Bohemian Rhapsody (PG-13)
This biopic will undoubtedly mean more to Queen fans than to the common moviegoer, but even those of us who know only two Queen songs can learn a lot from this movie. Both of them, “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You,” are featured and spotlighted during the film. According to the film, both songs came from an expressed desire to perform something the crowds could perform with them. That certainly worked!
Mercury (Farrokh Busara, Tanzanian), played by Rami Malek, was from a comfortable but not rich family living in London. Mercury was called “Paki” in his youth as Englishmen could not tell the difference and Mercury never bothered to clarify it. He is portrayed in the film as falling in love with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) with whom he lived for several years before admitting his sexual confusion to her, saying he was bisexual. By that time, he was definitely gay, and his onstage persona became more and more flamboyant. Mary agreed to marry him but later broke it off. The two remained friends until he died at 45 of AIDS in 1991. Mercury’s second partner, who was a waiter at one of his famously huge parties, Jim Hamilton (Aaron McCusker), also died at 45 of liver cancer.
Even the band, Queen, is hard to define. According to the film, “Nobody knows what Queen means because we don’t do one thing.”
Still, one thing that did define the band was recording “Bohemian Rhapsody”— and at the time it confounded company executives and radio program directors. One track was six minutes long, and public reaction was so strong that it became a hit. The song featured several distinctive styles, from rock to light opera to heavy opera and back again, ending with a gong.
As Mercury got wilder and weirder, a confrontation with the band became inevitable. After Mercury proclaimed, “Queen is what I say it is,” the other three Queen members walked away from him and Freddie went single with RCA. The end of the film is entirely Freddie’s apology and a desperate plea for the band to reunite for the Live AID concert from Wembley Stadium. The final scenes in the portrayal of the concert and the setting are awesome in the best sense of the world, 100,000 in the house and millions on television gave Freddie an adequate stage to say goodbye, even though Mercury made one more tour with the band in 1985. Malik’s performance is electrifying, even though songs by Queen were actual Queen performance tapes with additional vocals by Canadian Marc Martel.
The whole film reverberates with energy with Malik leading the way in portraying the doomed singer while the supporting cast—Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as drummer John Deacon—is outstanding and believable as performers. A remarkable band in a remarkable era with a remarkable lead singer all make for a remarkable film.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (R)
The Swedish series based on the bestselling novels by Stieg Larsson and David Lagerkrantz continues with the best Lisbeth Salander ever: Claire Foy. In this film, based on the Lagerkrantz novel, Lisbeth is trying to protect the son of a scientist who as created a program that will make it possible to blow up the world. His son, August (Christopher Convery), an autistic boy of great secrets, is the only one left who knows the numerical sequence to unlock the program. The American NSA and Swedish Sapo, their Security Service, are vying for the codes as well, and they all end up chasing Salander and the boy all over a frigid Swedish landscape.
To complicate matters even more, Salander’s long-estranged sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), also is chasing after the codes. In a stroke of costuming genius, Camilla is dressed head to toe in red, making her contrast with the snow very effective. Salander is featured more in this film than Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) who has been left behind at Millennium, the paper for which he starred in previous novels. His usual on and off affair with the publisher, Erika Berger (Vicky Krieps), is off for this film.
Most of the film consists of spectacular fights and chase scenes. There are also many poisonings and drugging incidents in the film, most involving poor Lisbeth. Cameron Britton has a great role as Plague, Lisbeth’s computer assistant. The scenes in which he cooperates with the NSA’s Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) are wonders of technology and filming. The pace seldom slacks off and the plotting is so simple, save the boy and keep control of the code, that Lisbeth is free to get more involved in the action.
The Grinch (PG)
If it’s done well, who can criticize an institution? Certainly not me! This movie is perfect for introducing talks about giving, receiving, gifts of toys and gifts of love and service—all the good questions about Christmas. Benedict Cumberbatch has a perfect name for the holidays and does a bang-up job as the green monster, Cameron Seely is wonderful as the voice of Cindy-Lou Who and particularly effective is Kenan Thompson from SNL as Mr. Bricklebaum. Rashida Jones sparkles as Donna Who, Cindy-Lou’s single mother, and the rest of the voicers serve their purposes well. Yes, the film is based on “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” As somebody explains: “He didn’t steal Christmas; he just stole stuff.” At the end, I suggest you get the handkerchiefs ready, but in a good way.
Beautiful Boy (R)
Reservations: This film had my son, Adam, as second assistant director, as well as my son, Simon, his mother (my wife) and my daughter from Australia in extra roles. I may, therefore, be biased for its success.
This is a remarkable film, albeit quite slow. It is about serious multiple drug addiction and is based on two books by its lead characters David Sheff (Steve Carell) and Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet).
David is haunted by two questions after discovering that Nic is an addict: What is it doing to him and how can I help him? The answers are grim. Various drugs are attacking his inner organs, his brain and certainly his behavior. Confronted about his drug use and with the suggestion of rehab, we hear the expected response from Nic: “I’m 18. You can’t force me!”
David enrolls Nic in a clinic only to be told that the success rate tops out at 80 percent while the failure rate is 25 percent. Asked why he was using so many drugs, Nic responds, “I felt better than I ever did and kept doing it.” This was particularly about crystal meth, one of the most addictive of drugs. David even tries snorting cocaine to experience a high and briefly enjoys it.
Meanwhile, the cost to his family is immense. His wife, Karen (Maura Tierney), is more and more distanced from her husband and stepson but has no help in dealing with anything. David keeps reading and browsing and desperately trying anything to rescue his son. He even requests a drug test of Nic: “I trust you, but we have to have proof.” Finally, Karen shrieks, “I don’t know how to help him!” The answer from David is deadly: “You can’t!”
The scenes get more and more harrowing. Some may feel there are too many of them, but they evoke the parents’ desperation and hopelessness. The performances of Chalamet and Carell are already in the Oscar discussion, and the emotional power of the struggle they all feel is painfully exercised.
This is not a happy movie. It may be a necessary one if parents are to truly comprehend the drug crisis that faces us. Certainly not for the youngest set but carefully prepared junior and senior high school students should probably see it and be reminded that the source for the story is real.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (PG)
This film, which wisely featured the music of Tchaikovsky’s score most of the way, bears little resemblance to the rest of the ballet. It is such a Christmas-y sound that I don’t blame the producers for borrowing so much of it.
The film features the startling appearance and earnest and believable acting of Mackenzie Foy as Clara. The 18-year-old actress has an incredible face, so perfectly marvelous that in every light, in every costume and in every angle, her face glows. Her light approach to the dangers of the script lend another level of depth to the story of conquering the Four Realms of the Nutcracker’s home area.
The fright level is surprisingly low. Each Realm has its guard with Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, the most-deadly of them. Helen Mirren, as Mother Ginger, could have been frightening but she mellowed fast and became one of the Good Guys. Another Good Guy, Jayden FoworaKnigh as Phillip, a captain of the guard, unfortunately is in only his second film and as yet cannot act.
Most startling and enriching is the extended performance of Misty Copeland of the “World of Dance.” She has a long pas de deux with Zachary Catazaro. She also dances solo over the credits.
There are wonderful fighting and chase scenes in this fantasy world and some clever developments in technology that add fun to the whole enterprise. It is a bit difficult to figure out who is where and why and there are some glaring failures in continuity, but the kids won’t care about the confusing plot and will probably enjoy the fantasy, the Hero-Mouse and the terrific costumes of Clara and all the rest of Nutcracker land. Parents can just be patient and let them enjoy it.
Historically inaccurate, this fable about D-Day stars Jovan Adepo as Boyce. He gets shot down with the rest of his crew. A few of the crew survive and gather for a mission to destroy a Nazi tower, which contains coding machines and transmitters that make a D-Day landing a real problem. OK. We have a D-Day movie with troops where they were not. The group runs into Nazi patrols, wipes them out and continues toward a castle where, in the basement, experiments are being carried out that would guarantee a Nazi horde of soldiers for eternity.
There are a few kinks in the formula, and that’s where this mess really spins out of control. It becomes a ZOMBIE movie!!!
The only redeeming feature is a performance by Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe, the single mother. She is wooden until she has to run. Man, can she run! She has speed, but for some inexplicable reason, she keeps running toward the road where the Germans are on patrol in cars and motorcycles. Every time she is captured and threatened with assault, a GI finds his marksmanship and saves her. And so it goes for what seems an eternity of chases, captures, zombies and stupid dialogue, all heading for an inevitable ending. Truly a movie to pass on, given the much better alternatives.