REVIEW: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Directed by: Bryan Singer
Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Joseph Mazzello, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Mike Myers, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander

Written by Cameron Frew

“Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy,” sings Freddie Mercury, opening not only the finest Queen song, but a ballad for the ages, a true Rhapsody that captures the very essence of the profound, ever-changing landscape of music and a pitch-perfect example of how mesmerising the British quartet were. How painful it is then that a biopic of the band that goes as far as to take that song’s title, is far from killer. In fact, its very nature as a stale piece of filmmaking would be enough to make the bold musicians scoff.

Bryan Singer’s (part Dexter Fletcher’s) ode to the band that truly changed the industry forever chronicles their humble beginnings in local pubs and clubs, to their time-stopping performance at Live Aid in 1985. Freddie says in the film, “We’re all legends”. But everyone knows he was the icon of the time, and the film gives a more directed look at his rise and subsequent falls from grace in his rock and roll tenure.

The film tries to assure you of its dedication to her royal majesty with a 20th Century Fox-cum-Queen riff at the start. As expected you’ll hear many of the band’s greatest hits throughout the biopic, often overlaying big transition scenes that show the passing of time. For example, ‘Somebody To Love’ pulls the curtains up as Freddie (played by Rami Malek) trims his moustache and makes his way to the Wembley stage for the famous charity gig. Sure it’s relatively jazzy, but the transitions are jarring, with ham-fisted editing and worst of all, Singer chose the most obvious way to open the picture – “here’s the moment right before the gig, and now we’ll flashback for the rest of the movie”. Nonetheless, this isn’t where the film falters the most.

We then see Malek’s Freddie working at Heathrow, the morning of the night he would fatefully meet his royal family. He’s taking suitcases off the plane and putting them onto a truck, when his superior shouts down, “You missed one, paki”. The use of racist language isn’t problematic in itself, as I’m sure the writing team of Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan know. But when you don’t use it to introduce a wider dialogue around the subject, when you don’t actually use it as a focal point during and simply just use it to rather distastefully remind us of the singer’s circumstances (there is way more than one use of “paki”), that’s an issue.

Here’s the thing; there’s the old maxims, “less is more” and “slow and steady wins the race”. Bohemian Rhapsody is a portrait of ignoring those age-old soundbites, a lavish display of extremist filmmaking. The transitions often remain questionable (apart from one absolutely inspired moment with a cockerel), the use of visual metaphors is amateurishly overegged and characters are written to the point of pantomime. Not that the latter is necessarily always a bad thing; Mike Myers’ music producer is hilariously cynical and Allen Leech’s villainous Paul Prenter is deliciously infuriating. But it all feels incredibly artificial.

Even the visual style, a mixture of a parody-esque look and smoky rooms despite absolutely no smoke add this layer that separates you from the band whose music is part of all of our lives. Thankfully though, Malek, despite being under pressure, is a marvellous Freddie. Not just cosmetically (although he is frighteningly uncanny), but his cocky mannerisms, assured attitude towards his talent and reluctance to take on any sort of label (as a hugely uncomfortable press conference scene illustrates) are true of the greatest showman to ever live himself, and it’s a crying shame that the film as a whole isn’t on par with a performance of such dedicated charisma. The other performances are a mixed bag, with his Queen-cohorts Roger Taylor and John Deacon (played by Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello respectively) either having not much to do or let-down by the writer’s incapability of nuance.

The exception is Gwilym Lee’s Brian May, who really exhibits the sort of compassionate, constantly admiring but utterly bemused relationship you would expect him to have with his lead singer. In portraying the twisted family dynamic the band famously had, the filmmakers and actors mostly succeed, if it weren’t for the haphazard pacing that completely botches the viewer’s sense of their efforts to go big.

A key part of Freddie’s story is his romantic life, and puzzlingly, the film portrays homosexuality like a forbidden fruit, accentuating the orientation to a point where it feels like Freddie is doing something incredibly wrong. But he wasn’t, and one scene with his former partner Mary (played by the terrific Lucy Boynton) really shows this to be painfully true, and if it weren’t for this melancholic moment, the film would have no sense of emotional grip.

The music is, naturally, enough to make anyone go “Ga Ga” and the gig sequences are shot with a poppy vibrancy and love for the band that really paints a rousing picture of the hysteria in the band’s heyday. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography (a frequent collaborator with Singer) though is mostly unspectacular, often framing corny theatrics with that aforementioned artificial aura.

Then comes the show-stopping, stirringly powerful Live Aid sequence, and everything soars. Your heart races and the goosebumps wash across you as Freddie performs the eclectic mix of the heart-aching opening to the titular song, eventually reaching the fist-punching rendition of We Are The Champions. For a feature so scattershot and pitfall-ridden, it feels like a distant memory as you stand among Wembley’s crowd, simply in awe. If only the entire bloated runtime bottled the sensation of the phenomenal closing act.

Malek gives his undivided gusto, and the result is unforgettable. But for a man and a band that were so groundbreaking, so fixated on musical revolution, this is supremely cheap work.

Cameron’s Verdict:

2

REVIEW: Apostle (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Starring: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Richard Elfyn, Paul Higgins, Lucy Boynton

Written by Jo Craig

There is a rare moment after watching a film where you sit and stare at the credits, or even pause them rolling altogether whilst wearing a perplexed expression. Your brain frantically tries to decipher the last couple of hours you’ve spent watching a feature that carries its pros and cons, but leaves you with the hanging expression: “What the fuck?”. Gareth Evans’ Apostle hit Netflix at the start of Halloween season, and my thoughts are still stuck inside his brutal cult horror that had an avid gore fan glancing away to “take a moment”.

The premise of Apostle lies in the early twentieth century, following infiltrator Thomas (Dan Stevens) as he travels to a remote island to rescue his sister who has been taken hostage by a religious cult. Lead through blinding faith and insanity, Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) demands her rich father to pay a ransom so his sect can continue to thrive in their segregated habitat, but Thomas soon uncovers a larger plan at work that explains the devotion of Malcolm and his followers.

Only viewing the trailer last month, I was giddy to see Apostle arrive on our favourite streaming platform so soon to let the grim rituals begin. Grim stood as a massive understatement by the end of Evans’ Welsh folktale (in stripped-back terms) that is rich in exposing the evil behind religious loyalty but perhaps suffers in its colossal leap to explain the abnormal. By the end, I was exhausted. Not surprising from the director of The Raid (Apostle being Evans’ first English language film since his first feature Footsteps) where his joint effort in direction and penning is admirable and driven with enough force to support the unforgettable scenes of the macabre.

Dan Stevens has had quite a genre shift from his recent silver screen entries (Beauty and the Beast, The Man Who Invented Christmas) making his role in Apostle surprising for the charming actor whose dabbling with horror only reached the extent of his fantastic cult superhero show Legion. Nevertheless, Stevens is first class and full of expression, whose piercing blue eyes are a character in themselves; Wide in terror on top a blood-soaked body was so visually effective and his permanent furrowed brow resembled my face as the plot thickened. Michael Sheen brought a powerful performance to witness as the proud prophet who was certainly a grounding character to hold on to as the waves of fantasy swept in to aggravate an already seasick stomach.

Undoubtedly gripped by every slow building scene in the first hour – too engrossed, in fact, to even recognise a thirst that had been developing while my jaw grazed the floor – Evans’ understanding of suspense has to be applauded. The raw brutality – that you would expect from his direction – tangled with threads of hyperbolic lore may be the gigantic leap of faith that some viewers won’t be willing to take. Personally, the added mythical element restrained a considered tale from being nothing more than a mindless gore-fest that you’d expect from Eli Roth. Instead, Apostle resembles (at points) greats like The Wicker Man that build on the terrifying feeling of isolation and play on belief and faith in various different ways pertaining to which character has the spotlight. In an abstract way of thinking, the tale’s progression could emulate bible chapters as they introduce each character and acknowledge their beliefs whether for or against the unorthodox civilisation they have ended up living in, further proving that Evans has a sound method behind the madness.

Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal’s tour de force score holds your attention in a vice even from the title screen with a resounding ambience that is deliberately too loud to ignore. A series of haunting choirs and screeching strings (reminiscent to Mother!) only drives the audience into a deeper state of discomfort that supports Evans’ crippling tension and the religious nature of the premise. As you hear every overwhelming roar of instruments, Yuskemal’s sound design never lets you miss a crunch of bone which adds credence to Evans’ skilful decision-making as a horror filmmaker.

This dark crusade will no doubt divide audiences and troublesome psyches as it’s not for the faint-hearted, but although fantasy and horror are mixed and often overpowering in the denouement, its hold over you never slackens despite its lengthy runtime of 130 min. It’s not the likeliest of films to end up on your Halloween marathon nor a film that I would revisit in the near future, but regardless of possibly being the heaviest film of the year, Apostle respectively thrives in its originality.  If being squeamish is your downfall, then forcing yourself through the torture of watching an albeit, for lack of a better term, thought-provoking horror, is pointless and conclusively a feature you can afford to miss.

Jo’s Verdict:

3-5

                              

Netflix Release First Trailer For Gareth Evans’ ‘Apostle’

“London, 1905. Prodigal son Thomas Richardson has returned home, only to learn that his sister is being held for ransom by a religious cult. Determined to get her back at any cost, Thomas travels to the idyllic island where the cult lives under the leadership of the charismatic Prophet Malcolm. As Thomas infiltrates the island’s community, he learns that the corruption of mainland society that they claim to reject has infested the cult’s ranks nonetheless – and uncovers a secret far more evil than he could have imagined.”

Directed by: Gareth Evans

Cast: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth, Michael Sheen

Release Date: October 12th, 2018 (Netflix)

All Aboard! New Trailer For ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ Rolls In

“What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told. From the novel by best selling author Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.”

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Tom Bateman, Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin
Release Date: November 4th 2017