"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Bohemian Rhapsody

NOTE: This movie’s win for Best Picture – Drama last night at the Golden Globes has been received with controversy, mostly involving the morality of rewarding a director who is awash in allegations of sexual assault. I barely mention that aspect in this review because I was able to separate the art from the artist and completely reject the movie on its own merits. It would be an embarrassing choice even if it was made by saints.

You know I’m a positive guy and I don’t do negative reviews that often, and also I tend to think even movies like ROBIN HOOD are okay. Lately though I’ve been watching last year’s awards-nominated type movies to prepare for the season and now I’m finally seeing movies I really don’t like.

I’m afraid I must report that BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is the new gold standard for horse shit musician biopics. It feels simultaneously adapted from Wikipedia and fudging every single detail for pandering dramatic license.

Rami Malek (NEED FOR SPEED) thankfully abandons his one bug-eyed expression of intensity I decided I was done with after the first season of Mr. Robot. Instead he throws every actorly actor thing he’s got at playing Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen, essayers of the HIGHLANDER theme (not pictured). Many have said he’s great in the role, and I don’t entirely disagree, but it is a fact that I spent the early scenes wondering why Malek believed Mercury should always look like he was sucking on a lemon.

Then they started talking about him having extra teeth and I remembered hearing something about Malek’s special dentures for the role. And pretty much for the entire rest of the movie I couldn’t stop thinking he was struggling to keep those things in. You see the mouthpiece poking out of his cheeks, his lips frequently moving over it, preventing it from popping out. I kept thinking how sore his face must’ve been.

But he definitely did a good job strutting and doing his rock star moves. Can’t deny that. And there’s an accent involved and he acts cocky and stuff, it’s clearly a stretch from what I’ve seen him do in other things, and mostly works.

Young unknown Farrokh Bulsara, living with his parents but already dressing like he thinks he’s a rock god (like Prince in PURPLE RAIN, minus the motorcycle), pushes his way into a small time local rock outfit. He wins over some crowds, gets his bandmates to sell their van so they can buy some studio time, pushes the band and engineers to do adventurous recording techniques and stereo effects, everyone skeptical of and scoffing at what we at home know is THE UNPARALLELED GENIUS OF A TRUE CHAMPION.

Probly 20 minutes into the movie they’re already a signed band with a hit single and big U.S. tour, and they’re rebelling against the limited artistic perspective of some executive at EMI (Mike Myers [INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS] – DO YOU GET IT, BECAUSE THEY DID THAT SCENE IN WAYNE’S WORLD! THAT IS WHY HE IS IN BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY!!!). He seems unimpressed with their work, so Freddie puts an opera record on a conveniently located record player and acts like he just blew everybody’s fuckin minds. Seeming to brainstorm out loud, Freddie says they’ll call their next album A Night At the Opera and fancifully pitches a rock record with “the intensity of opera,” never really explaining what that’s supposed to mean exactly. Later the band goes and stays on a farm to record the album and they keep being pouty and confused as Freddie makes them record more and more overdubs singing “Galileo!” and all that. From what I’ve read he really did have the song all in his head and direct the band as they painstakingly recorded separate pieces for weeks. But this acts like they had no idea what the overall plan was and that they thought he was off his rocker.

I don’t know, I guess Brian May and Roger Taylor were producers, and reportedly were kind of a pain in the ass about trying to make the band look good. So maybe this is what really happened or they wouldn’t have let it by. But it seems insulting to me to imply that these musicians who you’d assume were creative collaborators working together to create a sound they loved were short-sighted dummies reluctantly being puppeteered by the true genius, who they didn’t believe in.

Anyway, I swear to you I am not lying that they put Myers in this movie (under makeup, wig and sunglasses) so that he could have a line where he says that “I’m in Love with My Car” should be the single because “That’s the kind of song teenagers can crank up the volume in their car and bang their heads to. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will never be that song.” It’s the worst moment of any movie I saw last year. I can’t believe they all agreed that was something that they should do, and then they did it, and then they went on living their lives and as far as I can tell nobody called in a panic late at night and said “I’m worried that the scene we did with Mike Meyers will be put into the actual movie, we need to erase the files immediately because there are mirrors in my house and I might look into one at some point.”

It’s like a self-referential take on the ol’ “Mark my words, this Picasso won’t amount to anything.” And he pretty much has that line too: “Mark these words: NO ONE will play Queen!” How did this movie play in theaters without somebody banging a gong?

I’ve heard many people say that the best part is the climax that re-creates much of the band’s famous 21 minute performance for Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. I suppose that’s true. But didn’t they, like, film the real thing? Shouldn’t I just watch that instead of Malek green-screened in front of a creepily digital crowd?

By the way did you know Michael Jackson couldn’t do Live Aid because he was filming CAPTAIN EO? I just learned that.

When they showed footage of the real Mercury at the end, I immediately thought “wow, Sasha Baron Cohen really does look exactly like him.” Cohen, of course, was attached to the movie for years, but left due to artistic differences with the producers. He says the band wanted a more sanitized portrait of Mercury than he did, and that they didn’t agree with the director he had interested in doing it – David Fincher! Instead they chose Bryan Singer (X-MEN), and then months into filming they fired him because he kept not showing up for filming and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (Cop Rock pilot, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY) kept having to fill in for him. Malek was reportedly pissed at the director’s behavior and I bet they were also wondering if maybe in this day and age it might be worth worrying about if some of those accusations against him over the years were not for nothin. So the last third of filming and the post-production were taken up by Dexter Fletcher (credited as executive producer), the guy from LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS who directed EDDIE THE EAGLE and the upcoming Elton John biopic.

But I definitely think the real crime is the script. Cohen brought on screenwriter Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN, FROST/NIXON, HEREAFTER, RUSH), who gets a story credit. The main credit went to Anthony McCarten, who did the similarly contrived DARKEST HOUR as well as THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, which I liked better. I will be wary of his upcoming projects THE POPE and UNTITLED JOHN LENNON YOKO ONO FILM.

I’ve heard some criticism of the movie for playing down Mercury’s bisexuality. (Singer is gay, Fletcher is straight.) They don’t erase it – it’s an important part of the movie, but it’s one of those things where, like, they show him leaving with a dude and it cuts to later on. Definitely more time is spent on his relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER), which does have some interesting aspects to it. Although he needs to sleep with men he tries to keep her in his life. They definitely could go more into it. Geez, this is a PG-13 movie! About Freddie Mercury!

But to me, fixing that wouldn’t fix the movie. Knowing nothing about Queen, this still smells phony from top to bottom. Even the title seems kinda full of shit – does it describe this story at all? Nobody seems to agree if the song is about anything in particular. I guess there are some interpretations of it being about his sexuality, but I doubt that’s what they were thinking. They were just thinking “That is a title that people recognize! It was in WAYNE’S WORLD!”

Reading about the real Queen afterwards confirmed that many of the big dramatic moments are completely made up. They have the band breaking up in anger over Mercury’s solo album. He goes into a downward spiral, has to come to them and apologize, convince them to reunite to do Live Aid because he’s dying of AIDS. And then they get added onto the bill at the last minute and struggle to learn how to play together again. In reality they all had solo albums before him, nobody was mad, they never broke up, they had toured recently, they were on the bill from the beginning, and he was not diagnosed until two years later, and didn’t tell them until two years after that. So… a little different.

The meanest fictionalization I read about involves manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD). In the movie he tries to get Mercury to go solo, and the singer sees it as a betrayal of the band and fires him on the spot, making him get out of a limo in the middle of traffic. In reality the band decided to manage themselves because Reid was busy with Elton John and they paid him off well and remained friends for years. Reid is still alive. I wonder if he’s seen the movie?

It’s not the not-being-true that’s the problem. It’s the not even feeling true. Sure, make some shit up, but make it interesting. Don’t change real life to fit the generic music biopic template. Check out MILES AHEAD. Don’t go out and get an artistic license just to leave it in your wallet the whole time. You know the saying “you can’t make this shit up”? This is the shit you can make up. So you shouldn’t.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 7th, 2019 at 11:28 am and is filed under Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

61 Responses to “Bohemian Rhapsody”

  1. I appreciate your dedication to positivity, it is certainly something that keeps me reading, but godDAMN do I love it when you go off on a stinker

  2. It’s really unfortunate that the people in charge of making this didn’t hold themselves to a higher storytelling standard. The enormous box office/audience success shows that people mostly just wanted a movie to karaoke the hits to, and that’s exactly what they got, but for the rest of us who like actual movies it’s a pretty steep disappointment.

    Gotta admit…since I saw your negative tweet about VICE I’ve been on pins and needles and even paid to watch it again yesterday so I could be sure I disagreed with you when you post your review. I’ve been reading your writing since Bush was actually in office and you would post your “Tells it like it is” essays, so this is a hugely relevant movie to your body of work.

    I would be shocked if Adam McKay doesn’t like the Fast & Furious movies.

    Happy New Year Vern!

  3. If only WALK HARD would’ve been a hit…

  4. CJ Holden, check out this article. It’s literally about what you just said.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/revisiting-hours-walk-hard-stream-this-movie-771426/

    I was just thinking how hilarious it is that all these people spent the entire night talking about how they don’t take the GG seriously and that it’s a joke award anyway and the minute this won, they were enraged by it. It was making me laugh.

  5. Finally! I’ve been trying not to piss in anyone’s cornflakes with my usual negativity, but since Vern hates this movie as much as I would if you could pay me to see it, I’m just gonna let it all out right here.

    I realize I am not the audience for this kind of thing, but does anybody else feel like this year’s crop of award bait is even more fucking unwatchable than usual? Most of the time, there’s at least one movie I can get behind in some category, but this year there’s just nothing. Outside of the animation category, which I am agnostic about, I doubt I’ll ever watch nine out of nine and a half of these movies, if I’ve been heard of them. MARY FUCKING POPPINS FUCKING 2? Good god. Have we sunk so low? I guess I can’t hate on BLACK KKKLANSMAN but I’d be lying if I said I’d ever get around to actually watching it. And BLACK PANTHER for Best Picture? You gotta be fucking kidding me. It wasn’t even 2018’s best movie with Black Panther in it. There’s flop sweat dripping off every inch of this list.

    But at least BP is a movie that means something to people. I think its execution is pure wackness but I respect its intentions and the effect it had on a lot of people. The rest of the nominees is just a list of movies nobody’s going to remember or give a shit about in six months, if they even remember or give a shit about them now.

    I must admit to some schadenfreude that, after all that hype, HEREDITARY doesn’t even land Toni Collette a fucking Golden Globe nomination. I could have sworn they handed those out as party favors. To this new wave of boring horror filmmakers (the “It’s really more of a psychological thriller” crowd): The cool kids still don’t want you in their clubhouse. Put as many tearful monologues and metaphors about depression into your self-hating ROSEMARY’S BABY ripoff as you want, but you are still trash to them. They’d rather give an award to a Chuck Lorre sitcom than you.

    Can somebody more open to this kind of stuff tell me if I’m off-base or if this truly was a weak year for Oscary type stuff?

  6. Walk Hard was the movie of the decade. Its box office failure is why we can’t have nice thing.

    I liked Bohemian Rhapsody but I entirely credit Dexter Fletcher for finishing the movie. It doesn’t matter what brilliant directions he brought to the movie. He didn’t finish it so they don’t count. The movie only exists because Dexter Fletcher made it into a form that could be released to theaters.

    I could maybe see that if Singer developed the project two years ago, that was just before Weinstein and the tail end of “you can have sexual assault allegations and we’ll look the other way if you’re not indicted.” It’s not okay but it’s how Hollywood and the world operated. It certainly needs to be dealt with now that society believes the victims, something they should have done all along.

    But how the fuck can you get more directing jobs when you don’t finish a movie? Not finishing a production should be the kind of bottom line costly offense that Hollywood DOES care about. And that should be the part everyone agrees on. I mean, I believe Singer’s accusers and want them to find justice, but even if people can’t judge until it goes to court, walking off the set of a movie production is objectively unacceptable.

  7. The sucking-on-a-lemon thing stood out to me so much that I literally went to the tape after watching the movie — some YouTube clips of the real Mercury talking in interviews. And he did kind of sound like that, he would occasionally make that sort of noise while speaking, but not nearly as much as Malek, who (A) didn’t have years to get used to having more teeth in his face like Freddie did and (B) kind of talks that way himself even without fake teeth, which I noticed again when he was giving his speech last night and also noticed in Papillon.

  8. Separating the art from the artist: to me it is hardest to do this when the art revolves around the artist’s persona. I’ll never be able to enjoy CK again.

  9. Sternsheim, isn’t it always like that? “Ugh, award shows, I don’t give a fuck, it’s just Hollywood giving each other handjobs, they don’t mean anything BUT HOLY SHIT AM I MAD BECAUSE I TOTALLY NOT AGREE WITH THE WINNERS!!”

  10. Here’s the attitude I’ve been picking up on from the many folks who bought tickets about the backlash to this film: “It made me feel good, I love ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘We Will Rock You,’ it’s like a Freddie meme I posted on Imgur come to life, it’s not supposed to win Oscars.”

    Except now it might actually win Oscars! I hope Black Panther or A Star is Born smokes it.

    These kind of harmless movies in a way somehow do manage to harm me because they can make me seem like a snob when I know damn well I’m not.

  11. I like watching the Oscars ,not as much the Globes. Usually it’s because my friend and I do the ballot and we try to watch the movies. He always out guesses me. And occasionally something funny, memorable or interesting that will happen that I’m glad I watched. I don’t invest myself in a particular winner like I might have like in 1994 with Pulp Fiction but ultimately it doesn’t matter. NO reason to get all up in arms over this shit.

  12. Dollars to donuts says this movie doesn’t even get a best picture nomination.

  13. I feel like those of us who truly love movies, paradoxically hate things like Bohemian Rhapsody because they’re so half-assed and cynical. Casual moviegoers misunderstand that about us…”Why can’t you just be happy for us for going in a group of 20 people to sing and dance along with Freddie and chuckle at Mike Myers going all meta and sending up Wayne’s World? Where’s your heart?”

    Because we believe a movie about Queen and Freddie Mercury could be GREAT. I wish loving things didn’t also engender sour grapes at mediocrity like Bohemian Rhapsody, but there you have it.

  14. I came here to say that everyone hired to write/direct a musician biopic should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch WALK HARD, but I see all the other commenters here are already on it.

    Majestyk: I see your new years resolution for positivity is off to a flying start.

  15. Bottling all of my negativity up forever isn’t an option, so I’m trying to show more discretion about where and when I let it out. I don’t want to do it on a review of a movie everybody else likes, so I’m saving it for risible pieces of shit like this one.

    That’s the theory anyway. We’ll see how long it lasts.

  16. I’ve said this many times online, and I think at least once on here a long time ago when this project was first announced, or when Cohen dropped out, but if someone (the right someone at the very least) made a movie about Freddie’s last years it would be absolutely worthy of the kind of acclaim this is getting now. He was diagnosed in either 86-87 (it’s perhaps as apocryphal as the Live Aid scene but I heard he told the band first after their last live performance at Wembley at the end of their A KIND OF MAGIC *or HIGHLANDER soundtrack if you will* tour), and for the last couple years of his life he worked. Queen made what amounted to be 3 albums, filmed several videos and did public appearances, until the lecherous English tabloid press got to be too much and they finished their work in Switzerland. All of this while he was deteriorating on the inside from that terrible disease. But that may never get made, or who knows. I imagine a follow-up movie could tell this story right, but I won’t be holding my breath on it.

    Between this and A STAR IS BORN both winning huge box-office, I’ve got to imagine Hollywood is clamoring a lot more for this kind of stuff now which can be good and bad. On the bad end, Duncan Jones said on Twitter recently all anyone is asking him to do is a movie about his dad, which I feel is kind of disrespectful to him and his family for some reason.

  17. Onthewall: No doubt, but damn a Duncan (Moon, Warcraft) Jones Bowie movie would be amazing.

  18. I think if someone did an ACROSS THE UNIVERSE-type project with Bowie’s music, it would be more interesting to me than yet another bio pic.

    As I said I could see some good coming out of the success of this in terms of more interesting movies of this kind. I know that Roger Daltrey has been really trying to get a movie about Keith Moon made for several years now. He has said it’s all down to if he can see Keith in the actor’s eyes.

    I think the guy who directed DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and LITTLE BIG LIES is doing the John & Yoko movie. Say what you will about his treatment of Jim Morrison*, but I read that Oliver Stone was once set to do a Lennon movie, which would have been cool if it focused on the time he was almost deported.

    *Getting back to BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, one review stuck out to me that speaks to so much of what I feel is wrong with this. “No rock & roll movie should ever be PG-13.” And say what you will about THE DOORS itself, but imagine if Stone was forced to further bastardize their career by sanitizing it. For all the things it is, it’s also dirty to an extent and proud of it. Something you don’t see much these days, at least on the budget he was allowed to play with.

  19. George Sanderson

    January 7th, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    It’s insane that they took a figure like Mercury, someone who was openly gay and HIV positive AND one of the biggest stars in music, in a time when LGBTQIA+ lifestyles were neither understood nor tolerated, and made such a dull, generic movie.
    My second favourite film-critic, Mark Kermode, refers to a tendency, particularly with biopics or prequels, to clumsily foreshadow plot developments that we, the viewer, are expecting to occur. He calls these “Chubby Hmmm” moments in reference to a scene in a movie about Karen Carpenter in which she reads a concert review that calls her “chubby”, thus inciting the eating disorder that eventually kills her.
    It’s total reductive bullshit and lazy character motivation, and is exactly what Bohemian Rhapsody is full of.

  20. “I’m afraid I must report that BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is the new gold standard for horse shit musician biopics. It feels simultaneously adapted from Wikipedia and fudging every single detail for pandering dramatic license.” I don’t know about the fudging part, but this is essentially how I felt about STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. Still don’t get the love that that made-for-tv-movie-grade timeline box-checking exercise. At least that one dragged me out to the theatre. I won’t even rent this one.

  21. George: Freddie was bi. He never formally came out as anything, but presented himself as flamboyant as the public anyway. Mary Austin is presented as a kind of platonic love interest in his life in several accounts of his life, but I’ve read that he also did have female sexual companions too. Bisexual men are the last to come out of the closet, and it’s not something as commonly understood as being straight or gay, or even being a bisexual female to some degree.

    Quite ironically, Kermode gave this a very glowing review.

  22. George Sanderson

    January 7th, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks for pointing that out onthewall and apologies if any offense was caused by my general ignorance. My parents always spoke of Mercury as though they knew all along that he was, if not strictly homosexual, then definitely not heterosexual. I guess that’s the power of hindsight.
    I still maintain that everything post liveaid would have made for a more interesting look at Mercury.
    I was pretty surprised that Kermode enjoyed the film as much as he did. Seemed to base his enjoyment on the music and Malek’s (spelling?) performance.

  23. Cool factoid.

    This movie caused Brazilian Evangelical Christians to clutch their hate crime pearls for “making Queen gay”…

    But it was still a hit there.

    Filme retrata a vida de Freddie Mercury e causa polêmica no Brasil | Revista Lado A

    Lançado no início de novembro no Brasil, o filme Bohemian Rhapsody conta a história de Freddie Mercury, vocalista da banda Queen. A banda formada nos (...)

  24. Vern, might a definitive review of the HIGHLANDER franchise be on the cards, in the vein of your terrific analysis of the HELLRAISER films?

  25. I enjoyed this one but I am surprised it’s winning any awards. The sanitized portrayal of Queen was hilarious, I particularly liked the scene where Brian May is like “sorry, mate, we can’t participate in your cocain orgy because we’re responsible family men and need to go to bed early”. This doesn’t work as a respectable drama, but it’s pretty effective as a big dumb jukebox musical. I’m kind of a sucker for that kind of picture, I also liked SPICE WORLD.

  26. Jam – I definitely plan to do that. Fred Topel has been patiently waiting for it too.

  27. As a fan of the Highlander franchise, Vern. I certainly look forward to them.

  28. I think now is the wrong time for a Bowie movie tbh. I think Duncan raised a few eyebrows dedicating Mute to his dad – with its leftfield pedophilia subplot – and I think a hagiography right now would, with Hollywood in the eye of the storm of the #metoo stuff, probably be dancing pretty close to the edge. The movie *would* get those kind of questions so I hope to god Duncan isn’t anywhere near it when it inevitably gets made, cos answering those kind of questions about your dead dad would be beyond, beyond hard.

    Anyway this movie sucks. The way it treated Paul Prenter really bugged me. He parted ways with Mercury on bad terms but making some easy tabloid cash after getting dumped aint the same as, I dunno, relentlessly sabotaging multiple careers, gaslighting your boyfriend, trying to screw a charity out of money and all the stuff this film made up to have him do. This is someone who died 25 years ago, of AIDs, who has no one to defend him. There was a line or two in the movie that made it seem like the band had a vendetta against him because they were offended he put some drum machines on one of their records. Made something that would’ve just been shit feel, well, nasty.

    There’s a scene in the end where Paul calls Mercury a “p*ki” on TV. That rung alarm bells in my head cos it seemed like it was intended to mirror the heckle he got at the start, so it set off some ‘didnt happen’ alarm bells in my head. I genuinely don’t want to believe they put racial slurs in the mouth of someone long dead, someone they’ve already spent 40 minutes attacking by that point, but I’ve not been able to find that interview. I might be wrong, he may well have said that. But I dunno, if they made that up then the band, Bryan, Morgan and that other screenwriter should all have questions to answer.

    The whole thing just left me with a really bitter, nasty aftertaste. They want you to leave the cinema absolutely cursing that guy’s name, someone they’ve already pretty much implicitly told you gave Freddie HIV. It’s probably the nastiest thing I saw all year.

  29. “I’ve heard many people say that the best part is the climax that re-creates much of the band’s famous 21 minute performance for Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. I suppose that’s true. But didn’t they, like, film the real thing? Shouldn’t I just watch that instead of Malek green-screened in front of a creepily digital crowd?”

    This point made smoke come out of my ears. 100% spot on. Why am I interested in, basically, a 21 minute Lip Sync battle shot?

  30. I hope the Lamas swordology (The Swordsman, The Swordsman II: Gladiator Cop & TV’s The Immortal + G2 Time Warrior aka Mortal Conquest with Daniel Bernhardt) gets a look. There can be only fun!

  31. Judging by the way how he talks about him on Twitter, I would say Duncan Jones had a great relationship with his dad and the whole thing was just a case of people interpreting WAY too much shit into a common gesture. I mean, it was the first movie that he released after his father died. Of course he dedicates it to him! And the same eyebrows would’ve been raised without a dedication. It’s kind of a “damned if you do/don’t” thing IMO.

    Still, I hope he never does a biopic about him. And he seems to be smart enough to not do it. It would probably be the most accurate biopic ever, but then he still would be told by millions of people all over the world how he screwed up by leaving out this shit or that shit or glossing over some other shit and how this extremely personal true story would’ve been better, if he added some useless shit.

  32. I agree with almost every word of this but I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to be honest. It wasn’t quite the glorified WE WILL ROCK YOU by way of poor man’s JERSEY BOYS I feared. The Prenter stuff did leave a bad taste in my mouth instinctively (I knew nothing about the man when I saw it). If I wanted to get slightly pretentious I could say that cinema generally and even by necessity does a better job of printing the legend than telling the truth, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I could see why some of the fictionalisations here were especially cheap.

    Cohen alleged that May and Taylor wanted the film to only half be about Mercury, with the second half dedicated to the band soldiering on without him. May denied it, not sure I buy it but food for thought.

    I agree it’s ridiculous for Singer to keep getting work, at least big budget work, on the grounds that he struggles to finish a film without major incident alone. But I suppose some producers may see that he has had “his” first unqualified hit outside of the X-MEN franchise and money will talk.

  33. A Ken Russell Queen biopic would have really been something

  34. Look, I’m not trying to defend Singer, but Dexter Fletcher’s previous two movies were a biopic with some fairly cheesy fabrications and a jukebox musical that shoehorned all the band’s hits into a tight runtime.

    All I’m saying is that if there are Elton John fans here, they should steel themselves for ROCKET MAN.

    But while we’re here, can I say I’d love to see a Kris Kristofferson biopic? I mean even by the standards of “you couldn’t make it up” you couldn’t make it up: Oxford scholar and English lecturer who survived Ranger school and then quit the military to work in a recording studio – against his family’s wishes! – dropped a helicopter into Johnny Cash’s backyard, wrote and sang with Cash and The Outlaws, and made movies with Peckinpah, and Snipes. And Divine! Let’s call it “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?”.

  35. I got no problem with the movie being mostly fake bullshit. AMADEUS is virtually 100% bullshit, and it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. But it would have to be a lot better bullshit than this. This feels about as artistically necessary and inspired as those Disney “live action” remakes of their cartoons. “Here, remember that thing you liked? Here’s a movie that will vaguely remind you of that.”

    But those seem to be exactly what America wants right now. At least Malek is having fun, which makes it go down a bit smoother. And Krausalat is right, Brian May and Roger Taylor being scandalized that Freddie is staying up late to do drugs and party is probably the most unintentionally funny scene from 2018.

  36. I should say, in half-assed defense of the Live Aid part, that it’s often (mostly?) filmed from the stage looking out into the crowd, giving a sort of “Can you believe how big this has gotten?” band’s-eye-perspective that I imagine is different from the real footage.

  37. Borg9 – that is a GREAT idea. It never occurred to me but now that you’ve said it it seems inevitable.

  38. Kristofferson also dated Janis Joplin. There’s a lot of material there for an awesome movie.

  39. Thanks Vern. I just hope all the industry types who lurk here are paying attention.

    I’m reliably informed he was helluva lot more sexy as the lead in A STAR IS BORN than Bradley Cooper too.

  40. Is it wrong that I simply don’t want to see a biopic of ANYBODY? Especially somebody I actually admire? I just think the format of motion pictures is all wrong for biography. A movie cannot possibly contain an entire human life without being reductive at best or a blatant fabrication at worst, and there’s no way to get around it. Life routinely violates the three-act structure. Characters and themes from the beginning of a life do not necessarily return for the end. Subplots just kind of peter out. People are not redeemed. Everything is not connected. Chekhov’s gun does not have to go off. All of these things make anything even approaching a real human life absolutely unfilmable. I think there’s some wiggle room in the depiction of a single event or era in someone’s life, but these cradle-to-the-grave jobs are doomed to feel stagey and artificial. All movies are, of course, but the close proximity of real life to the fantasia we’re seeing onscreen makes the Hollywood bullshit we all accept in other genres feel particularly synthetic and off-putting, and the more times they trot out the same bag of tricks, the more insulting it gets.

    Even the only one in recent history I liked (STRAIGHT OUT OF COMPTON) I didn’t really enjoy on its own terms. It was just amusing to think of the NWA dudes being given the same cornball Hollywood story arc as Ray Charles or Johnny Cash. I don’t actually think the movie is good or that it tells its story well. I actually wish, like Vern suggested, that they’d gone all out and made a movie about the legend rather than the life of NWA, which the prologue with Eazy escaping the SWAT team and the shot of them strutting down the hall with their machine guns out like the A-Team only hinted at. If you’re gonna be bullshit, fuckin’ own it, I say.

    Like, how would Werner Herzog make a biopic? He wouldn’t fudge the truth, he’d fucking obliterate it. He’d use the subject matter as raw material to sculpt his own story out of. It’d be no closer to the truth than the average Hollywood hackjob, but at least we’d get something original out of the deception.

  41. Seriously, Vern, how big of a Patreon contribution would make a Highlander series retrospective worthwhile to you? Sounds like a bunch of us would chip in!

  42. Pacman, but someone else had to finish it for it to be an unqualified hit. What’s the prospectus of future Singer films, to always have another director on standby to finish the movie?

  43. I was going to snarkily ask if there have ever been any good biopics, but I guess I can think of quite a few…

    Oliver Stone made a few, like NIXON, THE DOORS, and (in my opinion) W.
    MALCOLM X
    GANDHI / JINNAH
    RAGING BULL
    PATTON
    ED WOOD
    HACKSAW RIDGE
    AMADEUS, sort of
    LISZTOMANIA / MAHLER
    SID AND NANCY
    HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
    BIRD
    VINCENT & THEO
    TOMBSTONE (?)
    EVITA

    Looking at that list, (and that’s just off the top of my head) the thing that leaps out at me is that virtually everyone one of those was made by an auteur who had a specific vision for the material related to a specific story, and wasn’t slavishly devoted to the facts. Almost none of them are cradle-to-the-grave portraits of a whole life; most are about the subject doing one specific thing, which has a clear dramatic arc.

    One thing I’d bet applies to none of the movies on the list: the film started as a general idea to maybe make a movie about someone famous, which wound its way through numerous stars and directors who tried to figure out how to approach the topic, not because they personally saw a clear reason to tell a specific story, but because someone owned the rights to a life story and wanted it turned into a movie.

    A story is about a person doing a thing, not just about a person. The fact that they existed and were famous is not, in itself, a story.

  44. Fred- I agree which is why I used quote marks around “his”. Although I realise that might have looked like I was suggesting any reasonably competent director could have made this and the very popular music of Queen is the draw, also probably true.

  45. Mr. Majestyk: would HK ‘biopics’ count for your preference? ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series and the IP MANs?

  46. Mr. Subtlety, I also think MAN ON THE MOON was pretty good. I also have great hopes for VICE. I really liked Adam McKay’s THE BIG SHORT, and critics keep describing McKay as funny Oliver Stone. At least VICE look entertaining. I do wander if Christian Bale had them put the underwear shot into the film so he had an excuse for actually become that unhealthy fat.

  47. Now that they’re planning a “biopic” about my favourite artist – Shane MacGowan – I’ve given some thought to just what would make a movie about someone famous or semi famous interesting to me (I haven’t seen one yet). And I think the only way to make a good “biopic” is to go wildly overboard with the facts and invent a lot of strange shit. The wilder, the better. Like a big, weird music video with lots of the artists’ signature tunes.

  48. If any, Kristofferson’s life would at least make a great 2 part episode of TALES FROM THE TOURBUS.

  49. I’m not a huge fan of MAN ON THE MOON, but you at least do get the sense that Forman had something specific to say about Kaufman, and wasn’t just running through his greatest hits. Even so, I think the movie really coasts on Carrey’s great impersonation and gets kinda repetitive with the same point made over and over. Might have been better to just focus on one representative event rather than trying to zip through his whole career.

    But yeah, there’s plenty of good biopics out there. I don’t even know if their ratio of crap to greatness is any worse than any other film. But it’s definitely true that their crappiest specimens tend to be high-profile Oscar bait that we’re all forced to take notice of and gripe about.

  50. I think the test of whether or not a biopic has any value as a movie is to ask yourself if you would still be interested in this story if it were made up. If somebody told you there was this movie out about this guy who was kinda gay but not that gay and then he made some music that was great but mildly misunderstood for a brief period of time before being almost universally beloved and they put on a really huge concert but then he got AIDS and died, would you think that was an amazing story that needed telling? Probably not. Sounds corny and generic as hell to me. If you made up that story, you’d get laughed out of town for indulging in the hoariest of cliches. So why does the presence of a bunch of songs you’ve already heard a million times change any of that?

    Compare that to my actual favorite biopic, ED WOOD, which is about a cross dressing director with no talent but endless enthusiasm who creates a family of misfits—including a heroin-addicted disgraced Hungarian movie star, a phony talk show psychic, a giant hairy wrestler, and the prototypical goth horror TV host vixen—whose ultimate vainglorious victory is crafting the worst movie of all time? Yeah, that’s a watchable story if it’s fact, fiction, or something in between. Most biopics don’t even come close to passing this test.

  51. Very well said. If every director read what you just wrote, I think we’d have a much more interesting and worthwhile Best Picture selection every year.

  52. OK, so a couple of movies that immediately spring to mind as passing Mr M.’s test are CHOPPER, and the MESRINE movies. I guess most people here are up for a good gangster story well told whether it’s made up or not.

    I think I’d also put MISHIMA in the category of great even if it were fiction, and because it also passes Mr S’s test of presenting an auteur’s vision it does in fact present multiple fictions.

    But while I can see my favourite biopic as the work of an auteur, I can’t see 32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD as being something people would easily recognise as a story they’d love even if it wasn’t true: child prodigy becomes a reluctant concert star but gives it up to become an idiosyncratic recording star famous for perfectionism tempered by the habit of humming along. But the movie gets me every time; that’s auteur’s for you. Although I can’t say I’ve ever seen another Francois Girard film.

    And Mr S, if you’re having TOMBSTONE as a biopic, I’ll take MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.

  53. THE BABE RUTH STORY is the best biopic and meets both Mr. S’ and Mr. M’s criteria.

  54. It’s funny because I just got done playing a PS4 game called Until Dawn that featured a digitized version of Rami Malek.

    The game was probably “filmed” even before he was cast in Mr Robot, so it’s funny to think of him getting his start in a horror video game.

  55. I respectfully submit CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND to the list of qualifying biopics

  56. Griff- I know it might sound exhausting at the moment but you have GOT TO play thru Until Dawn again at some point. I couldn’t even begin to demonstrate how many deviations there are in the story-large and small, consequential or trivial- each time you go thru it. That game easily has the most replay value of any I’ve ever played.

  57. I watched Queen’s Live Aid set once, and quite honestly, I didn’t like it much. I get that their energy invigorated the crowd, as I imagine nearly anything with loud guitars, drums and a great extreme vocalist like Freddie would after seeing bands like Ultravox and Spandau Ballet. But I am not crazy at all about it when bands shorten their songs to fill in as much material during a shortened timeslot like that would.

    They were dynamite live, especially in the 80’s. Their concert film from Wembley done a year after this is a perfect distillation of how good they were. They did one in 1981 that’s even more spectacular, partially because of it being shot on film but mostly because of the band’s energy. Either May or Taylor said their anger towards the film crew translated into such an intense performance.

  58. Good catch Renfield, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND is an A+ example of a biopic which is so interesting that I never even thought about it as being a biopic.

  59. Jerome – I started a replay as soon as I finished it but honestly it felt too soon and not different enough, at least right away.

    I will probably give it another playthrough down the road though.

  60. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (by the director of Predator 2 no less!) was a good one, I thought because it didn’t pretend to be trying to be completely historically accurate and did accept the possibility that maybe even Peter Sellers himself didn’t even really know who he was (something people brought up while he was still alive) and hence took the interesting angle of having Geoffrey Rush as Peter Sellers as other people in his life trying to interpret him. It was definitely something different.

    Then of course there was Walker directed by Alex Cox which even though set in the 1850s, deliberately filled it with loads of anachronisms from right up to the then present day.

  61. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NOp5ROn1HE

    This looks like it could be the antidote to BoRhaps and Star Is Born, or I could be extremely hopeful. If it’s at all faithful to the book (a point of reason as to why it’s taken so long to finally get made) it could be exactly that.

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