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: Kenneth Branagh’s Take on ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Has a Killer Instinct But Not a Killer Execution

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CREDIT: Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Stab Wounds and Attempted Gun Wounds

Release Date: November 10, 2017

Kenneth Branagh’s take on Hercule Poirot, one of the most famous and prolifically portrayed detectives in English literary history, is the sort of man who cannot enjoy his breakfast unless his two eggs are perfectly symmetrically arranged. As he puts, “I can only see the world as it should be.” His skill at identifying culprits so precisely derives from his distaste for his surroundings being askew in any capacity. And when a crime has been committed, things are certainly askew. For a Poirot newbie like myself, this thesis statement is clear and compelling enough. It points to a tradition that has led to a recently predominant style in which brilliant detectives do not fit on a normative intellectual scale.

As for how this version of this most classic of Poirot cases plays out, Branagh is eager to put his many new spins on locked room mystery tropes. But first, certain typical patterns are unavoidable. Each passenger must be introduced with just enough color to make everyone a legitimate suspect, and the camerawork must be painstakingly particular to note every cabin, door, and hidden compartment. But once the setup is through, there is fun to be had (or at least attempted) in mixing up expectations. Oftentimes, characters in these stories try to get away with little lies or hide pieces of their identities that ultimately prove to be quite telling. In this case, the experiment – and alas, mistake – is that everyone gives themselves away with such dishonesty.

A good mystery should be a few steps ahead of most of its viewers. Branagh does indeed pull that off, but he is also a few steps ahead of his own movie, which is not similarly advisable. The result is an end product in which the love for the genre is clear, but the volume at which it is being poked and prodded is too much weight to bear. Most of the performances are overly stiff, stuck in roles within roles in which the unnatural seams start to show. Only Michelle Pfeiffer manages to truly cut loose. Branagh’s formal openness is a good start, but ultimately a star-studded affair like this one requires much more lasting personalities to really hit.

Murder on the Orient Express is Recommended If You Like: Agatha Christie completism, Marvelous mustaches, the Michelle Pfeiffer Renaissance

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Symmetrical Arrangements