This Is a Movie Review: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a Thoroughly Generic Music Biopic

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CREDIT: Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

Director: Bryan Singer*

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Typical, Though Far From the Most Decadent, Rock Star Lifestyle

Release Date: November 2, 2018

About halfway through Bohemian Rhapsody, Mike Myers shows up as a record executive, and I am not sure if this casting was a good or bad idea. He’s got messy curls and patchwork facial hair that makes him look Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkel in the “More cowbell” sketch. He is adamant against Queen releasing the film’s namesake song as a single, certain that its nonsense lyrics and operatic structure will prevent it from ever being something that teenagers will bang their heads along to in the car (thus cheekily referencing the song’s most famous cinematic appearance). This scene is much more directly comedic than the rest of the film, offering an oddball flavor that could easily result in a tonal clash. The trouble is, the tone for just about every other scene can be summed up as “flavorless.” Myers’ committed character work might not truly belong, but it’s too hard to tell, because Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the most generic music biopics ever made.

On the one hand, there are plenty of cookie-cutter entries in this genre, but if anything could break the mold, one would think the story of Queen as directed by Bryan Singer and starring Rami Malek as one of the most electric rock stars of all time would have been a prime candidate. The problem might be with Singer himself, or his lack thereof. The X-Men and Usual Suspects director was failing to show up to set during production (some reports say it was due to a family health matter, while others noted that he was clashing with Malek), and he was replaced by Dexter Fletcher towards the end of principal photography (although per Directors Guild ruling, Singer retains sole directorial credit). The resulting product has an appropriately nameless visual aesthetic, with inexplicable shots of concert footage that rob the band of its dynamism. A few moments show off Singer’s signature kinetic flair (like the marathon recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody”), but overall this one has a real Alan Smithee feel to it.

If you love Queen, you can at least derive some enjoyment out of how thoroughly Malek conjures Freddie Mercury. And with a discography as eclectic and bombastic as Queen’s, it is impossible to not find at least a little positivity out of two hours jam-packed with their songs. But that deep musical lineup only underscores how much of a wasted opportunity Bohemian Rhapsody is.

Bohemian Rhapsody is Recommended If You Like: The Queen songbook

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Galileo’s

*-Bryan Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher towards the end of principal photography, but Singer has retained sole directorial credit, in accordance with Directors Guild of America rules.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Death Cure’ Wraps Up the ‘Maze Runner’ Trilogy with High-Octane Action and Personal Battles of Class Warfare

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CREDIT: Joe Alblas/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper

Director: Wes Ball

Running Time: 142 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Zombie Makeup, a Few Puncture Wounds, and Some Explosions

Release Date: January 26, 2018

Readers, I must be upfront with you: The Death Cure is the only Maze Runner movie I have seen. I was not yet on a regular reviewing beat when the first two came out, but as the trilogy comes to its conclusion, the assignment has fallen to me. Now, I suppose I could have made time to get caught up on the first two, but I often contend that viewers can watch multi-chapter entertainment properties in whatever order they feel like. The Maze Runner franchise is probably not the best choice for doing so, as it is the type of film series that doesn’t waste any time playing catch-up for newbies. But I decided to experiment a bit and see if any enjoyment could be had amidst the confusion.

The good news is that The Death Cure’s spectacle is exciting and well-crafted enough to be enjoyed devoid of context. The opening action chase sequence of vehicles barreling towards a cliff plays like a postapocalyptic cross between the opening of Fast Five and the tank chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is not as death-defying or as instantly iconic as its predecessors, but it sets itself apart enough to not be overly derivative. Director Wes Ball’s only three feature films thus far are the Maze Runner trilogy, but he has proven himself technically capable to fill in any openings that may exist in the action genre.

As for the story, I was generally able to fill in what must have happened in the first two enough to follow along, and it is not exactly what I was expecting. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his crew are dealing with the aftereffects of a virus that has infected most of the world’s population, leaving many zombified while those who are well-off wall themselves in the Last City. Thomas is one of a few who are immune, and he could be instrumental in developing a cure, but he does not exactly agree with the methods of those dedicating themselves to finding one. There is plenty to be gleaned here about the struggle between the 99% and the 1%, and I appreciate that that point is not underlined too hard.

It is also welcome that this series (or the conclusion of it anyway) is not too beholden to the stereotypical “chosen one” YA narrative. Sure, Thomas holds the key to saving humanity, but that fact is accidental, and it does not really have anything to do with what makes him a good leader. As for a (good) quality of this genre that The Death Cure does play into, there is its surplus of quality adult actors (Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper) popping up in supporting roles.

Ultimately, The Death Cure is a bit too long. There is no need to flirt with two and a half hours when much of the last act involves one group chasing after another, and then that second group chasing after the first, moving along in a constant struggle to get to the last stand. But while it is a bit thick with narrative, it never lags. This is not particularly groundbreaking cinema, but it is also no cheap knockoff. It is unique enough and content enough to explore its own little world to make it worth a visit.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is Recommended If You Like: The Hunger Games, I Am Legend, The Action Sequences of the Indiana Jones and Fast and Furious series

Grade: 3 out of 5 Infection Checks

This Is a Movie Review: Guy Ritchie Adds Some Cockney Flair to Camelot with ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Erica Bana

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds That Seem to Only Happen During Thunderstorms

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The King Arthur legend has been told and re-told countless times over the centuries. On film, it has been fantastical, animated, “realistic,” romantic, and explicit. Could Guy Ritchie, that purveyor of stylish British gangsters, possibly have anything new to add to the mythos? Based on Legend of the Sword, the answer is: apparently there were options that we were never even considering.

The bare bones of the plot of this edition play up the similarities between Arthurian legend and the biblical tale of Moses. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) places his infant son Arthur in a basket in a river to escape the grasp of his power-mad brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders Uther to ascend to the throne. Arthur then grows up in a brothel to become Charlie Hunnam, and he promptly draws the sword Excalibur from the stone. So far, so sticking to the script. The rest of it, however, is Ritchie’s unique vision – surprisingly fascinating, intermittently satisfying.

With phrases like “honey tits” and nicknames like “Kung Fu George,” this is basically the cockney version of Camelot. The archaic aesthetic is not committed to fully, though, but that oddly leads me to somewhat admire Ritchie’s restraint. There is, however, complete commitment to editing the film like a heist caper, rendering the future Knights of the Round Table a sort of Pendragon’s Eleven. The plan to topple Vortigern is not exactly a matter of trickery (at least no more so than any rebellious maneuver is), but I guess you have to get your kicks in somewhere. Legend of the Sword leaves its most lasting stamp in its fetish for oversized, foreboding animals. They are not quite as visionary as the eels in A Cure for Wellness, say, and I have no idea what purpose they serve (beyond the maxim “critters accompany magic”), but I have to give some props to a summer blockbuster with such strange, gooey visuals.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is Recommended If You Like: Slimy, Scaly Creatures

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Mages