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Fri11152019

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Rami Malek gives it his all as Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen, in Bohemian Rhapsody. Oh, and there’s a competent re-creation of Queen’s Live Aid domination.

Unfortunately, those are the only good things one can say about this embarrassing effort to memorialize an incredible person and his sadly short life.

The movie basically takes Mercury’s legacy, completely screws with his life’s timeline, and makes up a bunch of unnecessary occurrences to pad its 134-minute running time. So much of this film isn’t true; that, and the fact that they took this hard-living rock star’s life and homogenized it for a PG-13 film makes Bohemian Rhapsody far from authentic.

Mercury died from pneumonia while battling AIDS in 1991; he was diagnosed with the illness in 1987. This film—partially directed by Bryan Singer and then finished by Dexter Fletcher—has Mercury learning about his diagnosis before his incredible 1985 Live Aid performance, and even shows him telling the band about his illness shortly before they went onstage. This is complete bullshit.

The film also suggests that Queen was broken up for years before hitting the stage for Live Aid. While the band members did put out some solo albums, and they probably squabbled like most groups do, the band continued as a unit. They were friends. The film purports to show Live Aid as their reunion gig, but the band was already on a live tour when they took the stage for those legendary 20 minutes. More complete bullshit.

Mercury’s boyfriend at the end of his life was a man named Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). The film shows them meeting when Mercury groped Hutton, depicted as a servant, while cleaning up after a crazy Mercury party. Again … complete bullshit: The two met in a gay bar; Hutton was a hairdresser, not a hired servant at Mercury’s house. The film depicts Mercury going through the phone book after meeting Hutton and trying to find him for years. Actually, the two met once; Hutton rejected Mercury; they then met up again a couple of years later, before dating and moving in together.

As for Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), the woman Mercury considered his common-law wife … the movie over-dramatizes what went on between them, and basically slanders the special bond these two people had.

Why do filmmakers need to distort facts like this, especially when the life in focus is so damned interesting? Mercury’s life could fuel five incredible movies, but instead, Bohemian Rhapsody is one mostly made-up soap opera. Perhaps this explains some of the drama that took place during the production. Singer was fired from the movie after fighting with producers and Malek; was his take more realistic? Sacha Baron Cohen was originally slated to play Mercury, but he left when the milquetoast version coming from producers and the remaining members of Queen began taking form. One could only imagine what we would’ve gotten had he remained involved.

Malek—acting through a set of big, fake teeth—is decent in the role. He actually sang on set, and his voice blended with a Mercury sound-alike to keep the movie from being a completely lip-synched affair. The musical sequences, including the Live Aid gig, are fun to watch. But, hey, if I want good Queen music, I can just watch the videos of Queen.

The movie between those musical sequences is terrible—a messed-up bit of fakery that promotes a lot of unintentional laughter. There’s a great, truthful movie to be made about the life of Freddie Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t even come close to being that movie.

Bohemian Rhapsody is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After scoring a huge critical and box-office success in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past—Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise—20th Century Fox wisely brought the director back for X-Men: Apocalypse.

However, in an utterly baffling move, Fox cut the budget for the current installment, while padding the cast and upping the action. (Well, this is the studio that screwed up The Fantastic Four, so maybe the shortchanging of a reliable franchise isn’t all that surprising.)

The result: Portions of the movie look much sloppier than Singer’s usual offerings, with quite a few moments featuring cut-rate-looking CGI. The movie alternates from looking great to looking terrible. The flaws eventually pile up, and while there are some nice, enjoyable stretches, X-Men: Apocalypse is a mess in the end, despite powerful work from Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and a great performance by new-to-the-franchise Oscar Isaac as the menacing villain, Apocalypse.

Before the opening credits (which, by the way, look like shit), we get a quick back-story for Apocalypse. En Sabah Nur, an ancient Egyptian, morphs along with some sort of ancient mystical being, thus becoming the world’s first mutant, or something like that. He’s then buried under a crushed pyramid for centuries. Cue the cheap-looking opening credits.

Cut to the 1980s, 10 years after the events of Days of Future Past. A bunch of random people are standing around chanting in the pyramid ruins, and En Sabah Nur awakens as Apocalypse, a blue monster that looks like a cross between Jeff Bridges in Tron and the Emperor from Star Wars. Even though he’s buried under a bunch of makeup and voice modulation, Isaac makes every moment count. He looks like he’s having a lot of fun.

The same goes for Fassbender, whose Erik Lehnsherr has been masquerading as a mild-mannered factory worker in Poland since the events in Washington, D.C.; he’s happily married with a daughter. Erik is loving life—but when Apocalypse awakens, he causes an earthquake that jars something loose at the factory. Erik stops an object from falling on a friend, thus blowing his cover—and starting a series of events that leads him toward becoming the evil Magneto.

Apocalypse builds an army of four (like the four horsemen), including Magneto, Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn). They jet all over the Earth in some sort of energy bubble (kind of like Bill and Ted in their phone booth), eventually winding up at the school run by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Xavier has a power that Apocalypse craves—and this leads to all sorts of wham-bam, chaotic showdowns involving crumbling buildings and telekinetic battles.

With all of this going on, Singer tries to make time for a back-story involving Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) while also upping the screen time of Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Oh yeah, the film also features an upstart actress by the name of Jennifer Lawrence, doing her Mystique shtick. There’s even memorable sequence involving Quicksilver (this time set to a Eurhythmics song) during which the guy with knives shooting out of his knuckles makes a big, if forced, cameo. In other words: Singer tries to do too much, and the movie wears out its welcome with its 144-minute running time.

The weakest of the new entries is Turner as Jean Grey. The Game of Thrones actress is simply outmatched by the talent around her, and fails to make her Jean Grey compelling. She’s just kind of pouty and grouchy. Lawrence is fine as Mystique, but her storyline feels tacked on.

Had the movie spent a little more time with Magneto and cut back on some of the characters, X-Men: Apocalypse could’ve been another worthy entry, thanks in large part to Isaac. It’s ultimately a near-miss, and the worst movie in a franchise that hadn’t previously delivered a bad film. (Yes, I was OK with the third one.)

Whatever happens next, it might be time for Singer to take a sabbatical from X-Men.

X-Men: Apocalypse is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The X-Men franchise has taken the time-travel route made popular by James Cameron’s Terminator movies and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) partakes in a unique form of time-tripping—and the result is the best film in the series since X-Men 2.

Another big contributor to the awesomeness of the latest installment is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair. Singer piloted the first two X-Men films; he has a nice command of the characters in both their old and younger incarnations. It’s good to have him back.

The film starts in the future, where the likes of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine have been reduced to hiding out in a dark, apocalyptic world where their enemy is a vicious robotic force called the Sentinels. Things are looking bad for the mutants.

However, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has perfected a form of time travel in order to mess with the Sentinels. It involves time-traveling in one’s own mind back to a particular point in memory where the traveler can mess with the fabric of time. She can only send somebody back for a few minutes or so due to brain trauma—but then it strikes the X-Men that Wolverine has instant healing powers.

Wolverine therefore travels back to the early ’70s, before the Sentinels go into production, and before Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) commits a murder that will doom the future. It’s a nice chance to see Wolverine with his bone claws again, and it creates an opportunity to combine the two recent X-Men casts.

Most of the action takes place in the past, so the X-Men: First Class cast gets most of the screen time. That means more of the terrific Michael Fassbender’s take on Magneto, who is being held in a prison underneath the Pentagon for allegedly having something to do with an infamous magic bullet. James McAvoy actually steals the show as young Xavier/Professor X, who has found a solution for his crippled legs—but it has a truly bad side effect.

Peter Dinklage has a pivotal role as a creator of the Sentinels; Dinklage always adds a level of class to any project. The film also allows a funny take on Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho), who finds himself in the middle of the whole mutant public-relations fiasco.

While Lawrence gets plenty of screen time as Raven, we never do see Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. We do get a brief, brief glimpse of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. (More scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor, according to Singer.) There are more than 30 seconds of Halle Berry’s Storm in the film, which means there’s more Storm in this movie than anybody really needs.

A welcome cast addition is Evan Peters as the speedy Quicksilver. One of the film’s best sequences involves how it looks to Quicksilver, through his eyes, as he rearranges a gunfight with his fingertips in a half-second. We see it in slow motion, with much comedic detail. It’s brilliant.

This film basically allows the X-Men universe to jettison X-Men: The Last Stand, a film made by Brett Ratner; it was not a favorite with fans. I didn’t hate the movie, but it stands alongside the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine as one of the weakest movies in the series.

As is the case with Star Trek, the whole system has been reconfigured with X-Men, and all options are open for future films. Is there chance they can use the whole time-travel thing on the Matrix movies, and fix those screwed-up sequels?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is playing in regular and 3-D formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Jack the Giant Slayer will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history.

Using a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, director Bryan Singer—who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked)—has put together a visual mess.

The movie features live actors performing along CGI giants, and the live action doesn’t integrate with the effects at all. The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn’t just make this a CGI animated adventure. It’s not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing.

The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (who was very good in Warm Bodies). He plays the title character with enough charm to make the movie almost tolerable, but that’s it. Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci have supporting roles, and they actually register more than Hoult.

Unlike in the classic fairytale, Jack must go up against an army of giants. Those giants are created via motion-capture animation that is never convincing or impressive. In fact, the lineup of giant characters looks quite bad.

It doesn’t help matters that the lead giant, a two-headed villain named General Fallon, is voiced by Bill Nighy. Nighy, of course, voiced the Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and his work here is very similar. In other words, you’ll spend the movie being constantly reminded of his better performance as a more-interesting villain in another picture. It also doesn’t help that Fallon’s simpleminded second head is a total Gollum rip-off.

The movie is rated PG-13, but don’t take the little kids. Singer inserted many violent moments in which the giants dispatch human victims, often by biting the humans’ screaming heads off. Granted, Singer doesn’t show the bloody aftermath, but it’s pretty shocking for what’s supposed to be a family film.

People get stomped, too, like Charles Grodin in the 1976 version of King Kong, which I just re-watched on Netflix the other day. The ’76 version of Kong was better than Jack the Giant Slayer, because Rick Baker in a monkey suit was more convincing than the CGI giants in Jack. Plus, Jessica Lange was really hot.

As the reluctant princess who runs away from her puny king dad (Ian McShane), relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson doesn’t exactly light up the screen. This isn’t necessarily her fault, considering that the screenplay provides her with nothing but flat dialogue, and the wardrobe department makes her wear silly hats.

McGregor fares best and has a couple of good moments, including a sequence in which he almost winds up as a pig in a blanket. Tucci is saddled with a goofy wig and goofy teeth. He looks like he thinks he’s playing somebody funnier—but he isn’t funny.

For the kids, Singer allows for a few farts and boogers. I suppose he thinks that balances it all out: Yes, giants rip heads off screaming victims in this movie quite often, but I will throw in a couple of farts to keep the kids laughing.

I’m curious why Warner Bros. moved this from its original release date last summer. Is it because they wanted to do some more work on the special effects in an effort to make them look better? (If so, they failed.) Or did they know they had a stinker on their hands, so they decided a March release would lessen the competition?

Either way, they have a history-making stinker on their hands.

Up next for Singer is X-Men: Days of Future Past. That’s encouraging news; let’s just hope none of the X-Men fart, pick their nose or bite somebody’s head off.

Jack the Giant Slayer is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews