Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Freddie_Mercury_performing_in_New_Haven,_CT,_November_1977

Freddie Mercury:  a skilled performer with flair

PG-13 | 2h 14min | 2 November 2018 (USA)
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

Wow! I loved this film. It transported me back to the 80s and reminded me what a great group Queen were and of the power of Rock music. 

The film tells us the story of Farrokh Bulsara (played superbly by Rami Malek) as he becomes Freddie Mercury. Bulsara is the son of immigrants from Zanzibar (now in Tanzania) who were Parsees, Zoroastrians who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries. His family had moved to Zanzibar so that his father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar because of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed. To the credit of the film this is made clear (though not explained or emphasised).

I was intrigued by his family relationships. His father Bomi Bulsara (Ace Bhatti) was a conservative figure who had a portrait of our Queen on his wall and emphasised the three commandments preached by Zoroaster: good thoughts, good words and good actions repeatedly and sometimes critically to Freddie! His relationship with his Father, thankfully, improved over time. It can’t have been easy for either of them given their different natures. Brian May noted in 2016, “It’s probably true to say that Freddie’s father, strongly committed to the Parsee faith, didn’t find it easy that Freddie took the path he did, as a rock musician, and a fairly irreverent one, at that. Nevertheless the support was always there.”It’s one of the joys of this film that we see their understanding and acceptance of each other develop. His mother Jer Bulsara (Meneka Das) was more directly supportive.

We also see a young Freddie working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and experiencing the casual racism that was sadly the norm for many back then, there and on the street. Music was another side to his life. He was writing songs and watching local bands at small clubs. We see how Freddie first meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Bohemian Rhapsody leads us through the history from the origins of Queen right up to Freddie’s tragic death (he died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991).

There is so much of interest in Bohemian Rhapsody that it is only possible to mention some of it in any review. I loved to see Freddie’s relationship with his cats, his love of opera and his interest in fashion. His personal relationships with Kenny Everett and his manager (a devil figure in the film) and record companies are worthy of separate consideration. The effects of addiction to alcohol and drugs on his health and music and personal relationships are a darker theme.

The film doesn’t shy away from looking at Freddie’s sexuality. Freddie married Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). In one scene Freddie tells Mary “I think I’m bisexual.” She says: “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

Some have called the film out on this. Billboard said: “For many out there, this particular moment almost rang too true to real life. Bisexual people face the reality of bi-erasure on a near-daily basis, being told that they’re either “too gay” or “not gay enough,” with little to no attention paid to their actual sexual identity. So it’s natural that many critics and Twitter users would call Bohemian Rhapsody out for attempting to erase Mercury’s bisexuality in this scene, especially in a film meant to celebrate him.”

I’m not sure about that. Freddie wanted his private life to be private. He wanted his fans and the press to focus on his music. He never publicly identified his sexuality. Should he have had to? Should anyone have to define their sexuality publicly? At the time Freddie was pressured by the media to do so, now some LGBT people take the view that he somehow let the side down. Freddie saw himself first and foremost as a performer who was there to entertain the public with great shows and music. That was his choice.

There is a harrowing press conference in the film where we see the gutter press try to pressure him to answer questions on his sexuality in the style of a baying mob.

This wasn’t a case of exaggeration the press had no shame. In December 1974, the New Musical Express asked him, “So how about being bent?”. Even his illness was seen as ‘fair play’ by the irresponsible media. In October 1986, the British press reported that Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned him intrusively about this. Anyone whoever read the late and unlamented News of the World will know full well how the gutter press hypocrites tried to trash people. Yet who now remembers the low-lives of the British gutter press? Yet Freddie Mercury left a legacy of great shows and music behind him. His music continues to uplift people.

Bohemian Rhapsody ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. I remember watching this at the time. To be frank to that point Live Aid wasn’t matching the hype. The performance from Queen changed that. It was electric. It’s given an incredible poignancy in the film by the knowledge that Freddie is doomed. Bittersweet and emotionally moving. Freddie knew how to deliver to his audience. He went out on a high note with a strutting, high energy and also nuanced performance as he was determined to do. True to his art and his fans to the very end.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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The Children Act (2017)

thechildrenactUK Release 24 August 2018| 1h 45min | Drama |Director: Richard Eyre
Writers: Ian McEwan (screenplay by), Ian McEwan (based on the novel by)
Stars: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

The Children Act is centred on Finona Maye (Emma Thompson), a High Court judge in the Family Division. Her work is taking a heavy toll on her marriage to Jack (Stanly Tucci) and other social relationships. She is consumed by it and the incredible responsibility of that role has forced out all consideration of other duties and obligations.

There is a sensitive depiction of what happens when overwork and middle age start to disrupt a loving relationship.

The plot revolves around the case of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a young Jehovah’s Witness refusing a life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds. Yet the film is really about professional boundaries, relationships and dealing with buried emotions. It explores the potential conflict between a professional role and feelings of empathy and sympathy. How far does a natural instinct of kindness undermine the need for professional distance? How can that be communicated without appearing heartless and cold or shutting ourselves down emotionally? It’s all done with very fine acting and in a understated way.

It’s great to see such a fascinating female protagonist and to get a glimpse of the work and challenges of our High court judges. This movie is both thought-provoking and engaging. Go see it!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKQkUcJioxU

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

filmstarsdontdieinliverpool
1h 45min | Biography, Drama, Romance | 16 November 2017 (UK)
Actors: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham
Directors: Paul McGuigan
Writers: Matt Greenhalgh, Peter Turner (based on the memoir by)
Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Colin Vaines

This touching and sensitive film is based on the real life memoir of Peter Turner. It covers the years 1979-1981 starting with Turner meeting Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). Although not well remembered Gloria was a big star in the 1940’s and 50’s. You may know her as Violet in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, or recall that she was an Oscar winner for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), and had standout roles in OKLAHOMA! (1955), THE BIG HEAT (1953), and IN A LONELY PLACE (1950). By 1979 those glory days are gone. Gloria is in England starring on stage in The Glass Menagerie.

She meets Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a bisexual young actor who falls in love with her despite the significant age difference. He was 28 and she was twice that age. The affair is passionate and tender. Even when the affair has ended Peter still cares about Gloria. It is to him and his family in Liverpool that she turns to for care as her health deteriorates. It’s a sad story but also speaks to a loyal and lasting love.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are outstanding. There are also some fine supporting roles including Julie Walters as Peters’s mum and Vanessa Redgrave as Glorias.

The movie’s set production (recreating the late 70s/early 80s) is evocative of the time and place. Right down to the political posters in the background at the Working Men’s club. There is also a lot of great music in the film, including a specially composed piece by Elvis Costello.

An understated gem.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

 

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Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

solo-a-star-wars-story-uk-poster12A | 2h 15min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 24 May 2018 (UK)
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan | 1 more credit »
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke

I hadn’t realised how hated Disney were by some till I started reading the reviews for Solo! Whilst this movie has its flaws I found it entertaining.

The plot is simple and straighforward. A young Han Solo joins a gang of galactic smugglers and travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal valuable coaxium (used to make fuel). Alden Ehrenreich as the young Solo isn’t as rugged or cynical as Harrison Ford’s version. That’s part of the problem. Many Star Wars fans found they young Solo unconvincing. Could this “pretty boy” really survive amongst the scum of the universe and become the older Solo? A man who seems to owe all the most dangerous people in the Universe money and lives on the edge and on the run. The answer for many was a resounding “No!”. Yet this is a younger Solo, setting out, learning lessons and becoming a man.

The film also has to tick some boxes along the way. He has to get his ship the Millennium Falcon. He must meet a certain Wookie etc. This is all weaved in fairly convincingly though.

Great action scenes and an interesting love interest in the form of eye-candy and great actor Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra. The dynamic of the relationship between Han and Qi’ra is fascinating. As Emillia said: “They grew up as comrades, essentially. They grew up as pals, as partners in crime. There is obviously the romantic side of things. But they grew up together. So they were kids together.”

There are some great supporting actors too, Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos, Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett (to name just a few).

Go with an open mind and you may enjoy it!

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World (2016)

bowiethemanwhochangedtheworld

Click on image to buy

Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World (2016)

1h 25min | Documentary, Biography, Music | 9 May 2016 (UK)
 
Genres: Documentary
Director: Sonia Anderson
Starring: David Bowie, Lawrence Myers, Paul Nicholas
Supporting actors: Dana Gillespie, Mary Finnigan, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, Clive Langer, Chris Sullivan, Breege Collins, Angie Bowie
Studio: Under The Milky Way
 
 
There are things to like in this documentary. It offers some of insight into a very complex, multi-faceted and creatively restless man. A man stimulated by new ideas and experiences. It features interviews with Bowie himself and people who knew him (if you ever could!). The documentary is fascinating because the subject never ceased to amaze, entertain and, at times, baffle us.
 
Bowie was a versatile innovator who had a huge impact on popular culture. Everyone saw the waves emananting from what he did but Bowie the man was a mystery. This documentary doesn’t solve that mystery but the interviews do give us some glimpses of the character behind the creativity.
 
For me the most interesting part was the first part dealing with his early life. Both Dana Gillespie and Mary Finnigan paint a bleak picture of his homelife.
 
Mary Finnigan says of Bowie’s mother “she was very stiff, very starchy, you had no chance of getting to know her properly, very reserved”.
 
Dana Gillespie speaks of visit to his home – “a cold house” “it was like walking around with cement blocks on your shoulders” and reveals Bowie said “Whatever it takes I want to get out of this place. I never want to grow up here”.
 
The rest really charts his escape to and triumph in a different world. There are some great Bowie moments. The 1976 interview with Russell Harty is very funny. Harty tries sarcasm on Bowie but he more than meets his match. The interviews with close friends and business associates can be informative. I had no idea that when he was broke he auditioned for the musical Hair! or how hands on he was on different aspects of his stage productions like lighting.
 
There is some great information in this documentary but it does jump around in terms of timeline and isn’t well structured. The images don’t always match the story being told and some are overused. My other big criticism is the complete lack of Bowie music which I’m guessing was down to not reaching agreement with the Bowie estate.
 
I saw this on Netflix so if you’re on there check it out. Would I buy it if I wasn’t on Netflix? On balance yes because, as a Bowie fan, despite my criticisms, it is worth watching.
 
Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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 Sicario 2: Soldado (2018) 

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Josh Brolin in Sicario 2: Soldado. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (original title)
15 | 2h 2min | Action, Crime, Drama | 29 June 2018 (UK)
Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan 
Starring
Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Donovan, Elijah Rodriguez, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham

Sicario 2 is a bleak film. It breathes hopelessness. The subject matter is the failed U.S. war against the Mexican drug cartels as in Sicario 1. The Spanish word “sicario,” means hit man or contract killer. It’s difficult to know if the government agents or the cartel gangsters are being referenced. Perhaps it describes both. In Sicario 2 what few rules there were have been torn up as the drug cartels have smuggled ISIS terrorists over the border. One kills himself and takes out members of a US border patrol and another makes it across to take part in a bomb attack on a crowded supermarket.

US secretary of defense (Matthew Modine) orders a dirty war. The man for the job is obvious – Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He has few moral qualms and likes to get the job done. Matt has a plan – divide and rule. He wants to get the cartels fighting each other and plans murder and kidnapping to provoke that. Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), a US black-ops ally with a grudge against the cartels is reactivated to help.

The main part of the story centres on the kidnapping by the US black-ops team of Isabel Reyes, played by Moner (the daughter of a Cartel leader) and the fall-out from that. Another story that intersects concerns another teenager Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez), a Mexican-American boy with a family on both sides of the border who joins a gang of human traffickers. Sicario 2 emphasises the profitability of human trafficking and the cartels involvement. This depiction of crime, terrorism and migration has proved uncomfortable for some in the US as it may resonate with those who want to build a wall to keep people out!

There aren’t any conventional heroes in Sicario 2. It’s clear that this war will go on and on with brutal inhumanity the norm on both sides. This is underscored by the score by Hildur Gudnadottir. It’s relentless and fills you with dread and foreboding. The Beast from Sicario (2015), written and Performed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, is played over and over again.

The ending was unconvincing and out of keeping with the tone of the Movie and the likely actions of those inhabiting this shady, amoral world. Far happier than I expected though still depressing!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Love, Simon (2018)

lovesimon

Love, Simon is a ground-breaking film aimed at a mainstream audience

PG-13 | 1h 49min | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 16 March 2018 (USA)
Director: Greg Berlanti
Writers: Elizabeth Berger (screenplay by), Isaac Aptaker (screenplay by) |
Stars: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a 17-year old with a secret. Simon has “a perfectly normal life” in all ways but one: Simon is gay. The emphasis should be more on the perfect thant the normal in that last phrase though! His parents (played by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner)are a loving, understanding couple and he even gets on well with his Sister! Problems that many teenagers grapple with are absent from this film.

This does enable the film to focus on the central theme but it is at the expense of realism. Love, Simon has one scene where Simon imagines a college life which includes highly choreographed group dancing to a gay anthem. The rest of the film isn’t so divorced from reality but it isn’t too far off.

Love, Simon isn’t gritty. It’s very vanilla, family-friendly and a PG-13. Warning: There is gay kissing but nothing beyond that! There isn’t much depiction of straight sex either! Everyone is fairly well-behaved!

Don’t get me wrong though, the film is entertaining and well written. It engages your interest in the central mystery very well. Simon sees a posting on a school gossip forum from another student ‘Blue’ who says he is gay but nervous about ‘coming out’ openly. Simon spends much of the movie trying to figure out who this might be. The audience is carefully kept in the dark with Blue’s postings being read by different voices throughout the film, depending on who Simon suspects he might be at a particular point.

There are also some great supporting roles. I found the vice-principal (Tony Hale) very funny, the drama teacher (Natasha Rothwell) engaging and out-and-proud classmate Ethan (Clark Moore) a good counterpoint to Simon.

At heart Love, Simon is a rom-com. I went with my daughter to see it at a special screening and I think that the main audience for it will actually be teenage girls.The film may be criticised for it not confronting issues of homophobia head-on but it’s not that kind of movie – it isn’t dark and it’s aiming at communicating to a mainstream audience. It’s a groundbreaking film which deals with an important issue. It’s better than a lot of teenage films of the same genre as it has good humour, a clear plot and does make you think about how difficult it could be for a teenager dealing with their sexuality in a society which can still be unaccepting of difference.

Editorial note: Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel was called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

 

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