Tuesday, November 13, 2018


BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a movie that critics hate but audiences love. There are many things to pick apart in this film should you wish to, but if you loved the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen you won’t want your money back.

The sense I got was that Hollywood looked at Freddie’s life and said, “Too dark for a holiday release.” So they spruced up this very complicated figure and made him more Cineplex-friendly.

But the music is great.

Rami Malek (MR. ROBOT) did an admirable job capturing Freddie’s moves and swagger. He was fitted with ridiculous teeth. Supposedly Freddie had four extra teeth, which meant his mouth was larger and accounted for his additional range. If this were true then Wink Martindale is the greatest singer of the last hundred years.

Did I mention the music is swell?

Once Freddie cuts his hair and becomes the image we’re most familiar with then Rami looked like Rowan Atkinson with clown teeth. I will admit it took me out of some emotional scenes because all I could picture was Mr. Bean trying to eat an apple.

But then there were those songs.

Story-wise, it followed the Hollywood studio biopic formula. Parents don’t understand, falls in love with a local, gets discovered, career takes off, dumps the local flame, fame and fortune take its toll, uh oh, things start turning bad, relationships break apart, things get worse, but there’s a feel-good ending to send everyone home on a high note. Sometimes it works and is Ray Charles and other times it doesn’t and it’s James Brown, Johnny Cash, or (God help us) Bobby Darin. Things wrap up as they always do -- fences mended, family harmony restored, a spectacular farewell performance.

I will say this: Anytime they try to have the scene where the fictional rock star wows the crowd and whips them into an orgasmic frenzy it always feels bogus. Like Gwyneth Paltrow could raise the roof with her singing. But in the final Live-Aid scene you totally believe it (oh don’t say SPOILER ALERT, you know in the first minute of the film that that was gong to be the big denouement).

And that section alone is worth the price of admission.

Sure, they could have mounted a more nuanced, deeper study of this brilliant artist and how success and sex turned his life into a Shakespearean tragedy. But that’s shooting for Oscars. This movie aimed at pleasing audiences and making a shit-ton more money than any art house film could. Ending BOHAMIAN RHAPSODY with that recreation of the Live-Aid concert was a definite crowd pleaser.

So if you go into BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY with low expectations and you’re not a reviewer for the New York Times you should enjoy this movie. And for the next three days you’ll be listening to nothing but Queen. What music!


Anonymous said...

Perfect review. It's been 10 days for me and I am still humming Queen music daily.


Paul From Portland

Mike Barer said...

I agree on James Brown and Johnny Cash, I enjoyed the Bobby Darin movie.

Peter said...

"but there’s a feel-good ending to send everyone home on a high note"

And that's my problem with this. There WAS no feel good ending to Freddie Mercury's life. I do intend to see the film but I already know it won't be the definitive biopic of Freddie Mercury that should have been made. Anyone watching the trailer who doesn't know anything about Mercury would assume he was straight, given all the close up shots of a doe eyed girl looking at him. This is the equivalent of making a Rock Hudson biopic and the trailer showing him and Phyllis Gates gazing into each other's eyes and ending the film with the box office success of Pillow Talk.

At least this isn't the movie that Brian May originally wanted made. According to Sacha Baron Cohen, who was first cast as Mercury but departed over creative differences, May and the other Queen members wanted Mercury's death to happen halfway through the film and the other half to be about how Queen "went from strength to strength". Yeesh.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

At a preview screening they spoke about the twenty minutes in front of a live audience at the stadium at the end of the pic and that the actors actually played the entire set. That is a real accomplishment and comes off well in the picture, which is really no more than a band movie story: meet-up, break-up, get back together. No doubt when Gwenth Paltrow does the bio pic of Dusty Springfield I'm sure it will be a tad less sparky.

DBenson said...

I always raise an eyebrow and biopics -- especially old ones -- that posit a happy ending just before somebody died. Gilbert was about to reconcile with Sullivan, a dying Toulouse Lautrec wins the respect of his father AND the art establishment, Buddy Holly may get back together with the Crickets, etc. Alternately, they take the "Bohemian Rhapsody" route and iris out before things get ugly.

A few manage to have it both ways, sort of. "Lady Sings the Blues" shows Billie Holiday in a triumphant comeback performance, then overlays newspaper headlines of her decline and death. "The Great Ziegfeld" has the washed-up showman dying, but lets him fantasize a glorious closing number. "Ed Wood" ends on "Plan 9 From Outer Space" getting a glorious Hollywood premiere after showing at length how impossible that would be -- It's a mock happy ending, the one most people know Ed Wood never got.

Jim said...

Anyone watching the trailer who doesn't know anything about Mercury would assume he was straight, given all the close up shots of a doe eyed girl looking at him.

Come on, you know that's the Hollywood way. If you can bear it, just try tracking down Words and Music, the supposed story of Rodgers and Hart, where serial shagger Richard Rodgers is presented as the most faithful, loving and homely man that ever existed, while gay Lorenz Hart apparently dies from unrequited love for a chorus girl. Well only partly, since he's also more than a tad embarassed about being such a short-arse, and in one of the real who-the-fuck-thought-they-could-get-away-with-that moments in film history, expires right in front of a shop selling shoe lifts.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Concert scenes are particularly difficult on the actors and for the extras in the audience. These scenes are shot multiple times because of retakes, reverse angles, isolation on various actors, etc. After you've heard the same song, or portion of a song for the fifteenth time its almost impossible to maintain the same enthusiasm you had on the second or third take.

Off topic: In your weekend blog on the So. Cal fires you commented on the media hyping the celebrity homes that burned down. Well, on Monday ALL of the local news stations carried the story of "Stanley the Giraffe." Why wasn't he evacuated? Was his owner negligent? Why weren't the authorities doing something about Stanley? In the meantime, literally thousands of human beings were fleeing the fires. I don't even know what to say about this.

Janet Ybarra said...

It is a cliche, and when an artist passes, people say, "They were gone too soon," only for time to sometimes not always be as kind to the artist years or decades later.

I haven't seen the film yet myself, but with Ken and others still focusing on Freddie Mercury's great music nearly 30 years after his death does mean Freddie went way too soon.

We can only guess how much more he could have contributed, given more time.

Barry Traylor said...

So did they use the voice of Freddy Mercury? If not then I don't see the point.

sueK2001 said...

I know the Bio pic drill but I knew I had to see this one..only to hear that awesome soundtrack in a theatre. Don't regret spending a penny...they would have slayed me if they used a rather folky obscure song called "39" but that Live Aid scene was everything.

Snoskred said...

I really loved it. Even though I knew it wasn't the real story, even though I knew they were leaving a lot of stuff out, Rami Malek was electric in this role and the rest of the cast was pretty dang amazing as well. Could that guy playing Brian May have looked anything more like Brian May? When they played the real clip at the end, he could easily have been edited into it and you would not have known the difference.

This movie was made to entertain and it certainly achieved that. I wanted to go buy another ticket right away - and have plans to do exactly that this week, I enjoyed it so much. :)

Tony.T said...

Landed here via Gilbert & Frank.

Biopics are generally slop. Biopics of popular music acts are almost universally slop, and basically just retail opportunities for "Best-of" CD merch.

Plus, Queen is wildly over-rated.

Pizzagod said...

Spot on. Historically accurate? Probably not (I think the opening scene shows a Boeing 727 at the airport years before it was actually released-but this is just an example). Entertaining? Yeah and that's what I paid for.

I understand that happens a lot in movies I enjoy. John McClane really should be dead, and that Vulcan nerve pinch doesn't really do a lot of good unless you have a knot in your shoulder....

Tudor Queen said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this film.

However, I disagree with your contention that "Walk the Line" didn't work. I enjoyed it tremendously and thought Joaquin Phoenix did a great job. He and Reese Witherspoon also did their own singing (as opposed to Jamie 'Ray' Foxx) and instrumentals.

VP81955 said...

A Friday question...

This week's episode of "Mom" features the return of Violet (Sadie Calvano) as Christy's daughter, whom Christy discovers has been airing a podcast about lousy mothering. (This is somewhat of an in-joke, as like Ken, Anna Faris has had a successful podcast for several years.) While many "Mom" fans are thrilled to have Calvano back -- the real-life Sadie has been at college, and last was seen on the show nearly two seasons ago -- quite a few are also perturbed that neither Violet nor her younger half-brother Roscoe has been mentioned on the show for some time.

My question: Have you ever had a situation where a character had to leave a series for several seasons (school, possible military service, etc.), and if so, how did you handle it? Did you simply write them out completely (the Chuck Cunningham route), write occasional offhand references to them, or what? I'm a bit surprised Chuck Lorre, Nick Bakay and their talented staff of writers apparently had no strategy for this, especially considering its fan base is widespread and quite avid ("Mom" has multiple Facebook fan sites).

Janet Ybarra said...

It also seems to be a good reminder as to how we as a society have progressed as the treatment of gay people (marriage equality) and people with HIV/AIDS in the 30-40 years since Freddie Mercury lived his story.

sanford said...

I did not read the New York Times review. However there were plenty of reviewers that hated the movie because it was so inaccurate. As one reviewer wrote a better movie to be made.

Janet Ybarra said...

As a writer of non-fiction, I have to wonder why the writers, producers, et. al had to go and introduce substantial inaccuracies.

Freddie Mercury and Queen had to have been considered a compelling enough subject for the project to get off the ground.

I can understand minor changes, ie a composite character here or there for time sake or something but Freddie was certainly fascinating enough without screwing around with his truth.

As I mentioned, I haven't seen it yet. If it is substantially inaccurate, that is a crime.

Colin Stratton said...

Thanks for the review. But I think I'll save my 10 bucks and watch my Live Aid dvd instead. At least I know I won't be disappointed.

Frank Beans said...

Ay yi yi.."biopics"

There is simply no possible way to make one that

1) Satisfies the subject's fans
2) Stands up to complete scrutiny for historical accuracy
3) Is artistically worthy

all at the same time. It just can't be done. The living relatives want it to be portrayed in the best light, as if all of the person's flaws were things they were "victim" of, and the fans want a happy ending. Always a fucking happy ending.

I say all of this as a fan of Queen. I think Freddie Mercury was an interesting individual too. But I ain't gonna watch this movie. There are a number of well-made documentaries about Mercury and Queen on YouTube, some produced by the BBC. Start there and make your own opinions, but biopics are unsatisfying unless you just want to hear what you want to hear.

Mike Barer said...

Queen came out in the 70s when there were so many different genres, it was hard to say which way Pop Music was going. It seems, looking back that Queen got lost between the Eagles and the Bee Gees. This movie reminds us of the contributions and puts them in their rightful place.

Tom said...

Ken: Great to hear you on Gilbert Gottfried's podcast. I had been hoping you'd join forces with Gil and Frank, very glad it happened.

Anonymous said...

Barry Traylor

It is my understanding that they used the voices of Malek, Freddie, and a Freddie sound alike, depending on the scene. My sister said she couldn't tell, except for a couple of instances, which voice was which.

Pam, St. Louis

Al said...

I've seen it twice. It has large inaccuracies, but I also think those who accused it of "straightwashing" Freddie Mercury were really off the mark. It's very much about the difficulties of being gay in the public eye in the 70's and 80's.

Was it the best or most accurate biopic? Not even close. Was it entertaining? Hell, yes. I approached it like I was going to see a two hour Queen music video with actors playing the band, and it was quite satisfying. It's also a film that should be seen in a theater with good sound. I would imagine it's going to be much less satisfying at home without the seats vibrating during the concert scenes.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Nice Job with the review. I was massively distracted by those teeth - but WTH, the music WAS great, despite all those "hollywood moments".

Said to the girlfriend - $50,000,000 the first weekend - we'll see how the second weekend goes.

$30-million - the producers are laughing all the way to the bank.

Anonymous said...

Bohemian Rhapsody: A Bunch of Shit That Never Happened.

FFS. Wasn’t losing Freddie Mercury at 45 to AIDS and his apparently spending his last days - before retreating behind the walls of his home to die - in the studio barely able to stand up but trying to finish recording an album ENOUGH of a freaking tragedy? They had to turn it into a story about some guy who, unlike Freddie Mercury, was a tortured, lonely, isolated asshat so full of self-loathing overwhelming ego that he broke up the band and allowed himself to be completely controlled and practically destroyed by some sycophantic hanger-on? There wasn’t a story in the fact that Mary Austin totally embraced and supported Freddie after he came out to her as bisexual or gay or whatever he actually was? It wasn’t at all interesting that the person he was IRL was very different than the one he became in front of an audience? John Deacon was supposedly his best friend in the band, the one he revealed the fact that he was dying to first - and yet the movie would have you believe Freddie knew nothing about him?

The movie was “fun.” Hearing the music was great. Rami Malek did an awesome job playing the character they wrote for him - but that wasn’t Freddie Mercury. That was some caricature of the figure the press made Mercury out to be. I had to come home and watch interviews and music footage in order to wipe my brain of what was sold to us as a “biopic,” and remember why I loved Queen and I loved Freddie Mercury, which, for me, were two different concepts.

Johnny Walker said...

Was it perfect? No. Was it a celebration of Freddie Mercury and Queen? Hell yes. Those afraid of the “cleansing” of Mercury’s life... I don’t know what to tell you. The darkness is there, we just don’t see it. The film doesn’t dwell on salacious gratuitous details... but it doesn’t have to. We know what it alludes to, and we see the aftermath of it all. The film doesn’t pretend it didn’t happen, the film just says “Freddie Mercury was more than just his sexuality, more than a drug problem, more than endless sexual partners”, and really that’s the most respect a film can give someone. We’re all more than our demons.

Just look at what WIRED did to John Belushi’s legacy. All of his friends say the book saw only the problems, and missed the person they loved.

This is a portrait of a complex person, overseen by those who loved him.

Unknown said...


Steve Mc said...

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