo courtesy 20th Century Fox)
Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the band from their early days in the 1970s through their triumphant performance at the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985. Despite it’s troubled production history, the movie is an entertaining rock biopic that features Rami Malek (of Mr. Robot) as Freddie Mercury. He's simply terrific in the role. When Malek is onscreen, the film crackles with electricity. He’s got the moves, the gestures and the rock star swagger of Mercury down perfectly. Malek isn’t just acting; he becomes Freddie Mercury. Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joe Mazzello also do fine work as Mercury's band mates Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Gwilym is especially good as guitar hero May.

The movie plays fast and loose with some of the facts, and there are some factual inaccuracies, which have already been noted by fans. But Bohemian Rhapsody gets somethings right, especially when displaying the raw power of Mercury’s magnetic stage presence and boundless energy, highlighted in the film’s powerful recreations of the band’s live shows. The strong bond (and eventual discord) between the group members is portrayed in some excellent sequences showing them at work on several of the band's most well known songs, including “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites The Dust.” There’s an amusing scene with a record company executive (portrayed in a nice bit of irony by Mike Myers of Wayne’s World fame) who refuses to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single.

The film also touches on Mercury’s doubts and insecurities about his own sexuality. While his soul mate and longtime love, Mary Austin (nicely played by Lucy Boynton) remains a loyal friend to him, as time goes on, it becomes clear to Freddie (and those around him) that he’s gay. Although the subject of Mercury’s sexuality is handled in a relatively delicate manner, the history and the music of Queen remains the film’s main focus. The movie culminates in an exhilarating recreation of the band’s appearance at Live Aid. It’s a fantastic sequence that ends the film on a triumphant note.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a mesmerizing rock and roll story driven by a transcendent performance from Rami Malek as Mercury, and the iconic power of the band’s music. Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor were consultants on the project, and the final product definitely does justice to Mercury’s (and the band’s) legacy.  If you’ve ever stomped your feet and hand clapped your way through “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” at a sporting event or sang along with the classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” you’ll truly enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody. The film is finishing up its theatrical run, and a home video release should be announced soon. Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP0VHJYFOAU.