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Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody

That can't be good for your back, Freddie, ease up

dir: Bryan Singer

2018

I did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did, but I certainly did. It could have been because it was my birthday and I was in an emotionally fragile state (what with the feeling of impending doom that accompanies every birthday now that I’ve lived to a ‘ripe’ old age), or it could have been because of the prosecco Aperol cocktail I was drinking in the cinema like I was some kind of royal / celebrity / shameful alcoholic. And let me just point out that the most estimable Westgarth cinema has a bar – this was not something I smuggled in my pocket / a thermos /within the bladder of a wine cask.

No, it was professionally made, and quite delightful, and maybe the perfect drink to get me in the mood for a dramatic retelling of the history, or at least part of the history of Queen, that legendary band from the 1970s / 80s. Finding someone to embody the mercurial and one of a kind Freddie Mercury could not have been easy, but at least they had at least one extremely thin and extremely odd looking person who could fit the bill. The only other thing I’ve seen Rami Malek in is Mr Robot, in which he’s superb, of course, but this could not have been an easy performance for him or for anyone else to do or endure.

It’s the teeth, you see. Forced to wear a set of prosthetic teeth that would put a mule to shame, and trying to act and talk and sing could not have been easy for this good chap, but he gives it his darndest. I thought at some points that the false teeth were distracting for him and for the people around him, but just think how Freddie must have felt for having to deal with all those teeth for reals when he was still alive. That couldn’t have been easy, and, when I recall watching a documentary about him about a year ago, he was constantly adjusting his mouth and compensating for his extra teeth anyway, so the actor doing it as well is just Pure Method acting of the kind and level that probably made Daniel Day Lewis punch someone in the face for not giving him the role.

I don’t need to be told that elements of the film aren’t right. I don’t expect biopics of pop / rock stars to be documentaries. I expect documentaries to be fascinating and accurate, and I expect fictional retellings of people’s lives to be entertaining or at least diverting. What Bohemian Rhapsody gave me is an intense appreciation of a) what a keen actor Rami Malek is to put so much work into this portrayal b) what an amazing talented man Freddie was and c) how amazing it is that in their day Queen were the biggest band in the whole freaking world. It is nothing short of bizarre considering the disparate elements that went together to make this band happen.

And the world that accepted them with open arms and wallets! To this day Queen still remain one of the bestselling bands of all time, and for the life of me I still have no idea how or why, except of course when you see Queen and Freddie perform, and here, where you see Rami Malek and the other actors replicate it with such fervency, with such awe-inspiring passion that it really confuses reality with memory.

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The Walk

The Walk

Sometimes you just really need to have a good lie down

dir: Robert Zemeckis

2015

The Walk. The Walk? What a supremely banal title!

How can you spend millions upon millions on a movie and give it such a simplistic title, eh?

Well, maybe, just maybe, Robert Zemeckis is more concerned with bringing a bizarre moment in New York history to life more so than whether there’s any actual interest in the potential audience for such an extravaganza based on a snazzy name.

This isn’t to be confused with another recent flick called The Walk which was about a completely different subject, that being the Camino pilgrimage across Spain that the faithful and the stupid take part in every year. That one was directed by Emilio Estevez and starred his father Martin Sheen. Charlie Sheen was… otherwise occupied.

This is about an altogether different kind of walk, and is unavoidably based on a true story. The reason I say “has to be” is not just because it is, but because there is absolutely no other way such a story could have been told had it not been true. It’s too bizarre otherwise.

The reason is, other than being about this allegedly famous “walk” between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, something which Americans are understandably a bit touchy about, the fact that those towers are no longer there means this flick is about more than just the walk itself.

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The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

You never know where your life is going to end up, or when
your horn dog of a husband is going to leave you for a redhead

dir: James Marsh

2014

I personally think it was brave of the people involved to dare attempt this. Making a biopic about Professor Stephen Hawking is a very daunting proposition.

For most of his adult life he’s been ravaged physically by a degenerative motor neuron disease. His achievements advancing our various understandings of the nature of the universe are staggering. He’s certainly one of the most brilliant minds to ever appear on this planet, in human history at least. There was this amazing hedgehog once…

As I kept that frame in mind, that this was about the Professor, it meant that I found the flick itself quite disappointing. It wasn’t until I realised what must have been quite obvious to other viewers, as it was obvious to my partner, who enjoyed the film far more than I did: it’s not about the Prof. It’s about his wife Jane.

Viewed from that perspective, that it’s a biopic about Stephen Hawking’s wife instead, it starts to make far more sense. It doesn’t make it that much more enjoyable for me, or a better flick, in my opinion, but its shortcomings transform from bugs to features instead.

And yet when you find out that the words “based on the autobiography by Jane Hawking” don’t actually mean that the screenplay matches the events in the memoir, you wonder whether you should just accept that it’s a touching drama about a woman whose husband might have been famous for something and has special health care needs.

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Wild

Wild

Just keep walking, just keep walking, just keep walking,
walking, walking, and you'll walk yourself all the way to
another Oscar!

dir: Jean-Marc Vallee

2014

A person goes for a long walk. A really long walk. It’s not to throw a ring into a volcano. It’s not to get to the airport to stop someone from leaving. It’s not because a drug cartel is after them, or to honour the last wishes of someone who just died.

It’s so she can…?

I’m not entirely sure why, and I loved the film. I haven’t read the book this is based on, but I think I’d like to based on this movie.

Wild is not an easy movie to love. Mostly, as you might guess, we’re watching a person walking along the West Coast of the United States.

Interspersed between scenes of walking, we get Cheryl Strayed backstory. She is a real person, a real woman. We glimpse her in the movie, as one of the kind drivers who pick up Cheryl along the way.

Most of this story, as in Cheryl’s long, agonising march to victory, occurs in 1995, but much of it comes from earlier, being scenes from her childhood, adolescence, and early twenties. In those times we see Cheryl’s mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) as a beautiful, resilient woman that never ceases to irritate Cheryl until she loses her.

You get the impression that Cheryl’s mother was very important to her, not just as a mother, but as an inspiration towards her pursuit of a life in letters.

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The Imitation Game

Imitation Game

Once you get the eyebrows right, the rest of the acting just
falls into place

dir: Morten Tyldum

2014

What kind of name is Morten Tyldum anyway? Sounds completely made up, to me. It sounds like someone started with the name ‘Tyler Durden’ and randomly started changing the consonants around. What is it, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, random name generated by some program in Mongolia?

Whoever the delightful Morten Tyldum is, he she or it has directed a truly delightfully depressing flick about true genius Alan Turing and his great achievements during World War II. Chief of these achievements would be the creation of a machine that could crack the German’s Enigma code, used for all of its naval wartime communications, and considered unbreakable at the time by both sides.

I have known of Turing since I was a teenager solely due to the use of his name in science fiction novels whenever the issue of Artificial Intelligence came up, but I didn’t know that much about him at the time. Later on, when his status as one of the progenitors of modern computing received greater prominence, I came to understand not only that he was a great man, but a martyr to the cause of gay rights as well.

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Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm

Who's idea was it to have him swing his jacket over his
shoulder for the promo? That's like the worst idea in
human history, even worse than the idea behind
Million Dollar Arm

dir: Craig Gillespie

2014

I am second to no-one in my love of Jon Hamm. There’s no way I would have watched years and years of Mad Men if it wasn’t for him. Well, that’s probably not true, the series has a deep bench of great actors and characters. I can honestly say, though, that had Jon Hamm not been in this flick, there’s no way I would have ever bothered watching it.

Seriously, I could not care less than I already do about baseball. That would have been my first mistake, because though this flick has little to do with the actual game of baseball, it hits all the same beats of a sports flick.

It’s also based on a true story, and true stories are never boring, and they never go wrong, do they?

A movie made about a bunch of people, about something that really happened invariably is either going to be about how something they did or what happened to them went really really right or really really wrong.

Honestly, with all due or no due respect to any of the people involved in the actual story of what happened here, it is un-fucking-believable that this got made into a movie. Millions of dollars were spent bringing this story to the screen, and it’s the most inexplicably bizarrely misplaced story I’ve ever heard of, transformed into a ‘success’ story.

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Jobs

Jobs

It's like looking into a great big dumb mirror. Would you buy
a used computer from either of these two jerks?

dir: Joshua Michael Stern

I want to make a movie about someone famous. I didn't know them personally, but they're really famous, so people should be interested.

I don't know much about them, either, and what I don't know about the transformative moments of their lives is probably pretty important in telling the story of their lives, but I'm not interested in finding out what they were or telling an audience about what made them tick.

I think if I get someone that looks a lot like the person whose biopic this is, then I should be okay. If we get them to do a couple of famous mannerisms, then audiences won't care that they're not doing anything interesting or revealing or watching a good movie.

Since this biopic is set in the 70s and 80s, mostly, I'll just blare lots of golden oldies during those scenes, in case the sluggards and dullards in the audience have no idea. I'll spend more on the soundtrack than I will on the script.

All in all, I'll tell a story that has no more depth or meaning than one of the ads used to advertise some of the products this person was responsible for, but I won't even make it that good.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jobs.

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Lovelace

Lovelace

And I thought this flick was going to be about Ada Lovelace, the
world's first computer programmer!

dir: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

I think everyone deserves a biopic made about their lives. Maybe not everyone deserves to have Amanda Seyfried play them in their movie, in both senses of the word "deserves", but surely this will one day come to pass.

As for who should play me in the inevitable biopic of My Life, which should be called Drowning in Awesomeness, I'll leave that to the learned reader to decide. Perhaps bloviating windbag Kevin Smith? Or Comic-Book Guy from The Simpsons? Mark Ruffalo after a serious car accident? Philip Seymour Hoffman? Ron Perlman? Tom Waits lesser known cousin Guido?

So many choices. During Linda Lovelace's life, she being the subject of this startling and depressing biopic, if you'd shown her a picture of Amanda Seyfried, and told her that one day she would be playing Linda in the story of her life, she probably would have been flattered. Flattered and confused, as I am, a little bit.

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Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra

This is the least gay moment of the whole film

dir: Steven Soderbergh

I never thought a biopic about Liberace would turn out to be one of the best flicks of the year. I can't imagine that anyone thought a flick about Liberace could be one of the best flicks of any year.

I don't think even Liberace would have predicted it, but, based on the character here, he probably would have felt entitled to it all the same.

I mean, how many people even remember him?

People of a certain age, I guess. If you were old enough to see him on the telly, and his twinkly smile, and the countless references / mentions of him in a pop cultural sense that seemed to pop up all over the place in the late 1970 / early 80s, then he would still come as something of a revelation to you, as played by Michael Douglas.

Did you know, for example, that Liberace was gay?

I know, I know, it shocked me too. Apparently, a lot of people, including perhaps some of the guys Liberace was having sex with, didn't realise he was gay.

This virtuoso pianist who wore extravagant mink coats and costumes dripping with jewels, from what this film says, turns out not to be the paragon of heterosexual conformity that he portrayed himself as being.

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Sleepwalk With Me

Sleepwalk With Me

Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't fix

dir: Mike Birbiglia

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

This is a curious movie, in that it’s directed by a chap who’s playing himself (under a pseudonym), essentially in a re-enactment of his own life, surrounded by actors. Mike becomes Matt, Birbiglia becomes Pandamiglio, in a pointless charade that’s never intended to shade the truth, or ‘truth’, as the case may be, that This is His Life!

Birbiglia has been dining out on this story for years, and has managed to transform it into the substance of his stand-up (he’s a comedian, in case you didn’t know), a one-man stage show, a book and now a film. I’ve been hearing this story for years, as he’s honed it down to its sharpest edge, from watching Matt doing his routine, hearing it on my iPod and through multiple podcasts essentially saying the same words verbatim. I never tire of the story.

Most of all, I’ve heard excerpts of the story on podcasts from This American Life, probably my favourite of the twenty or so podcasts I listen to with religious, if not disturbing, regularity. It’s a podcast that is the new media version of the radio program from Chicago Public Radio produced by Ira Glass (who of course gets a cameo in this film, as a photographer at Mike–Matt’s sister’s wedding). So it comes as no surprise that they, being WBEZ Chicago and IFC, chipped money in to let Mike transform his multi-format extravaganza into a movie.

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