Bohemian Rhapsody Will Rock You

Bohemian Rhapsody is a visual masterpiece and a humorous, heart-warming memoir of one of Britain’s most iconic rock bands, honouring the legendary Queen. Although somewhat lacklustre in places, Bryan Singer’s regeneration of Freddie Mercury is a feel-good biography that will rock you.

The film begins with Freddie’s early life while he was still known as Farrokh Bulsara, a shy boy of Parsi descent who doesn’t fit in and yearns to ‘break free.’ However, changing his name to Freddie Mercury, the talented teen, played by Rami Malek, gradually builds up his witty repertoire in embracing his inner queen. Following adolescent Mercury-to-be at school, the adaptational scenes of Freddie’s early life are lightly filtered in sepia tones, establishing that the film intends to be an honest story and sets up a sense of nostalgia for the slightly older members of the audience. The film continues to immerse its audience and it is easy to forget that this isn’t the real Freddie Mercury, although the awkward false teeth disrupt continuity as Malek’s jawline is not consistent. However, it is thanks to his overcrowded mouth that he is gifted with such an impressive vocal range. Privileging Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) with this unique musical voice, Freddie enthrones the group as ‘Queen’ and the rest is history.

Malek’s performance as the lead singer is as authentic as his resemblance to the real Mercury and the initial portrayal of him as timid and reclusive offers a more realistic side to the icon that audiences are, for the most part, not familiar with, though of course some aspects are embellished for heightened drama. Although littered with inaccuracies, the film doesn’t get too swept up with showing clichéd ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,’ instead illustrating Freddie’s conflict of identities over time. His father disapproves of his behaviours, habits and tastes; he is slowly realising his sexuality; then fighting to control his vain rockstar persona as well as finally coming to terms with his terminal illness.

However, besides the cinematic white-lies, the film is problematic in addressing Freddie’s sexual orientation since it denies him of his self-identified bisexuality, instead shoehorning him into homosexuality. While Mercury’s sexuality was ambiguous even to his fellow band members, the film offers no possibility or allusion that he could be bisexual. While the film does well to not exaggerate Mercury’s sexual antics, it is damaging in shutting down the identity of bisexuality, especially in that romantic partner Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) very curtly informs Freddie that he is “gay” rather than accepting his fluidity. Bisexuality remains a cornered orientation in society and its media.

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If Freddie is denied of his own sexuality, then at least he can overrule his illness. Refusing to play the victim, Freddie hides that he has HIV and the film closes with a re-enactment of Queen’s live performance at the AIDS fundraiser, certainly the climax of the film. Here we are treated to captivating cinematography as the camera sweeps the stage while Malek mimes his heart out. Of course, this is nothing close to a real live Queen concert, but the film does an excellent job of bringing the band back to life by merging their music with the actors’ powerful performances. Even the attention to detail within the outfits enhance the verisimilitude as though Queen truly are performing. The film closes solemnly, stating what happened to Freddie after his diagnosis and final performance, ending just as earnestly as it began.

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Perhaps it is impossible to do Queen justice, but the film successfully depicts the lesser-seen sides of Freddie Mercury in an extremely evocative, warming but realistic retelling of ‘the champions.’

⭐⭐⭐½

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Here Lies Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft has seen many changes to her character since her initial appearance as videogame protagonist in 1996, but her latest adventures flatten more than just her chest. With more self-destructive plot holes than boobytraps, a lack of focus on the main character and a rushed script, the film digs its own grave.

Alicia Vikander replaces Angelina Jolie as Lara, now thankfully much less of a sex symbol having dropped a few (triangular) cup sizes, although the character is as athletic as ever before. The latest adventures of Lara Croft are set on the ancient island off Japan called Yamatai, home of mythical queen Himiko’s tomb. After stumbling upon her father’s hidden notes on the island and its alleged deadly curse, Lara becomes determined to find out what happened to him. This setting, based on reality and taken from 2013’s Tomb Raider game, allows for some stunning cinematography and CGI as Lara combats the jungle in search of answers. The film eventually treats viewers to a striking scene of a rapid waterfall where Lara faces death if she takes one wrong step upon the wing of a decaying plane. The scene is visually remarkable, but, as with much of the film, it is dampened by a convenient coincidence as a parachute sits directly above Lara. The film diminishes her smarts and stealth, instead more concerned with showing her as a helpless victim before instantly providing her with an immediate escape.

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As fans will know from 2013, Himiko’s mythical tomb must never be disturbed lest the world be ridden with darkness and suffering. However, Tomb Raider wouldn’t be much of a film without some tomb raiding, so it’s fortunate that Mathias (Walton Goggins) is brought back to the franchise too, as he will stop at nothing to retrieve the magical sun queen. Fans may recognise the villain, but the rebooted characters are all noticeably watered down. Mathias is supposedly insane from being trapped on the island for so long, but his actions are thought out and he appears creepy rather than irrational. That being said, he does ceaselessly complain of having no one to talk to… in a camp full of human traffickers and exploited labourers.

If softening the villain wasn’t enough, the film’s biggest flaw comes in reducing Lara Croft from an intelligent archaeologist and tactile explorer into a bratty courier with a temper who gets shoved into a corner by more significant male characters. The deviations from the original heroine aren’t issues in themselves; indeed the desexualisation of Vikander’s Lara is certainly a positive change, but it is Roar Uthaug’s portrayal of her that minimises Lara’s power and presents her as just a reckless orphan with daddy issues. In fact, an uncomfortable sexual tension grows between Lara and her father (Dominic West) introduced through recurring awkwardly placed flashbacks. She grooms his overgrown beard like a long-lost lover and later insists she cannot live without him, even though that’s exactly what she’s been doing for over seven years. Although the film started off well, by this point Lara’s film is totally centred on the men around her, since Lara’s entire motivation revolves around either her father or Mathias and she has to rely on help from Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) throughout. Alicia Vikander’s talent is suffocated by how bland her character has become, to the point that she has hardly any lines. Granted, Lara is no longer an exaggerated sex symbol making boys want to play with their joysticks, but nor is she the bold adventurer she was originally written to be.

Uthaug presents a mild version of the beloved tomb raider… a tomb opener, if you will, despite his attempts to modernise the story. The result is not a homage to previous Tomb Raider titles, but more like a cardboard cut-out of Lara Croft: one dimensional and just for display.

⭐⭐

Johnny English Fails to Strike Again

Striking up laughter in cinema screens once again, Rowan Atkinson may have given up playing lovable Mr. Bean, but he hasn’t retired as Johnny English just yet. Now aged 63, he returns as the clumsy hero and does things ‘old-school.’ But is it time to put the franchise to bed?

Johnny English is now, seemingly, a geography teacher. But when backs are turned, he elects for a more hands-on style of teaching and spends his lessons showing the kids how to become expert spies with camouflage, zipwires and boobytraps, rather than sitting down with a text book to explain the meandering of rivers. If anything, the film will leave you wishing that Johnny English had been your geography teacher.

His top-secret teachings are soon disrupted when an anonymous hacker exposes the identities of all British undercover agents. With no one able to take on the mission of stopping the cyber-menace while they continue to wreak havoc on London, English stumbles out of his seven-year hibernation and eagerly accepts the call to duty – not a grey hair out of place.

If this were just another secret-spy action film, we would find ourselves in a high-tech lab where our protagonist is granted a handsome assortment of subtle-but-deadly gadgets, the latest sports car, and an over-compensational gun… but this is no Bond movie. Instead, English opts for a more analogue approach. Faced with a highly intelligent and tech-savvy mastermind, English does away with anything that can track his cyber-footprint. That means no mobile phone, and definitely no computerised hybrid car. Fortunately, there just so happens to be a classic Aston Martin Vantage available too. Move over, 007.

With everything he needs in the trunk and faithful sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) in the passenger seat, English speeds off to find the cybercriminal.

Like its predecessors in 2003 and 2011, the film at times tries too hard to be ‘down with the kids’ (like, c’mon no one plays ‘Temple Run’ anymore). But it is the purposely-predictable parody-plot of the action genre that gives the film most of its humour. Some of the comedy is lost because of a few gags’ poor timing, but Atkinson’s well-known slapstick style saves the day and strikes up the most laughs, particularly from the younger ones in the audience.

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David Kerr’s directing appeases to all ages, as the failing Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) is a critical nod towards Theresa May and her apparent inability to run a government. Not to mention the casting of an American villain (Jake Lacy) whose vampiric thirst for world-domination reminds us of certain president… The film’s subtle satire is therefore something more mature audiences can appreciate, as well as Johnny’s relatable struggle with ever-increasingly complex technologies.

That being said, Johnny English Strikes Again doesn’t exactly bowl you over. The film will certainly give you a few laughs, but there’s not much to it underneath Atkinson’s slapstick silliness. A film worth watching with your younger siblings perhaps, but overall I think it’s fair to hope for an early retirement for Johnny English.

⭐⭐⭐

The Game

David Fincher’s Game is a whirlwind of trickery, deceit and illusion.

Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, the victim of a never-ending chain of elaborate pranks – a thoughtful birthday gift from his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). The real-life game, tailored to each individual player, begins benignly enough as Nicholas crosses a few unfortunate boobytraps: a leaky pen, a locked suitcase, and a clumsy waitress (Deborah Kara Unger). Things soon turn ugly and Nicholas finds himself fearing for his life at the hands of anonymous ringmasters. With no one to trust, he takes control and plays them at their own game. Or so it seems.

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The best part about watching all the mind games is that it’s never clear whether it’s a trick on Nicholas or the audience. A man attempts to mug Nicholas when he’s sat in his car. Nicholas calmly shows his gun, making the man flee in terror. Supposedly the thief was just another pawn in the game, and so his reaction implies that Nicholas really does have the upper hand in having his gun. It’s never clear what is real and what isn’t. Like a Darren Brown stunt, the twists keep coming right to the very end – even defying death and transcending time and space. Fincher, true to style, forbids a false sense of security that other psychological thrillers offer, making the film a cut above the rest. As with Fincher’s Se7en, the protagonist’s mental deterioration is evoked onto the audience through the ever-changing character alliances, making the viewer as much of a player in the game as Nicholas. Psychological thrillers are rarely so immersive.

The only criticism is that Michael Douglas isn’t all that thrilling to watch. His character is dull (although that’s kind of the point) and seemingly has very little development by the end. The conservative acting is saved, however, by the film’s dark humour and Conrad’s devilish behaviour. Like Connie, the audience gets a sadistic satisfaction from watching his uptight, rude and self-entitled brother suffer. The film is almost a reversal of conventions in that Nicholas is punished for being an unsympathetic character, rather than a traditional hero type being rewarded. Just another mind game in The Game.

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⭐⭐⭐ ½

 

Hide Your Smiling Faces

Daniel Carbone brings internal grief and depression into the open by voicing the unspeakable in his artistic adolescent male drama.

After tragically losing their friend, a group of adolescent boys struggle to bear their spiralling emotions. Tommy and his older brother, Eric, each externalise their feelings differently, but support one another in their idle ramblings through the empty landscapes. While Tommy has to face the loss of a friend and his brother’s reckless outbursts, Eric is troubled by Tristan’s desire to die and the haunting discovery of Ian’s death. The coming-of-age drama simultaneously contrasts and reflects the boys’ suffocating traumas with their expansive and idyllic environment.

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Shot like a nature documentary, the boys’ acting is as natural as their vast surroundings. Early on the camera is handheld and its shaking while the brothers play-fight gives the impression of observational footage rather than a scripted performance. The final scene of Tommy in the rain is also innocently authentic, capturing his remaining childlike naivety. The film opens with a close-up of a snake devouring a fish, setting the film’s overarching theme of death. Animals are constantly equated to death in the film, both literally and subtly like when an out-of-focus herd of cows mirror the tombstones in the foreground. Thus, while the natural setting appears serene in its stillness and lush greenery, it is laden with dead animal carcasses and the connotation of more loss to come. Surrounded by so much decay, the boys are forced to recognise their own mortality and to “think about dying.” The outdoors therefore represents the surface of youth – supposedly carefree and full of energy – while rotting inside are scattered forms of lifeless animals – the troublesome thoughts of ceasing to exist. Nature seemingly offers emotional freedom which the boys lack internally, giving a sense of calm to their suffering.

Whereas children typically represent joy and innocence, here the boys are mostly silent and even when playing they still involve the concept of death by trying to pin one another down like a pack of adolescent pups asserting dominance. It’s also significant that there are no phones or computer games, the only piece of tech is Eric’s CD player, and even that is almost silent to the audience. The lack of sound in the film highlights both the tranquillity of nature and the loneliness within it. While offering the boys an escape, it cannot give them a resolution. It also accentuates the thesis of inner struggles rather than exterior ones. Carbone’s film is so quiet that it speaks loudly about depression and suicide. Even the colour palette is muted – the characters wear only dull, flat browns, greens and greys, with the exception of the red shirts during the fight scene with the gun. They blend in with the endless greenery, again showing how they feel stifled in their conflicting emotions. It is also mundanely slow to focus on thoughts and feelings rather than actions, those of the characters and those of the audience. It forces the viewer to contemplate the emotions both depicted and implied on screen, evoking the same sense of frustration the characters experience for not understanding their pain.

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Depression is so seldom discussed as openly, mirroring the opening scene of the snake; Carbone captures the rare truth of depression like a ground-breaking discovery in nature. It is never-seen-before footage of shared male vulnerability. Likewise, the boys cannot find answers for their grief and anger, as though it is camouflaged amongst their sublime surroundings. The film is purposely vague to mirror the boys’ own lack of comprehension about how they feel. Whenever one of the boys asks a question about death, the response is always “I don’t know.” Hide Your Smiling Faces doesn’t know the answers either, but it should be celebrated for provoking the questions and normalising depression.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐