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Josh Reviews Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury.  We follow Freddie all the way from when he was a nobody, working at an airport hauling luggage, through Queen’s meteoric rise, and on to his early death of AIDs at age 45.  I’d read a lot about this film last year; I’d heard it was a solid film, despite all the behind-the-scenes turmoil of its making (in which credited director Bryan Singer was apparently removed from the film late in production, with the film completed by Dexter Fletcher).

I quite enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody!  Freddie Mercury has a very interesting life story; he’s a great subject for a film.  I had no idea, for example, that his real name was, Farrokh Bulsara, and that his family were Indian Zoroastrians!

This film succeeds primarily because of Rami Malek’s exuberant, exhilarating performance as Freddie Mercury.  Mr. Malek’s passion for this character and this project really shows through.  Freddie Mercury was such a unique figure, with such a distinct voice, that I’d have thought it’d be an enormous challenge to portray him on film, and yet Mr. Malek thoroughly inhabits Mr. Mercury on screen.  It’s quite astounding, doubly so because Mr. Malek (despite the fake teeth and various hairstyles used in the film) doesn’t really look much of anything like Mr. Mercury.  And yet, he FEELS like Mr. Mercury.  Mr. Malek is incredibly magnetic on screen.  This is a full-throated, movie-star caliber performance.  I have been a fan of Mr. Malek’s ever since his strong work in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks miniseries The Pacific; but this work is several large steps above above anything I have ever seen him do before.

This film is packed with so much fun music.  They have done a great job weaving a ton of classic Queen songs into the film, beautifully recreated by the cast.  When we hear Freddie sing in the film, it’s apparently a collaboration between Rami Malek and singer Marc Martel.  The result is really great!  This is one of the most impressive aspects of Mr. Malek’s overall performance.

The film culminates in a lengthy recreation of Queen’s 1985 performance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium.  This sequence is a bit indulugent (it’s longer than in needs to be), but I can easily forgive that indulgence because the sequence has been so skillfully created.  The filmmakers clearly went to a lot of trouble and expense to mount this recreation of this enormous live concert.  The film’s cast/band is at the top of their game, brilliantly recreating this iconic Queen performance.  It’s a joyous, exhilarating conclusion to the film.

My main complaint about Bohemian Rhapsody is that it sticks rather closely … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) returns to our cinema screens with a wonderful, perplexing yet phenomenally engaging new film: The Master. It’s a film that I’m not quite sure what to make of, but one that I’ve really been thinking about ever since seeing it.  It’s a hard movie to shake, one that I found to be weirdly captivating despite it’s often stately, leisurely pacing.  Without question it’s the work of a true master of cinema.

Joaquin Phoenix (appearing in his first film since 2008, not counting his weird sort-of-not-really documentary I’m Still Here) plays Freddie Quell.  A navy-man during World War II, in the film’s opening section we watch Freddie repeatedly trying and failing to make a go of any sort of regular life in the years after the war.  He seems to be suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress, though the film lets us draw our own conclusions.  He’s clearly unstable, an angry, intense, young man with a serious habit of heavy-drinking.  Out of work, he stows away on a boat that it turns out is hosting a lengthy excursion to sea by a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-described “writer, doctor, nuclear-physicist, and theoretical philosopher.”  Despite their being complete opposites in nearly every way, Freddie and Mr. Dodd have an immediate connection.  They bond over their love of the potent alcohol that Freddie likes to whip up, and while Dodd feels he can help Freddie and straighten him out, Freddie seems to find in Dodd a friend and father figure absent in his life.

As soon as one of Dodd’s followers refers to him as “master,” we know there might be another side to this charismatic writer and speaker.  Indeed, as Freddie (and the audience) spends more time with Dodd and his close-knit family and followers who seem to be constantly with him, we begin to see how many in his group are following his writings and his philosophies as a complete way of life.  Much has been made over whether the film is or isn’t based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.  I did not read the film as an attack on scientology in specific, nor did I feel the point of the film was in critiquing any religion or cult.  (And please note that I am not equating the two!!)  There are definitely moments when one might raise one’s eyebrows at certain things we see Dodd’s followers saying or doing.  The film shows the positive power of the community of close-knit followers who surround the man they call “master,” and also the dangers of creeping, unquestioning group-think.

But it seems to me that … [continued]