Wednesday
Nov072018

A PROPHET'S SONG // A FILM REVIEW AND DIVE INTO THE MAKING OF "BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY"

BY MATEO MORENO

It's an almost impossible task, asking any filmmaker to tell the story of Freddie Mercury. He was such a larger than life personality. His flamboyance and raw, fiery talent could trample over even the best filmmakers. So, it comes as no surprise that the latest effort to tackle the late, great Mercury BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a mixed bag, anchored by one hell of a performance by Rami Malek, channeling the 4-octive king with a surgeon’s precision. He doesn't just play Freddie. You'll believe he IS Freddie. He also added his own vocals into recordings of Mercury's, only adding onto an already red-hot take. This is the kind of performance that doesn't mimic; it envelops you and grabs your hand on the journey.

 

Part of the identity issue is that there's a lot of cooks in the kitchen. This particular-cinematic vision has been in the works for a few years. Famously, Sacha Baron Cohen signed on to play Mercury, set to start shooting in 2011. That deal fell apart when Cohen's vision of the tale (a more "raw, truthful, R-rated" journey into Mercury's personal life) clashed with the surviving members of Queen's version (they had creative control, or at least did back then and they wanted a more PG mainstream version). According to Cohen, they wanted a Mercury AND Queen movie, even telling about this exchange between himself and Queen on The Howard Stern show:

 

“A member of the band - I won’t say who – said: ‘You know, this is such a great movie because it’s got such an amazing thing that happens in the middle.’ 'What happens in the middle of the movie?’ He goes: ‘You know, Freddie dies.’ I go: ‘What happens in the second half of the movie?’ He goes: ‘We see how the band carries on from strength to strength.’ “I said: ‘Listen, not one person is going to see a movie where the lead character dies from AIDS and then you see how the band carries on.’”

 

Oof. Yeah, let's just be thankful THAT movie was never made. Either way, the project continued, going from director to director until Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) jumped on board. Rami was cast, and the rest is now on screen. Well, partially. Turns out Singer has a few...let's say issues, and didn't quite get along with everyone on set, notably Rami. He was, according to sources working on the film, emotional and reckless. He was late to set. A cast member briefly quit, due to his behavior and when Singer threw a piece of electrical equipment at a wall during a dispute, Malek had had enough. He made a formal complaint, but everyone hoped to trudge through to the end, since two-thirds were done. Singer ended up asking to shut down the set, so he could leave town. It was denied but he left anyway, forcing the studio to fire him, replacing him with Dexter Fletcher to finish the film. And watching it, you can slightly feel the disjointed storytelling, though I don't fault Mr. Fletcher or any of the very talented cast. But it's there.

 

It's also strange that the film plays very fast and loose with Freddie's life, glossing over major moments in his life, putting his battle with AIDS almost completely out of the picture, as well as his Bi-Sexuality. The film even prefers to label him "gay" and although he chose never to label himself, he had long relationships with both men and women until his death, while his final partner was a man. The film seems to be a "mass audience approved" version of his life, never getting too dark or too emotional. Former Queen manager Jim Beach is listed as a producer, and fellow Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor were creative consultants. In other words, they wanted to tell the "happy family" story, which, after watching this film, is very entertaining. But it's not quite his story. It's also fast and loose with facts, and though many stories are, one that has Beach and May and Taylor involved shouldn't be. Such as the fact that in the film, the Band breaks up, so Freddie can do a solo career (which, by all accounts didn't happen) and then he returns to them after having contacted the HIV virus. This helps inspire him to make up with the band, as he doesn't have much time left, and they decide to do Live Aid. Trouble is, this was 1985 and Mercury wasn't diagnosed until 1987. So, to use that as a storytelling device feels kind of wrong. It also feels a bit one sided with his relationship with the Queer community. In the movie, he doesn't have any, at least any healthy ones, except for his final love Jim Hutton. To not include his Queer live fully is to not tell his story fully, which this sadly does not.

 

All THAT being said, Rami Malek's performance is extraordinary, and one that is likely to nab him an Oscar nomination (the rest of the supporting cast all turn in strong turns as well). He has all the fire and gusty that Mercury had, and the final, almost shot for shot of the Live Aid concert is exhilarating and truly wonderful filmmaking. The movie is entertaining, and on first viewing I really liked it a lot. It wasn't until after I began thinking of it were there issues that arose. If only there wasn't more of his personal journey, the story of what made him feel like an outsider, what made him feel both Queer and Straight, it would elevate Bohemian Rhapsody above a very well-made movie of the week. Instead, it would become a classic that Freddie would approve of. I think Cohen's version was probably too much. I think this version is too thin and I long for what could have been created in the middle. Perhaps one day we'll see that vision and the ghost of Mercury will sing louder than ever before.

 

MATEO'S GRADE: B
WRITTEN BY Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan DIRECTED BY Bryan Singer UNCREDITED DIRECTION BY Dexter Fletcher STARRING Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilyn Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker. Now playing in cinemas everywhere.

 

 

Saturday
Aug042018

SHAKEN AND STIRRED // A FILM REVIEW OF "THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME"

BY MATEO MORENO

McKinnon. Kate McKinnon. Though she is technically the supporting character, THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME is unequivocally her film. The insanely talented comedian from SNL has one by one begun building a resume outside of the famous sketch show that catapulted her into stardom and show that she is a force to be reckoned with. The film starts off with a birthday party in Los Angeles mixed with an action sequence shootout in Lithuania. You know, as most films do. Audrey (Mila Kunis) has been dumped and her friends have come together to celebrate her birthday. Her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) is loud and loyal, the kind of friend that movies usually try to tell you are too ridiculous, but we all know we have one of them in our life, and they're amazing. They bond is solid, they'd do anything for each other, and Morgan is determined to make Audrey forget about the jerk who dumped her (Justin Theroux, better known as Drew or to be a bit more clear, the Spy in the title). 

 

Eventually, Drew shows back up in LA and Audrey and Morgan get mixed up in all of the shenanigans. He entrusts Audrey with a secret, one that she must get to Vienna, and so they go. And I say both of them because there is no way either of them would leave the other alone in this mess. And that's what's refreshingly different about this buddy comedy. There is no oil and vinegar match. They don't hate each other a second in this film. They are best friends and the most reliable person each of them can count on. Not only does that seem obvious, but it's radically rare in a film. And although there is romance sprinkled throughout the film, it's literally and afterthought, as the main show is these two ladies and the fact that they are somewhat bumbling, but they're also pretty good at this.

 

 Director Susanna Fogel (who co-write the script with David Iserson) directs the film with a snappiness and sharpness that keeps the film zipping along. The action is sometimes brutal (after all, we are in a spy film) and the punchlines are usually wonderfully sharp (one highlight is a fantastic car chase in an Uber that really cements any notion that these two are simply made for each other). There's also some great supporting turns from Hasan Minhaj, Jane Curtain, Paul Reiser, Gillian Anderson, Ivanna Sakhno, and Sam Haeughan (who trades his Outlander Scottish wear for some more form fitting clothes). Yes the film is just a tad too long in the final act, but that hardly matters with Kate McKinnon literally tearing up the screen in every possible frame. Mila Kunis essentially plays it straight, but her great chemistry with McKinnon helps sell the relationship solidly. It's not rewriting the playbook of buddy action films, but it's doing it better than usual. And that's something to celebrate.

 

MATEO'S GRADE: B

SCREENPLAY BY Susanna Fogel and David Iserson DIRECTED BY Susanna Fogel STARRING Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Hasan Minhaj, Jane Curtain, Paul Reiser, Gillian Anderson, Ivanna Sakhno, and Sam Haeughan. Now playing in cinemas everywhere.

 

Saturday
Jun302018

HELLO BROTHER, HELLO BROTHER // A FILM REVIEW OF "THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS"

BY MATEO MORENO

If you were old enough in the early 80's to remember the story of the triplets who found each other after being separated by birth, this story may seem familiar to you. Perhaps you even remember their cameo as, well, three identical twins checking out Madonna on the street in Desperately Seeking Susan." But even if you remember all of that, you probably don't remember what happened next, or how bizarre and twisted the happy go lucky reunion of the three twins went. Director Tim Wardle presents all of the compelling and surreal details in his new documentary THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS.

In the beginning of the tale we meet Robert Shafran. He's a 19 year old college freshman arriving at school, Sullivan County Community College. As he enters, suddenly people are hugging him, high fiving him, even embracing him and kissing him. All of them are telling him it's "great to see him again," though he's never stepped foot at this school. He's perplexed and confused and when he arrives at his dorm room and even more thrown when his new roommate Michael Domnitz runs and says, "When were you born?" His roommate has figured it out. The entire school thought that Robert was a man named Eddy Galland, someone Robert looks exactly like. And for good reason. Eddy is the twin Robert never knew he had. So they take off in the middle of the night and it's like seeing double. The twins have found each other. But it doesn't end there.

Soon, after the media picks up on their story, a third twin named David Kellman is discovered, and now these boys each have two brothers they never knew he had. Not only are they identical, but they have the same smile, the same mannerisms, seem to like the same things. And oddly enough, each one of them come from a family where they have one adopted sister. They were also all placed in their respective homes by the same agency, Louise Wise Services. The media eats it up and they appear everywhere, talk show after talk show, magazine covers, you name it. But this seemingly "Happily Ever After" tale is about to grown much stranger, and sadly, much darker.

Director Wardle frames the film with both documentary footage and short snippets of recreations. And even as you start to realize something odd is afoot, you won't guess what it is until it happens and the fallout is fascinating, and incredibly frustrating. The boys speak to the camera in modern day, retelling the most exciting moment of their young lives and take us through what became the most turbulent years. It's a startling, twisting, and fascinating documentary. One that you have to see to believe. And once it's over, if you're like me, you'll be so frustrated that you'll start googling information that you've just found out from watching the film, hoping to find some evidence that a story like this will never happen again. But it just might because after all, we don't live in fairy tales with a guaranteed happy ending, do we?

 

MATEO'S GRADE: B+

DIRECTED BY Tim Wardle STARRING David Kellman, Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland. Now playing in select cinemas.